Meeting Minutes – January 14, 2012 – Williamston

JANUARY 14, 2012

Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Steve T. Sobel, Kay Chase, Rich Vavra-Musser, John Langdon, Richard Pekarek, Clark Charnetski, Jim Wallington, Dave Randall, Jim Hinkins, Doug Wilson, Janet Howes, Larry Krieg, Dan Platz, Bob Tischbein, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, Bill Lovis, Jim Roach, Jerry Becker, Julian R. Wolfe, Larry, Swartz, Kaz Fujita, Michael Frezell, Ron DeCook, Tim Hoeffner, Beth Monteith, J. P. DesCamp:

Also Present:  Mitch Lutzke, WilliamstonDepotMuseum

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

Speaker:  Mitch Lutzke, Williamston Depot Museum Board Member and local historian, welcomed the group to the 1891-92 Williamston Depot, the third such structure serving the community.  It was in use as a passenger station from January, 1893, until 1963.  It is not coincidental that passenger service to Williamston ceased within a year after I-96 opened.  The station was moved to its present location on Grand   River Avenue in 1979.  After several years in a derelict state, the Chamber of Commerce provided the funds to renovate the structure.  The Chamber maintains an office in the building and staffs the museum on weekdays, an excellent arrangement.  Lutzke recently completed an exhibit in the next room giving the history of the building.  The City of Williamston plows snow and assists in other ways.

According to Lutzke, it took from 1837 until 1871 for plans for a railroad from Detroit through Williamston to Lansing to come to fruition.  There were many false starts along the way.  Ownership of the line passed through a number of hands until 1929, when the Chesapeake and Ohio gained control, though the Pere Marquette name was retained until 1947.  As part of a merger in 1983, the C&O became CSX, which continues to operate freight trains on the line.

MDOT Update:  In the very near future, trains may be running at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour on the 97 mile Amtrak owned Kalamazoo-Porter, Indiana, section of the route used by both Wolverine and Blue Water trains, reported MDOT’s  Office of Rail Administrator Tim Hoeffner.  In December, speeds on the Indiana portion of that line were boosted from 79 to 95 m.p.h.  Trains on the Michigan section have been operating at 95 m.p.h. for several years.

It will be at least three years before we see similar speeds between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, Hoeffner explained.  While the tracks are being rebuilt, expect frequent delays.  With luck, the stretch between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek can be upgraded within twenty four months, with the remainder of the route ready for 110 m.p.h. speeds in thirty six months.  Between Ypsilanti and Dearborn, the line will be double tracked, with more and longer passing tracks added between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo.  Current equipment can be used, with a second power unit added to permit locomotives to reach the top speed. The Positive Train Control system developed by MDOT will be used on the Kalamazoo-Dearborn line. Hoeffner envisions a flyover at Battle   Creek so Wolverine passenger trains will not be held up by CN freight trains in the distant future.

Plans for Indiana Gateway improvements are still in limbo.  The Norfolk Southern negotiator is focusing first on issues in Michigan and North Carolina.  The Environmental Impact Study for the long term South of the Lake realignment is now complete, so that study of alternatives should get underway within a couple of months.

The new bi-level passenger cars and locomotives should start arriving in 2015.  All seven locomotives in this latest Midwest order are designated for use on Michigan lines.

When ownership of the Kalamazoo-Dearborn section of the line is acquired by MDOT, approximately 240 miles of the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago Wolverine route will be dedicated to passenger service, a possible model for the rest of the nation.  Norfolk Southern will have the exclusive right to provide freight service.  MDOT will work with Norfolk Southern to grow the freight business as one way of covering the cost of passenger service.

Hoeffner hopes the Detroit-Windsor international crossing will be a model for other border crossings across the continent.  Governor Snyder is very enthusiastic about trains running through from Chicago to Montreal.  MDOT is active in the Eastern Border Coalition, a group attempting to work through the needs and concerns of customs, immigration, and movement of agricultural products.  A meeting focusing on rail is scheduled for Seattle in April.  MDOT is in close contact with Borealis, the group which owns the Detroit-Windsor rail tunnel and has plans to build a new one.

Issues relating to PRIAA Section 209 are now in the hands of the Surface Transportation Board for resolution.

Hoeffner noted that twenty two former METRA coaches are in some stage of refurbishment at Owosso for use on planned commuter routes in Michigan.  Testing awaits arrival of an Amtrak power unit.  Funding for the upgrade of the West Detroit junction will come from a variety of sources, each with its approval schedule.  The design phase is well along.

Hoeffner foresees continual wrangles between Amtrak and the nation’s freight railroads in the coming years.  Many current owners of the freight railroads have no experience operating passenger trains.

Thruway Connection Committee:  Wallington announced that the committee will be meeting with representatives of Indian Trails in Owosso on Wednesday, January 18.

Route Enhancement Committee:  Gurney passed out the 2012 goals for the Route Enhancement Committee, calling for close tracking of all current projects affecting Michigan trains, examining the feasibility of additional frequencies on all Michigan lines, establishing more Thruway Bus connections, tracking PRIIA 209, pushing for commuter service in the Metro-Detroit area, and seeking adequate and reliable funding for passenger rail.  After discussion, Langdon moved approval of the 2012 goals.  The motion was seconded by Chase and approved by the members of the Executive Committee present.  Gurney announced that the committee would meet over lunch to discuss implementation.

National Train Day in Toledo:  Tischbein announced that Toledo will celebrate National Train Day on the last Saturday in April.

Next Meeting:  Chase reminded all that the next MARP meeting will be at the Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo on Saturday, February 11.  The Executive Committee will convene at 10:30 a.m. and the Monthly Membership meeting will follow at 11:30 a.m.

Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 12:40 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                              Accepted:




Hugh D. Gurney                                                         Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                     Chair