MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Monthly Membership Meeting
Capitol Area District Library, Lansing
January 10, 2009Those Signing In:
Hugh Gurney, Richard Pekarek, James Wallington, Steve T. Sobel, Clark Charnetski, Rick Chapla, Dennis Kent, Tim Hoeffner, Dave Randall, Michael Frezell, Kazuya Fujita, Rich Vavra-Musser, Dave Landis, John Langdon, Jim Hinkins, John DeLora, Andrew Kent, Dwight Phillips >Call to Order: Chair DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:15 a.m. Frezell then welcomed the group to Lansing. All in attendance introduced themselves.
DeLora then introduced MDOT Intermodal Policy Administrator and MARP member Tim Hoeffner, who briefed the group on the recommendations of the Transportation Funding Task Force, which was authorized by Public Act 221 of 2007 “to review the adequacy of surface transportation and finance” in Michigan. The Task Force consisted of nine citizens appointed by the governor, plus two Senators appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and two Representatives, appointed by the Speaker and minority leader of the House. Also appointed by the governor was a 17 person Citizens’ Advisory Committee to assist the Task Force. Hoeffner’s unit within MDOT provided staff support to the Task Force. MDOT staff was directed to lay out all information as clearly and honestly as it could without being filtered by MDOT.
Over the course of nine months or so, the Task Force and its subcommittees held 70-80 meetings and covered all aspects of transportation in Michigan including highways, bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, aviation and intermodal. At the onset, they were looking at ways to raise an additional $1 billion. However, the Citizens Advisory Committee identified needs totaling as much as $14 billion annually. So the Task Force defined four levels of funding and service, an As Is Category totaling $2.3 billion, the current spending on transportation; a Good Category, estimated to cost $7 billion annually, a Better Category, totaling $14 billion, and a Best Category, which was described but costs not assigned. If Michigan sticks with the As Is Category, conditions will continue to deteriorate with at least $1 billion of additional needs added annually. Approximately $7 million will continue to be spent on passenger rail. The Task Force did not see As Is as a viable option. If the Good Category comes to fruition, about $1 billion would be spent on transit needs. Within this $1 billion would be sufficient funds to implement the recommendations of the Midwest Rail Initiative such as the Chicago-Detroit High Speed Rail line and increased frequencies on the Pere Marquette and Blue Water lines. Also within this $1 billion would be implementation of the Ann Arbor-Detroit and Howell-Ann Arbor commuter rail lines and the Grand Rapids Transit initiative.
To achieve the Good Category of funding, the Task Force has recommended a variety of Recommended Efficiencies such as refinancing existing bonds, eliminating redundancies and ensuring a state match for all federal dollars available. Also recommended are a number of Revenue Enhancements such as increasing vehicle registration fees, eliminating registration discounts, adjusting the motor fuel tax equalizing diesel and gasoline fuel tax rates, and abolishing the commercial airline refund. Hoeffner discussed an Oregon study where fuel would be taxed by vehicle miles travelled rather than gallons consumed, but with fewer miles being driven in 2008, such a plan may not produce more revenue.
In response to a question from Frezell about whether transit and passenger rail would get the same percentage of the revenue from a Vehicle Miles Travelled tax, Hoeffner pointed out that in states with a robust transit system, most of that expense is borne by local government, not the state. Michigan needs many more options for funding transportation at the county and regional level. Michigan is also one of a very few states with a sales tax on gasoline that does not go to transportation.
In response to a question from Langdon about what Michigan could expect from the Stimulus Package, Hoeffner stated that a number of rail projects now on the books could be done including the improved West Detroit Junction, a Universal Crossroad between Conrail and CN in Detroit, a passing siding at Ann Arbor and extended sidings in Dowagiac. The Battle Creek station siding is not included because CN sees no advantage to it. All these projects can be awarded within 90 days if funding becomes available.
Langdon expressed thanks to Al Johnson and Therese Cody for having four cars on the Pere Marquette over the holidays. Hoeffner noted that Al Johnson was back on the job after his illness.
In response to a question from Charnetski asking whether Thruway Bus Routes could be signed with Amtrak signs, Hoeffner informed the group that all trailblazing signs had been cut from the budget in the past year. Meijer has been very helpful in allowing MDOT to designate portions of six of its parking lots as Park and Ride Lots. Meijer is willing to expand the program, but MDOT can’t afford the signs. The extensive snow this winter will force additional cuts. A statewide snow storm costs MDOT $1 million per day. Hoeffner urged all to keep an eye on Amtrak revenue in Michigan. He thought raising ticket prices but offering more discounts would be a good stategy. Randall reported that as of December 31, 2008, MARP’s checking account stood at $2,571.97 and the Pratt Fund was valued at $2,571.97. At the end of the first year we had an annual budget, our Operating Ratio was 109.07%. Both the 2008 results and proposed 2009 budget were reviewed. A motion by Wallington, seconded by Langdon, to approve the Financial Report was approved as was a motion by Langdon, seconded by Vavra-Musser to approve the proposed 2009 budget. After accepting corrections pointed out by Charnetski, approval of the minutes was moved by Langdon, seconded by Fujita, and agreed to by the membership assembled. Pekarek showed the group a photo of the new sign at Durand Union Station paid for out of Blue Water promotion money provided by MDOT.
