Minutes – October 18, 2008 – Kalamazoo

Monthly Membership Meeting
Kalamazoo Transit Center, Kalamazoo
October 18, 2008

Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Jim Hinkins, Dianne Patterson, Robert Patterson, Dan Platz, Duke Van Til, Viola Van Til, Steve T. Sobel, Burt Ten Brink, Clark Charnetski, John Langdon, Phil Chamberlain, Kay Chase, Dave Randall, Rich Vavra-Musser, Keith Martin

Also Present: Steward Sandstrom, Kalamazoo & Michigan Chambers of Commerce

The meeting was called to order at 11:00 a.m. by Acting Chair Gurney. Kay Chase and Burt Ten Brink were thanked for making arrangements for the meeting and for the delicious and varied refreshments. After discussion, it was determined that we would work until at least 1:00 p.m., and then break for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Those present introduced themselves and their particular interests in passenger rail.

Minutes of the September 20 Annual Meeting were reviewed and approved after several corrections.

Treasurer’s Report was reviewed and approved. As of September 30, 2008, the balance in the checking account was $5,564.18 and the value of the Pratt Fund was $12,439.17. The Operating Ratio of Expenses to Income was 67.60%.

Guest Speaker: Chase introduced Steward Sandstrom who is active in both the Kalamazoo and Michigan Chambers of Commerce. Sandstrom, a member of the Michigan Transportation Funding Task Force, spoke at length on the work of this group, authorized by Public Act 221 of 2007. Its purpose is to “review the adequacy of surface transportation and aeronautics service provision and finance” in Michigan. Sandstrom has been serving on the Highway, Road and Bridge Subcommittee and was most familiar with recommendations dealing with these aspects of the transportation infrastructure. The subcommittee has recommended that annual funding for highways and bridges be increased from the current $3.2 billion to at least $6.1 billion with an annual expenditure of $12.6 billion to really get these facilities in top shape. Suggested strategies for raising additional revenue include dedicating all taxes on fuel to transportation, raising the state fuel tax per gallon, and indexing the vehicle registration fees to inflation.

Sandstrom was less familiar with recommendations for rail and indicated that the task force had been looking primarily at the needs of the freight railroads. For example, approximately $40 million is being recommended for improving grade crossings.

A number of members expressed alarm about the lack of emphasis by the task force on passenger rail and that not a single member from the passenger rail constituency was a member of any subcommittee on the task force. Langdon suggested we invite Tim Hoeffner of MDOT to a coming meeting to discuss how passenger rail can be more involved. Suggestions to Sandstrom included holding highway contractors to warranties as is the case in other industries and utilizing more rubber in the asphalt mix as is done in European countries.

Coordinator Reports:

East/Central: Gurney reported that he had had a comfortable ride from Durand to Kalamazoo that morning on the Blue Water and had successful navigated the QuickTrak automatic ticket machine at the Durand station. The train was about 30 minutes late getting into Kalamazoo. Nobody present was familiar with the status of repainting the East Lansing station.

Northern: No report.

Western: Langdon reported that groundbreaking for the new New Buffalo station will take place in 2008. The mayor is very interested in maintaining the current Pere Marquette stop as well. If that happened the second Pere Marquette would arrive in New Buffalo from Chicago around 9:00 a.m. Langdon has explained to the people in New Buffalo that this in an MDOT, not an Amtrak, issue, as MDOT funds the Pere Marquette. State legislators need to be contacted and asked to support maintaining the Pere Marquette stop.

Langdon discussed the dismal on time performance of Michigan trains, mainly due to freight train interference. CSX is currently upgrading signaling, which should help. From October 27-December 4, Pere Marquette #371 will operate one hour earlier to facilitate signal upgrading.

Metro: Jim Hinkins recommended putting MARP on record as supporting a commuter rail connection to Cobo Hall in Detroit as part of the rehabilitation and expansion of that facility. Acceptance of this resolution was moved by Langdon, seconded by Charnetski and approved unanimously by the membership. This resolution will be transmitted to the Regional Transit Coordinating Committee by Chairman DeLora by October 24, 2008. If DeLora is unavailable, Hinkins was authorized to transmit the resolution to the RTCC.

Hinkins reported that SEMCOG had issued its long range transportation plan through 2035. In the survey taken prior to issuing the report, both capital and operating funds for transit received strong support from the public. The transportation plan includes four commuter rail lines; Ann Arbor-Detroit; Pontiac-Detroit; Port Huron-Detroit; and Monroe-Detroit.

Charnetski reported that on Wednesday, October 15, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had officially agreed to serve as the Authority for the Howell-Ann Arbor WALLY commuter rail line. AATA plans to move quickly before potential funds dry up. AATA is also looking for a broader mandate as transportation authority for most if not all of Washtenaw County. Gurney distributed a news article from the Howell newspaper indicating that both Howell’s City Manager and Chamber of Commerce are strong supporters of WALLY.

Coordinator Reports:

Membership: Vavra-Musser reported on membership, which has grown over the summer. He then offered details on a new business membership, with six membership levels ranging from $250.00 to $5,000.00 annually. Higher levels of membership would receive increasing benefits. Business membership would be open to all types of businesses plus municipalities, universities and other institutions. Vavra-Musser would particularly target rail related businesses.

