Meeting minutes — St. Johns– March 9, 2013

MARCH 9, 2013

Members Present: Hugh Gurney, Steve T. Sobel, Dick Pekarek, Larry Krieg, Rosemary Horvath, Jeanie Merckel, Chuck Merckel, John D. Langdon, Janet Howes, Barb Spaulding-Westcott, Don Westcott, Don Monteith, John DeLora, Jim Hinkins, Qigpeng Zhang, Kim J. Powell, Bob Tischbein, Dianne Patterson, Robert Patterson, Dan Platz, Tom Boswell, Clark Charnetski

Also Present:  Gary L. McKay, Tammy McKay, Diane Stone, Jim Williams, Diane Williams, Jenny McCampbell, Gary McCampbell, Michael M. Hodges

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:40 a.m. All were asked to introduce themselves.

Speakers:  Gurney introduced Jenny and Gary McCampbell, our hosts for this meeting.  They are Co-Managers of the Clinton Northern Railroad Museum.   The Grand Trunk tracks are long gone, but the 1920’s vintage station has been beautifully restored for museum and meeting space.  It was built later than most Michigan stations because a tornado destroyed an earlier structure.  The McCampbells reviewed how the building evolved from an art gallery to a railroad museum with a model train layout in one room and several historic rail cars outside in various stages of restoration.  As grants are received, restoration of these historic cars will continue.

Gurney then introduced Michael M. Hodges of the Detroit News, who discussed his recent book, Michigan’s Historic Railroad Stations, published by Wayne State University.  In the book, Hodges focuses on 31 period stations in varying states of repair. The earliest station Hodges located was in Coldwater, dating from 1850.  The building is currently used as a hair salon.  When opened in 1913, the Detroit Michigan Central Station was state of the art, with incoming and outgoing traffic separated and all ramps built at a 7% grade.

In their heyday, railroad stations were community centers where residents gathered to get the latest news, to greet visiting dignitaries, to bid farewell to soldiers departing for battle and to welcome returning veterans home. Hodges noted that this community function faded fairly early in the 20th Century and was gone by the 1930’s, much earlier than he thought when he started the book.

Following questions, Hodges offered to sell and autograph copies of the book.

Schedule Changes:  Pekarek announced that Amtrak will be tightening up the Blue Water schedule between Port Huron and Battle Creek to eliminate long dwell times that have plagued that train for several years.  Twenty minutes will be cut from the schedule each way.

Henry Ford Museum Film:  Sobel urged all to see the film Rocky Mountain Express now showing at the Henry Ford Museum.

Hands Grant:  DeLora reported that the Sally Mead Hands Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin, is offering grants supporting green transportation initiatives in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.  Grants can be as much as $25,000.  The deadline is March 27, 2013.

Commuter Rail Displays:  Charnetski noted that he is trying to have the recently refurbished MI-Train commuter cars on display at various locations over the summer. 

Rail Fans Weekend:  Spaulding-Westcott reminded all that the first weekend in August will be Rail Fans Weekend at Crossroads Village.  All are welcome to attend.

Amtrak Ridership: Ridership on the Wolverine is up 7.3% in recent months while remaining static on the Blue Water and Pere Marquette.  New Megabus service from East Lansing to Chicago and from Grand Rapids to Chicago may be the reason.  He urged those concerned to check the Amtrak website for actual boardings at East Lansing and Grand Rapids.  Krieg predicted that as on time performance improves, we will see Amtrak ridership increase.

Watervliet:  Langdon reported that Vavra-Musser is working to keep the possibility of a Pere Marquette stop at Watervliet alive.  Neither Amtrak nor MDOT are enthusiastic as they feel passengers boarding there would board at Bangor or St. Joseph anyway.  Gurney countered that a stop at Watervliet could be attractive to people living further east who want to get to Chicago earlier.

Trans4m:  Langdon continues to meet and greet legislators on behalf of Trans4m.  There are 55 legislators who fall into such categories as newly elected, new leaders, and members of the appropriation and transportation committees.  Expenses are being paid with a grant of $2,000 from Bank One. Among details shared with legislators are that Amtrak’s Michigan payroll is $10 million and Amtrak procurement is $36 million annually. 