Regional Chair Reports:
Langdon added that compatible graphics were being mounted on major arteries throughout Durand. Fujita reported that for 2009, billboards and a brochure promoting the Blue Water service were being proposed. Frezell noted that the Deckerville Depot, a rare wooden station, will be saved and moved to the Sanilac Historic Village. Kent indicated that negotiations were underway with the National Bluewater Chapter to operate an excursion train from Standish up to Grayling in October. Langdon handed out copies of a letter written by MDOT Bureau of Transportation Administrator Sharon L Edgar to Amtrak asking Amtrak for an explanation for the twelve hour delay of the eastbound Pere Marquette on December 21-22, 2008, and the inadequate response she received from Amtrak Central Division General Superintendent Daryl K. Pesce. Unanswered questions include why locally available buses weren’t pressed into service, why the status signs at the stations weren’t working, why the train was parked ¼ mile north of the Holland station for hours, and why the train was finally backed onto the wrong track at Grand Rapids, forcing passengers to trudge through the snow. According to Langdon, nothing significant has been done to address these problems other than an apology. Another engine failure occurred on January 9.
According to DeLora, part of the problem is that, when the Genesis locomotive is at the rear of the train, it tends to suck in snow until the engine is disabled. A simple solution would be to place these locomotives at the head of the train coming east from Chicago.
Hoeffner pointed out that Amtrak couldn’t get a replacement crew to Holland that night because the highways were closed.
Fujita reported similar conditions on the Blue Water. Buses were substituted on December 23.
Hinkins reported a ten hour delay on Wolverine #352.
Langdon noted that we may be blowing the incident on December 21-22 out of proportion. The train remained heated and the lights on throughout the trip.
In other news, Langdon reported that Westrain would be focusing in 2009 in the www.mitrain.com website, updating it to appeal to Chicago people. As a follow up to November’s discussion, Hinkins reported that the Regional Transit Plan for Southeast Michigan had been approved by the executives of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland Counties and the mayor of Detroit. The most reluctant of the four, L. Brooks Patterson of Oakland County, was one of the signatories. The region can now establish a Transportation Authority. The light rail line on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line are early priorities. A meeting with SEMCOG is scheduled for January 29.
After a rundown of plans by DeLora for the March joint MARP/NARP Regional meeting in Detroit, Langdon proposed that an amount not to exceed $1,500 be approved to provide transportation and lodging for speakers Harry Dow and George Chilson. The motion was seconded by Randall and approved by the members present. The meeting was recessed at 12:20 p.m., to resume after lunch at Clara’s Restaurant. Wallington handed out a nearly complete schedule of meetings for 2009 including:
February 21 – Durand
March 21 – Detroit
April 11 – New Buffalo
May 9 – National Train Day Events in various locations
June 13 – Port Huron
July 25 – Owosso
August 22 – Holland
September ? – Kalamazoo (Annual Meeting)
October 17 – Ann Arbor
November ? – Bangor
The consensus was that we move forward with the proposed schedule, finalizing dates not yet confirmed. Randall noted that the eight page Fall issue of The Michigan Passenger was much less expensive to print and mail. There was some discussion about generally printing an eight page issue. Members were reminded to work through Communications Coordinator Kay Chase on issues affecting the newsletter. Vavra-Musser showed the group samples of the business and organization membership brochure and the letter drafted by Communications Coordinator Chase. He reminded the group that the new membership/institution initiative includes several different levels of sponsorship with higher levels of benefits for higher levels of support.
A renewal letter has been mailed to all 2008 members. Membership was up in 2008. DeLora asked if a membership letter could also be sent to lapsed members who did not renew in 2008. Vavra-Musser agreed to do so.
Public/Governmental Affairs: Langdon indicated that he had talked with a potential Governmental Affairs Consultant prior to the November election. Chase, DeLora and he will continue to review the need for such a person and the timing of that need.
MARP will be represented at the Michigan Township Association on January 28 & 29 at the Marriott Renaissance Center in Detroit. The Environmental Law Center will be sharing the booth and the expenses. We will have information about the resolution favoring a second Pere Marquette in brochure form, on Power Point and on a CD. Township officials will be able to take a sample with them to tailor and adapt. Langdon is planning a cover letter to the governor containing all the signatures favoring the second Pere Marquette. Vavra-Musser suggested making it possible for township officials to indicate support by e-mail.
A Let’s Get Moving legislative day is scheduled for the first quarter of 2009. The proposal to turn over a section of state owned track to the City of Petoskey did pass in the waning days of the 2008 session.
Amtrak Service Failure: Delora reported that he had been included in a committee consisting of NARP CEO Ross Capon and the Illinois Dave Randall to develop and recommend a Service Recovery Plan to Amtrak. The idea is to develop procedures to get top officials out of bed and working when serious problems occur such as the breakdown of service out of Chicago on December 21 and 22. The committee will study airline policies for dealing with such crises and make recommend implementation.
We want to keep passengers from saying “Never again!”
Amtrak has asked Inspector General Fred Wiederhold to investigate the December service failures.
In DeLora’s opinion, Amtrak needs to assign Amfleet equipment to the Midwest in winter rather than the Horizon cars, which are basically commuter coaches.
Randall noted that his daughter missed connections in Chicago and had to cancel plans for a western trip. She rejoined the family via the South Shore, which arrived right on the minute.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 3:00 p.m.
Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary
John DeLora, Chair