Langdon moved to initiate a campaign to solicit business and municipal memberships as outlined by Vavra-Musser. The motion was seconded by Randall and approved unanimously by the membership.

In response to a question about when members should be reimbursed for expenses, Randall agreed to put together an accountable reimbursement plan for consideration.

Communications: Chase discussed the Michigan Transit Vision issued in October, 2008 by the Michigan Transit Advisory Group which includes such organizations as TRU and the Michigan Environmental Council The complete report can be viewed at www.detroittransit.org. She felt it was compatible with the MARP Vision and that we should support it.

She also reviewed the recommendations of the Intermodal Passenger Subcommittee of the Michigan Transportation Funding Task Force which does support doubling both the capacity and frequency of the Blue Water and Pere Marquette as well as many transit and intercity bus enhancements. Little by little, organizations such as chambers of commerce are realizing that transportation means more than highways. Langdon stressed the need for MARP to get involved with Lets Get Moving and others involved in transportation visioning and planning.

Newsletter: According to Langdon, the present cost of mailing a copy of our newsletter is $1.00. If we folded it three ways, it would cost .59 per copy. Randall suggested we ask the printer to tri-fold the newsletter in the future. Indian Trails has offered to package express newsletters to points on their routes. This would include distributors such as Chase, Frezell, Pekarek and Kent. Langdon added that the Indian Trails contract with the State of Michigan is expiring, IT has submitted an RFP offering to provide service for another two years.

Outreach: Langdon passed the Events Calendar around and asked people willing staff the MARP exhibit to sign up.

Public/Governmental Affairs: Langdon reported that he had learned never to use the word lobbyist. The politically correct word is governmental affairs consultant. He has been consulting with people like Clark Harder, Tim Fischer and Jean Doss on how MARP can be more influential with decision makers. The cost of such efforts is relatively small, small enough not to jeopardize our 501(c)(3) status. A committee with John DeLora, Kay Chase and himself will look more closely at the matter. Langdon recommended that MARP schedule a Legislative Day, probably in February, when we would visit legislators. He would like to see at least eight MARP members involved in 2009.

As to Michgan’s Amtrak Appropriation for 2009, the correct figure is $6.9 million. The maximum permitted by current state law would be $7.1 million.

Langdon mentioned at least five separate bills affecting passenger rail and light rail that have been introduced in the 2007-2008 session of the Michigan legislature and referred to committee.

Langdon proposed that MARP join the Midwest High Speed Rail Association at the $500.00 level. The motion was seconded by Duke Van Til and passed unanimously by the members present.

Duke Van Til announced his intention to attend a Town Hall meeting in his community to be attended by many candidates for state and federal office this fall. He will express his support for intercity passenger rail.

Old Business:

REC: Report deferred in the interest of time.

Ride the Train: Report deferred in the interest of time.

Rails to Trails: Langdon passed out information printed from the Rails to Trails Conservancy website at www.railtrails.org. The object is to preserve abandoned rail right of ways for future rail use if needed. Chase responded that it is highly unlikely that a right of way could be returned to rail use once it has been developed as a trail. Jim Slater of Lapeer will provide more information at a future meeting.

Resolution to Support Lobbyist Efforts: Discussed earlier under Public/Governmental Affairs.

Use of Superliner Equipment in the Winter: Langdon reported that Superliner equipment is often utilized on the Pere Marquette line, the snowiest of the Michigan lines. It is occasionally used on the Blue Water line. Despite its lack of a business class, most passengers like the Superliner equipment. Nobody present was aware of what was planned this winter.

New Business:

Michigan Transit Vision and Relation to MARP Vision: Discussed during Communications Report.

Adoption of Business Membership Categories: Discussed under Membership.

Filling Vacancies of Meetings/Speakers Coordinator: East/Central Regional

Chair; Thruway Bus Chair: For the East/Central Regional Chair, Gurney agreed to prepare a Vacancy Announcement to be published in the Fall issue of Michigan Passenger. Hopefully, someone other than those already committed to other MARP tasks will volunteer. Discussion of filling the other positions was deferred in the interest of time.

Other Business:

Next Meeting: The next meeting is scheduled for November 15 in Dearborn. Jim Hinkins and Robert Patterson will locate a meeting spot. Gurney will contact Michael Frezell about scheduling the January meeting in Lansing.

Support for Pere Marquette: Langdon shared the resolution developed for passage by municipalities urging support of a second Pere Marquette. Muskegon and Holland have already passed it. Langdon will ask Vavra-Musser to help with getting this resolution into the hands of all Michigan municipalities.

Michigan Township Association Exposition: Langdon recommended that MARP purchase a table at the Michigan Township Association Exposition, to be held at the Marriott in Detroit January 28-30, 2009. Cost of the table (which includes lodging) would be $800.00. Langdon moved that MARP approve up to $1,000 to participate in this event. The motion was seconded by Hinkins.

In discussion of this motion, both Charnetski and Chase expressed concern about the expense. Turning the gavel over to Randall, Gurney proposed that the amount appropriated be reduced to $500.00 and that MARP partner with an allied organization such as TRU. Langdon and Hinkins accepted this amendment. The amended motion passed, with Chase opposed.

Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 2:50 p.m.

Respectfully submitted:

Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary


John DeLora, Chair