According to state budget analyst William Hamilton, the Governor’s budget cuts $1.7 million from Intercity Bus Service because it is not necessary to purchase as many buses this year than last.  Chad Cushman from Indian Trails is aware of this cut and agrees that it is reasonable. The Rail Acquisition line is down $11 million because the Norfolk Southern line has now been acquired.

The Rail Operating Line of $21-$27 million would cover continued operation of the three Wolverines , the Blue Water and the Pere Marquette under PRIIA 209.   However, the whole transportation budget is predicated on a $1.2 billion increase in transportation funding during this legislative session.

In response to a question from Charnetski as to how the fact that Amtrak and MDOT now own most of the line affect the Wolverine assessment, Langdon responded that we are going with Amtrak’s figures.

People Mover:  Hinkins noted that on the record, he is supporting the M-1 Project from downtown Detroit to the New Center, but he really wondered if expanding the People Mover to serve this area would be a better option.  According to Krieg, this is a workable idea.  Vancouver has 50-60 miles of a similar system.  DeLora countered that the People Mover was meant to be a distributor, which is what it does.  Patterson urged more cross platform connections between the current People Mover and other forms of public transportation.

Outreach:  Horvath reported that the show in Middlebury, Indiana was very busy and we have been invited back for next year.  Nappanee is next weekend.  The Mid Michigan Show in Mount Pleasant has agreed not to charge a fee.  We need volunteers to help with upcoming shows in Mt. Pleasant, Detroit, Durand, Port Huron and Dearborn Heights.

East/Central: Horvath noted that the Capitol Area Transportation Authority has yet to receive its promised $6.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Authority for the East Lansing Transportation Center.  Nevertheless, they are proceeding with engineering and environmental clearances.  The new membership card looks good.  She has had little response to her attempted communication with members in her region.

Amtrak Food Service:  Noting his disappointment with the food options offered on Michigan trains, Chuck Merckel has prepared a survey asking members to express their preference for various items on an expanded menu.  He would like each member to complete the survey and return it to him.  Charnetski cautioned that all food items must be easy to serve on the train.  Robert Patterson suggested we ask for more Michigan specific food items.  Krieg opined that as the state of Michigan pays more for train service, we will have a greater say in what is served. 

Chicago Union Station:  Because of a high level reorganization within Amtrak, very little is happening to implement the recommendations made by the Chicago Union Station Task Force, Krieg lamented.  The contract with the people who actually run the station is coming up for renegotiation in the near future.  Krieg will check on the status of new benches for the station.  

Texas Eagle Performance Organization:  Krieg discussed his recent attendance at a meeting of the Texas Eagle Performance Organization.  He came away convinced that

 MARP must do a better job of getting community leaders in each and every community Amtrak serves actively involved in promoting passenger rail service.  The Texas Eagle Performance Organization has taken over marketing of the train.  The three volunteers who work on this estimate they are 10-14% more effective than Amtrak marketing.  An elected judge in Texas is willing to come to Michigan to meet with elected officials here.

Langdon noted that Westrain does work with Chambers of Commerce and local leaders in marketing the Pere Marquette. 


April 20 Meeting in Niles:  The next meeting will be at the Niles Depot on April 20.  Langdon has made arrangements for Train #351 to stop at Niles that morning.  However, passengers will be required to purchase a ticket to Chicago.  Train #365 will arrive in Niles about 40 minutes later.


NARP:  According to DeLora, NARP members will now receive a 10% discount on Alaska Railroad trains.  He has received a lot of positive feedback on the arrival and departure sign boards at Kalamazoo.  Battle Creek will be next.  These sign boards will be bilingual.

M-1 and Commuter Rail:  Hinkins circulated information about the M-1 streetcar project along Woodward Avenue in Detroit.  He asked members to attend the upcoming SEMCOG meeting on March 20 at 1001 Woodward Avenue, 14th floor and push for implementation of the Ann Arbor-Detroit Commuter Rail project. 

Adjournment:  The meeting adjourned at 1:45 p.m.


Respectfully Submitted:                                                         Accepted:




Hugh D. Gurney                                                                     Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                                 Chair