Meeting minutes – Williamston – January 12, 2013

JANUARY 12, 2013

Members Signing In:  Hugh Gurney, Steve T. Sobel, Kaz Fujita, Julien R. Wolfe, Jim Wallington, Rich Vavra-Musser, Phillip Mange, Jim Roach, Jerry Becker, Clark Charnetski, Dianne Patterson, Robert Patterson, Martha Benedict, Kathleen Newell, Richard Pekarek, Michael Frezell, Tim Fischer, Dan Platz, Kay Chase, John Langdon, Bob Tischbein, Jim Hinkins, Larry Krieg, Doug Wilson, Kim Powell, Ron McClain, Tim Hoeffner

Others Present:  Bruce Becker, Kris Wisniewski, Eric Newberg, Thomas Breeding

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:20 a.m.

Amtrak/MDOT:  Tim Hoeffner, Director of the MDOT Office of Rail, reported that Amtrak carried 800,000 passengers during FY 2012, a record, even with slow orders during the spring.  The Blue Water also set a record for passengers carried.  Hoeffner sees no impact from the entry of Megabus into the transportation mix.

The extra trains during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays did exceptionally well with record ridership on the Wolverines.  Hoeffner suspects some bleed off from the Blue Water.  While additional crews and equipment led to small increases in expense, many expenses such as station staff remained constant. 

Amtrak decided on extra trains during the holidays rather than additional cars on existing trains as a way of better utilizing scarce equipment. 

Krieg noted that the extra trains spread the crowds out in the Chicago Union Station waiting room. 

After hearings in the fall, staff working on the Chicago-Detroit Corridor Plan are carefully evaluating all the segments between Porter, Indiana, and Chicago.  This is an extremely complex piece of railroad.

As of December 7, 2012, all the documents transferring ownership of the Dearborn-Kalamazoo railroad from Norfolk Southern to MDOT were executed.  MDOT now owns the railroad.  It has been leased back to Norfolk Southern for several months to allow NS to negotiate with its unions.  NS will continue dispatching trains until the new train control system is completed.  Both the Dearborn-Ypsilanti track work and the train control system are at the 30% design review phase.

Before the West Detroit Connector gets underway, a few right of way issues must be resolved with CN. 

The Surface Transportation Board is reviewing the accident just east of Niles back in the fall.  Illinois is implanting the same train control system on its Chicago-St. Louis upgrade and the Chinese are using a version of this system.

CN and Amtrak are discussing the problem of long dwelling times on the Blue Water.

Regional Transportation Authority:  Hoeffner reviewed the legislation for the Regional Transportation Authority.  Four counties, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw are included.  No county and no municipality can withdraw.  Each county will designate two representatives to the RTA Board.  The governor’s appointee will chair the board.  A supermajority will be required to levy taxes.

The RTA Board will be the recipient for all federal funds.  It will appoint the CEO and other staff,  approve transportation plans, and coordinate provider operations.  There will also be an advisory committee.

Four Bus Rapid Transit routes are contemplated. Rail projects will require a unanimous vote of the Board as will the addition of new providers.

The principal bill establishing the RTA takes immediate effect.  The first meeting of the RTA Board will take place in April, 2013.  Four supplemental bills take effect 90 days after being registered with the Secretary of State.

The RTA should be functioning by October 1, 2014.  MDOT and SEMCOG will provide interim staffing. 

Washtenaw County has already appointed its two RTA Board members. Richard Murphy of Ypsilanti, will serve a one year term.  Murphy is active in TRANS4M.  Elizabeth Gerber, whose specialty is transportation planning at UM, will serve a two year term.


Watervliet: Vavra-Musser noted a recent newspaper article reporting that Watervliet was asking for a train stop on the Pere Marquette line.  They are looking for funding for a platform.  The proposed stop would be a flag stop.  Hoeffner responded that no decision has been made by either MDOT or Amtrak.  Neither intend to assume any cost for the stop.  Specifications for a flag stop are the same as for a regular stop.  Langdon added that flag stops are not exempt for all ADA standards.  The platform will have to be designed to serve both Horizon and Superliner equipment.  The mayor is hoping for a grant next month to fund the platform.

            East Lansing: Fujita reported that CATA is the lead agency on the project.  A sign on one of the buildings says it will be coming down soon to make way for the new station, which will be at the west end of the present parking lot.  Amtrak will build the new platform.  The entire north side of the tracks will be fenced off.  Hoeffner added that the long range plan is to extend the project all the way to the diamond.  The grant agreement has not been executed at this point.

