Minutes – February 21, 2009 – Durand


Monthly Membership Meeting
Durand Union Station, Durand
February 21, 2009

Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Dave Randall, Steve T. Sobel, Dall Gantner, Roger Webster, Richard Pekarek, Clark Charnetski, Kaz Fujita, Michael Frezell, Rich Vavra-Musser, Tim Fischer, John Langdon, Dave Landis, Norma Ward, J. R. Valderas, Jim Slater, Barb Spaulding-Westcott

Also Present: Ronald T. DeCook, MDOT; Pat Roussin, Blue Water Connection: Rory Nenner , Michigan Environmental Council

Call to Order: Secretary Hugh Gurney called the meeting to order at 10:05 a.m. All in attendance introduced themselves.

Guest Speakers: Connie Colby of Durand Union Station welcomed the group to Durand. Durand is known as the center of railroading. She discussed the history of the station and noted that February 22 is the 30th anniversary of the City of Durand taking over the station from Grand Trunk. Connie also discussed many of the activities the group supports, especially safety and education. She asked all of us to promote the station and safety along the tracks.

The archives of railroad history are some of the most extensive in the United States and Connie asked our help in continuing to organize them. They were recently impacted by a flood in the station, but all but a small fraction have been salvaged. May 9 is National Train Day and her goal is to have all the politicians along the Blue Water route east of Lansing take the train to work. She would like to see Durand Union Station become an intermodal facility with bus connections to and from Flint and Lansing and the WALLY from Ann Arbor extended to Durand.

Hugh Gurney praised Norma Ward and her team who, through their determination, have turned DUS in to one of the most beautiful stations in the nation. John DeLora, our chairman, has been a big supporter from the beginning.

Pat Roussin, Chair of the Blue Water Connection, discussed that group’s background and accomplishments. As a public relations and promotion committee for the Blue Water, its goal is to increase awareness of the Blue Water and ridership along the route. In 2008, they expended the $50K grant received from MDOT on billboards, brochures and other PR materials. The new DUS station sign was funded from this grant. They are working to coordinate the efforts of all the stations along the Blue Water route and to improve lighting in the DUS parking lot.

Ron DeCook, Director of Government Affairs for MDOT, noted that these are the “best of times” and the “worst of times for state transportation. A tough state budget will impact transportation funding. At the present time, the Blue Water and Pere Marquette are only funded through the end of June, 2009, while the state fiscal year runs through September 30, 2009, a gap of three months. Funding has declined because of the 3-4% reduction in travel by citizens resulting in a decline in revenue from the gas tax and associated sales tax. The state transportation fund has dropped by approximately $100 million. While DeCook believes MDOT will find enough money to squeak by for the remainder of the fiscal year because the cost of fuel has dropped, he urged those present to contact their legislators to assure continued operation of the two state funded trains.

In 2008, Governor Granholm initiated a task force to look into approaches for funding transportation. They recommended that state transportation funding be doubled. A primary source for additional funding may be a gas tax hike.

Work on the 2010 fiscal year budget has begun and a $1.5B shortfall is predicted in the general fund. Some legislators are saying, “Maybe we can’t afford Amtrak anymore.” DeCook plans to talk with the Michigan Municipal League about this issue. Next Friday, February 27, there will be a legislative hearing in Grand Rapids to discuss Amtrak funding and On Time Performance. Ray Lange from Amtrak will be one of those giving testimony.

The irony is that the federal stimulus bill signed earlier this week provides significantly increased funding for Amtrak and High Speed Rail (HSR). President Obama sees HSR as one of his ‘legacy’ opportunities. It will take a couple of months to learn what the criteria will be for distributing these funds. MDOT’s priority list includes the South of the Lake route, buying the Norfolk Southern (NS) track from Kalamazoo to Ypsilanti and other smaller projects. MDOT is also considering leveraging the closed auto plants and the many qualified workers to start a rail car production facility in Michigan .

Another irony DeCook pointed out is that, although 25% of all international trade moves through Michigan , the state is among the ten lowest in funding transportation.

