Meeting Minutes — Grand Rapids — July 28, 2012

JULY 28, 2012

Members Present:  Hugh Gurney, Rich Vavra-Musser, Bob Tischbein, Dave Randall, Jim Wallington, Kay Chase, Larry Krieg, Mary Myers, Dan Myers, Chuck Merkel, Al Koole, Ronald J. Vonk, Shirley J. Vonk, Charles V. Shong, Dan Platz, Doug Wilson, Stan Roth, Michael Frezell, John Langdon, Jim Hinkins, Rosemary Horvath

Also Present: Seth Horton, Jean Merkel

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 11:05 a.m.

Past Grand Rapids Rail Stations: John Langdon handed out a packet with visuals of past Grand Rapids rail stations and timetables.  As late as 1956, Grand Rapids was served by the C&O/Pere Marquette, Grand Trunk Western and Michigan Central.  C&O provided service to Detroit and Chicago until 1971, when Amtrak was established.  Amtrak restored service to Grand   Rapids in 1984.

Passenger Rail Coming to Rapid Central Station:  Seth Horton, a member of the architectural firm Progressive AE, spoke of the success of the beautiful and functional Rapid Central Station which first opened in 1997.  Just south of downtown, the facility is the hub of the city’s transit system and also serves Indian Trails and Greyhound intercity buses.  Rapid Central Station has been the incubator for a vibrant downtown area with student apartments, restaurants, a micro-brewery and now the home of the Grand Rapids Ballet.  The terminal includes platforms for eighteen buses.  Rapid Central Station was the first LEED approved transit center in the nation.

From its inception, it was intended that Rapid Central Station would be a truly multi-modal transportation center including passenger rail.  Progressive AE is now designing the new Vernon J. Ehlers rail station just south of the Rapid Central Station.  With an initial FRA grant of $3,800,000 secured by then Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers, plus additional funding from FTA, MDOT, the RAPID, the Grand Rapids DDA and the City of Grand Rapids, construction of the new station should begin in the next 2-3 months, as soon as agreements with CSX are finalized.  Bergman Associates of Lansing will construct a new rail spur to the station from the existing CSX mail line about 500 yards to the south.  The new station will replace the current Amtrak station about six blocks to the west.

The 2800 square foot station will include a waiting room for passengers, a snack area and a separate space for the crew to rest.  A clock tower lit at night will be visible from both the Wealthy Street overpass and U. S. 131.  The platform will be 400 feet long with a canopy covering 312 feet of the distance.  It will provide for level boarding. The station will be served by one track initially, but space is available to construct a second track on the other side of the platform as passenger volumes increase.  Erhardt Construction will be in charge of station construction, which should take about a year.

In the discussion that followed, Langdon pointed out that the platform would be long enough to serve seven-car trains.  All trains serving the station will be push-pull, negating the necessity to turn trains around in Grand Rapids.  Trains destined in the future for Lansing or Kalamazoo would be able to use the station.  Facilities will be provided to service trains at the station.  Space is available for a ticket counter should the station be staffed.  Plans call for a future canopy between the new train station and the existing Rapid Central Station.

Regional Chapter Reports:

            Northern: No Report

Detroit Metro: Hinkins is trying to find as much as he can about the proposed Bus Rapid Transit routes proposed for Metropolitan Detroit.  As currently envisioned, one route will follow Gratiot out as far as M-59, then head west to Pontiac, and return to the center city on Woodward.  A second route will go out Michigan   Avenue to DetroitMetroAirport and may continue on to Ann Arbor.

Bus Rapid Transit does not seem to tie in with any commuter rail projects.  In fact, any commuter rail initiatives would need unanimous support from the proposed Regional Transportation Authority Board.

For this reason, Carmine Palombo of SEMCOG sees the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line as something independent of the proposed RTA.   Hinkins speculates that SEMCOG will be responsible for operating the service.  The  MI Train commuter cars are now ready and have been tested and approved for speeds up to 40 mph.  Additional tests and approval for speeds up to 79 mph have yet to be done.  It is hoped that the commuter cars will be available for special event use by the end of 2012, possibly to move people to the open air hockey game in Ann Arbor on January 1, 2013.  Scheduled service must await completion of work at the West Detroit Junction.

Krieg noted that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority recently approved funding for locating and designing stations along the WALLY route.  AATA will be meeting with each community involved.  AATA continues to negotiate with the Ann Arbor Railroad for access into downtown Ann Arbor.

Langdon, Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council,  and Rick Harnish of Midwest High Speed Rail were among those attending a recent meeting on the proposed new Detroit River Tunnel.  Wilson reported that environmental assessments for the tunnel are underway.

East/Central: No report.

Western:  The proposed station stop at Fennville on the Pere Marquette is a dead issue, Langdon reported with regret.  The track curves as it goes through the community and a platform cannot be built on the curve.  Unfortunately, New Buffalo was not successful in winning the TIGER IV grant to study a connection between the CSX line and the Amtrak line just north of that city, meaning that a second frequency on the Pere Marquette is less likely in the immediate future.

Committee Reports:

            Route Enhancement Committee:  Gurney noted that additional Amtrak Thruway stops in Northern Michigan had been discussed earlier in the day.

Old Business:

            VIA Rail Cutbacks:  Wilson reported that along with DeLora and Tischbein, he had recently met with concerned citizens and officials in Sarnia, Ontario.  One suggestion was a new Amtrak Thruway bus connecting Battle Creek, East Lansing, Flint, and Port Huron with Sarnia and London, Ontario.

New Business/ Good of the Order

            Chicago Union Station:  Noting recent complaints from MARP members about the utter chaos at Chicago Union Station, Krieg proposed a subcommittee to review the present situation in conjunction with other affected rail passenger groups in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  The subcommittee would meet with Amtrak officials in Chicago and recommend immediate improvements that could be made without costly structural changes.  Krieg’s motion was seconded by Langdon and approved by the members present.

Connections to Comerica Park:  Several members from West Michigan urged MARP to use its influence to develop good connections between West Michigan and ComericaPark.  At the present time, none exist.

Adjournment:  Tischbein moved adjournment.  The motion was seconded by Langdon and approved by the members present.  The meeting adjourned at 12:35 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                              Approved:



Hugh D. Gurney                                                         Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                     Chair