            Chicago Union Station:  The CUS Task Force presented its recommendations on December 12 and Amtrak is now reviewing them, Krieg reported.  Major issues include narrow platforms, where passengers must fight with baggage carts; signage, where Amtrak is agreeable to designing new signs for review; and Use of the Great Hall, which Amtrak considers a revenue source.  The Great Hall is managed by a unit in Philadelphia, so anything dealing with it must go through the Amtrak Corporation.  The creation of a new position above the General Superintendent further complicates matters.  The CUS Task Force will continue to meet with Amtrak periodically to monitor progress.

Speaker:  Tim Fischer introduced the speaker, Kris Wisniewski. who heads up the Eastern Border Transportation Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group working to improve the movement of goods and people between the United States and Canada.  Members of EBTC include the states of Michigan, New York, Vermont and Maine and the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador.  In the course of a year, some 16 million people travel between the two countries and 75% of all trade between the U.S. and Canada crosses within the territories of member states and provinces.

The position is part time and headquartered at MDOT in Lansing.  When not carrying out EBTC duties, Wisniewski works in MDOT’s Office of Rail.

Wisniewski represents member states and provinces in working with the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada, all of whom want to see goods and people move more easily between the two countries.  Travel and tourism are major issues.  The fact that most border crossings are at tunnels or bridges complicates matters as space is limited for infrastructure improvements.  At the border, a U.S. inspector is attempting to carry out the mandates of 23 separate federal agencies!

At Montreal and Vancouver, the group is working to have U. S. Customs and Immigration officials do all the inspections at the stations, similar to the way air travel is handled between Canada and the U.S.  Trains would be cleared at Montreal or Vancouver and proceed directly to the border without intervening stops.  At the present time, U. S. officials are doing some review at the Vancouver station, but the real inspection continues to happen at the U. S. border.

U. S. Inspections of trains and train passengers in Canada would require a treaty between the two nations, similar to the treaty that permits airport inspection in Canada.  Inspection areas at Canadian airports are considered sovereign U. S. territory, similar to an embassy.  Needless to say, the process will be fraught with complications.  Unlike the situation in Europe, both the U. S. and Canada are very defensive when it comes to national sovereignty.  A proposed treaty would deal with passenger rail, ferries and marine services.  With a treaty in place, passengers would have a better idea of how long they might be held at the border. 

For passenger rail crossings between Michigan and Ontario, the situation will be more like the crossing of the Maple Leaf at Niagara Falls.  There, a new facility is being built on the New York side where all inspections will take place. While designed to facilitate efficiency, all passengers will be required to get off the train and pass through the inspection facility.

As to rail freight, talks continue on having overseas freight inspected once at the North American port of entry.  For example, goods entering at Port Rupert, British  Columbia, would be inspected there, and the train could then enter the U.S. somewhere in North Dakota without an additional inspection.  A similar situation could take place for goods destined for Canada entering at New York City or Long Beach.

The EBTC has prepared a White Paper, “Improving and expanding Cross Border Passenger Rail Service through the Implementation of Pre-Clearance”.  The paper may be downloaded from the website,>

Bruce Becker, President of the New York State Association for Railroad Passengers, added that when a passenger buys a ticket on the Adirondack,  they also provide a lot of personal data, which is forwarded to Customs for a background check.  His group is partnering with Vermont, which is anxious to restore service to Montreal. 

Plans are moving along to create a customs clearing area in the station at Montreal.  The construction cost is estimated at $4 million.  Since the customs station would be removing profitable rental space, the building owner would require additional compensation for his loss.  Becker reiterated that a treaty would be required before any plan could be implemented.

Hoeffner noted that passenger trains crossing at Detroit would probably use the old rail tunnel.  There are no plans for Michigan-New York service via Southern Ontario. 

The peak ridership on the International was 120,000 annually, but by 2003, that number had dropped to 83,000.  The 2012 numbers for the Blue Water are 195,000. 

Charnetski asked if a bus transfer between Detroit and Windsor would be more efficient that a cross border train.  Wisniewski thought that might be a viable interim step.

The Monthly Membership Meeting adjourned at 11:50 a.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                              Accepted:




Hugh D. Gurney                                                         Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                     Chair