Charnetski agreed that this would be an excellent opportunity to purchase the NS line between Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti . Langdon urged MDOT to support the second Pere Marquette during the current fiscal year and the next.

In summary, DeCook feels Michigan is at a crossroads. A gas tax increase is needed and this has the support of the State Chamber of Commerce, the trucking industry and other key groups. MITA has put a team together focused on how to fund transportation needs.

MDOT is looking at ways to shift the gas tax to a wholesale rather than a retail tax. If the gas tax is raised, the state constitution says that 90% will go to roads and bridges. They are hoping to raise $2B for all transportation over the next five years, of which rail would see an increase of $25-30 M.

Action: DeCook asked for each member to help in working with community leaders and legislators to support funding for transportation.

January Minutes: Gurney reviewed the January minutes and asked for approval. Langdon made a motion to approve and Vavra-Musser seconded. The motion was put to a vote and passed.

Treasurer’s Report: Randall reported that as of January 31, 2009, MARP’s checking account stood at $3,019.27. This is down significantly from last year due to delay in getting membership renewal notices out. Randall’s travelling has limited his ability to process renewals as they come in.

The American Funds investment has dropped roughly 33% since the same time last year and has continued to decline in February. Randall recommended selling the fund and moving the proceeds to an interest bearing account to minimize risk. Langdon made a motion to provide authority to the Treasurer to determine an appropriate course of action for the American Fund. The motion was seconded by Gurney. The motion was put to a vote and failed.

Langdon moved to approve the Treasurer’s Report. Randall seconded. The motion was put to a vote and passed.

Although in the same building, the post office has changed MARP’s post office box and zip code. The new box number is 532256 and the new zip code is 48153. This will require a change to website, newsletters, brochures, letterhead and any other MARP materials.

Regional Chair Reports: Regional Chair reports were postponed due to time constraints.

Membership: Vavra-Musser reported that we have 310 members, up from our last report by 10 members. A new member rate structure will be going into effect which brings MARP in line with other groups. We will add a family membership level which replaces the $1 surcharge for additional members in the household. In addition, we will add two higher levels, the Advocate level (changed to Supporter) and the First Class level (changed to Benefactor). The intent is to give members additional options for supporting MARP. The new membership rates will require a change to the website, newsletters, brochures and any other MARP materials that include membership rates. This will not impact the renewal process already underway.

Vavra-Musser also reviewed the new rate structure for sponsors and talked about the “Get Michigan On Track” initiative where we will pursue memberships from businesses and institutions. Vavra-Musser asked members to submit potential businesses, including contact names and addresses in order for him to pursue this campaign. He also pointed out that the letter drafted by Chase should be revised to take into account recent changes such as the Stimulus package.

Communications: Valderas discussed the upcoming National Train Day on May 9, 2009 and the need to plan now for which stations we will be active at. Toledo will be celebrating on May 2 due to other conflicts. Valderas recommended we focus on the Wolverine and Blue Water lines since the bulk of the activity last year was on the Pere Marquette line. He asked for feedback by mid March so plans can be included in the next newsletter. Gurney reiterated the urgency of planning now for National Train Day. Volunteers will be needed at each station. Where the train passes through too early to hold a celebration at train time, other options should be considered.

Valderas plans to begin posting photos from member meetings on the website to help promote greater attendance.

Norma Ward thanked Valderas for the promotion of DUS in the most recent newsletter.

Upcoming Meetings: Gurney will contact DeLora about the joint MARP/NARP meeting to ensure that plans are set. The cost will be $20. The Chairman of NARP will be at the meeting as well as a leader from Transport 2000 in Canada . The normal member meeting agenda will not be followed for this meeting. Action: A meeting notice needs to be developed immediately for this meeting, sent out to the members and put on the website. A separate postcard should be sent to all Michigan MARP members. DeLora needs to determine how adjoining state ARP groups will be notified.

Vavra-Musser provided details about the upcoming April meeting in New Buffalo. This will be a joint meeting with the Midwest HSR Association and other key advocacy groups and will focus on the South of the Lake route and the next steps to leverage the HSR funding from the stimulus package. The intent is to make this a follow on from several meetings held in the last week and in coming weeks with key groups from throughout the Midwest . The idea is to have the meeting start at 11:00 a.m. to allow people to travel on the train from all directions:

From the East on the Blue Water to Niles arriving at 10:25 a.m. (Shuttle to NBM) From the North on the Pere Marquette arriving New Buffalo at 10:06 a.m. (Shuttle to meeting location) From the West on South Shore RR arriving Michigan City at 9:40 (10:40 EDT) Shuttle to NBM)

Government Affairs: Langdon reviewed a letter signed by 250 Township leaders which was presented to Governor Granholm on February 20, 2009. The letter asks for support of a second Pere Marquette. The key is that support was from all over the state, not just the West Coast. Langdon recommends a summit meeting with the Governor and key aids to discuss rail issues. We are making good headway on grassroots efforts, but we now need to look at a top down approach. MARP would attend as well as key union, environmental and other advocacy group leaders.

On February 17, there was a hearing on transportation in the legislature. The Amtrak 2009-2010 fiscal year budget was reduced from $6.9 M to $5.7M. On the positive side, the cap for funding was removed, but the guarantee of seven day service was stricken.

Langdon has aligned our organization with other advocacy groups such as the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and we have joined the “Let’s Get Michigan Moving” which is led by the Michigan Municipal League. April 21 is “Let’s Get Moving” legislative day in Lansing .

Langdon added that Illinois is very well connected these days. We need to work more closely with them and the other Midwestern states.

The $9.3B in the Stimulus Bill for Amtrak and HSR is in addition to roughly $1.8M in annual appropriations for Amtrak. Amtrak plans to refurbish 50-100 damaged rail cars. The HSR funds can be used for both HSR and congestion relief. Michigan has a site (www.michigan.gov/recovery) that outlines the stimulus bill and requests.

A session was held in Chicago on February 19 as the next step with the Stimulus Bill, hosted by the Environmental Law and Policy Center . Many things were discussed including the South of the Lake dedicated passenger rail corridor and 110 mph service from Chicago to St. Louis . They want to make Chicago to St. Louis service a showcase that will drive further HSR investments.

Amtrak has identified 37 projects, 23 of which are outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Committee Reports:

Get Michigan On Track: Covered earlier by Vavra-Musser.

Outreach: Frezell handed out the current outreach listing and asked for volunteers. He also asked for help over the next three months relative to his committee due to his workload. Dave Landis of Grand Blanc expressed interest in helping after the meeting and will contact Frezell.

REC Update: Gurney handed out a progress report on REC. It has been two years since the document was originally developed. Many initiatives have not been done for various reasons. Gurney also highlighted successes, such as additional Indian Trails connections to Amtrak routes.

Old Business:

Poor Amtrak OTP: Langdon reported that January performance in Michigan was 41.7%. The Pere Marquette performance has been pretty close to on time in February. Amtrak has assigned its Inspector General to investigate OTP issues. The new CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman, is planning to reorganize his staff to create more sense of urgency. A new law states that the Administrator of FRA can pursue issues with the freight railroads when OTP falls below 80% on a given route for two months in a row. -5-

Detroit River Tunnel/Bridge: Langdon reported that, despite controversy over which option to take on a new Detroit River Bridge , action on other transportation issues in not being held up.

New Business:

Rail on GPS: Amtrak is not included on all GPS locators. Amtrak is suggesting that consumers contact GPS systems and push for inclusion.

East/Central Chair Vacancy: Langdon nominated Tim Fischer of MEC to the vacant role of East/Central Chair. Vavra-Musser seconded. The motion was put to a vote and passed.

Adjournment: John Langdon moved adjournment. The meeting adjourned at 12:45 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Rich Vavra-Musser (with additions by Hugh Gurney)


John DeLora, Chair