Minutes – July 12, 2008 – Lapeer


General Membership Meeting

GTW Railroad Depot, Lapeer

July 12, 2008

Those signing in: Hugh Gurney, Leonard D. Barry, Roger Webster, Dave Randall, John D. Langdon, Bob Tischbein, Rich Vavra-Musser, Jim Slater, Dick Pekarek, Bruce Swizzer, Jim Hinkins, Jim Wallington, Clark Charnetski, Robert Patterson, Dianne Patterson, Ken Henry, Kay Chase, Barry Boyce, Andrew Kent, Don Monteith, J. R. Valeras

Also present: Mike Bagwell, President, Great Lakes Central Railroad

Vice-Chair Don Monteith called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. Those in attendance were asked to introduce themselves.

Guest Speaker: Monteith then introduced Mike Bagwell, CEO of the Great Lakes Central Railroad, who briefed the group on the status of WALLY, the proposed Howell-Ann Arbor commuter rail service. The concept really comes from the City of Ann Arbor, which feels it has no additional space to park automobiles. About eighteen months ago, an informal coalition was formed to explore commuter rail. The state of Michigan and the director of MDOT and his staff have been very supportive. As a member of the coalition, Bagwell has been dealing with railroad operations. He favors starting with a low budget and has stated that he thinks a viable commuter service could be initiated for around $7 million.

The coalition’s consultant, R. L. Banks & Associates, favors a more expansive operation and is estimating the start up cost to be around $32 million. Representatives from R. L. Banks will be back in the area on August 6 & 7 to go over the plan with the Commissioners of Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

Bagwell admits that cities like Dallas have a really beautiful commuter rail system , but he thinks we need to crawl before we walk. In any event, he thinks Great Lakes Central would be able to begin commuter operations within 120 days of the date they get the word from the Coalition to proceed. Right now, an affiliated firm is working on 37 commuter coaches in Wisconsin. Some are being rehabilitated for Dallas and Chicago, but twelve would be held for WALLY service. Five cars currently stored in Cadillac have been severely vandalized. All are commuter cars, not Amtrak coaches. If given the go ahead, GLC would probably lease 4-5 remanufactured Amtrak locomotives.

GLC service begins at Milepost 45 on the old Ann Arbor Railroad, which is several miles north of the center of Ann Arbor. The management of the current Ann Arbor Railroad, has been resistant to operating commuter service. Bagwell stated that any arm twisting to get the Ann Arbor Railroad to change its stance will have to be done by others, not him.

Some have proposed running passenger service all the way to Traverse City. It could cost as much as $250 million to initiate such service. Strong political support would be needed.

As a general rule, Bagwell feels that passenger and freight service on the same rails do not mix well. Passengers need reliable service. At the Ann Pere diamond, where GLC crosses CSX, the current signal operates on a first come, first serve basis. Passengers might have to wait there for a CSX freight train to pass. Currently, GLC interchanges freight with the Ann Arbor Railroad at Ann Arbor, with CSX at Ann Pere and with CN at Durand.

Bagwell concluded by saying that he feels passenger trains on GlLC could run at up to 59 miles per hour except at crossings without all the bells and whistles called for by R. L. Banks. Can we afford a Cadillac at this time?

In response to a question from Charnetski, Bagwell stated that some gas tax money could go for parking lots, crossing gates and other warning devices. To access any funding, a rail authority needs to be established to make binding decisions, request funding and issue contracts. The authority would have to make the contract with GLC to operate the trains.

In response to a question from Robert Patterson, Bagwell stated that Terri Blackwell of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, Howell City Manager Shea Charles and Ann Arbor Transportation Planner Eli Cooper were the point people for the project.

In response to questions from Robert Patterson and Jim Slater, Bagwell confirmed that people had discussed the project with officials of the Ann Arbor Railroad and that their concerns center around liability. As to when service could begin, some are saying 2008, but the Mayor of Ann Arbor feels 2009 is a better bet.

In response to Langdon’s question about how MARP can help move this project along, Bagwell stated that the creation of a Transit Authority with taxing authority was key.

The governor prefers to work with a Transit Authority. As to the key person in getting the Authority going, Bagwell felt it would be Terri Blackwell. According to Bagwell, the paperwork has been done, but it needs to be implemented. Once created, the Authority could begin to hire staff.

Bagwell indicated that SEMCOG has taken no position on WALLY. WALLY keeps SEMCOG informed of progress, but has had no reaction one way or the other.

Bagwell stated that he felt the ridership projections were as accurate as possible. A new bridge across the Huron River at Ann Arbor is not planned at this time. However, GLC would be interested in taking over the Ypsilanti-Kalamazoo portion of Norfolk Southern.

If that happened, a connection at Ann Arbor would be in order.

Gurney recommended that the WALLY Coalition work to bring the commuter service into downtown Ann Arbor. Bagwell responded that the Ann Arbor Railroad has valid concerns over liability, which could run as high as $200 million as the commuter trains would be crossing a major bridge. Attorneys for WALLY are researching the liability issue. The Rail Authority will have to at least share liability.

Ken Henry noted that getting people out of their cars is a major issue. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has contracted with Indian Trails to provide commuter service from Chelsea to Ann Arbor. To date, daily ridership is 27. AATA is also looking into a commuter bus run from Canton into Ann Arbor.

Wallington stated that part of the problem is little or no coordination at the MDOT level to promote various public transportation modes. Monteith added that he felt a statewide transportation authority was needed. A Constitutional Convention would be needed to implement that. Jim Slater agreed that a coordinated statewide transportation vision is needed. Rail transportation is for the public convenience as much as highways.

Monteith noted that the Traverse City area is in the process of creating a six county transportation authority. The community was able to move $3 million from an aborted bridge project to pay for the Traverse City Grand Vision study. This group is currently talking to Mike Bagwell, whose railroad serves the area.

A motion was made by Monteith to urge creation of a Livingston-Washtenaw Bi-County Transportation Authority. With an amendment that Charnetski would serve as MARP liaison to the Authority with Gurney as his assistant, the motion was seconded by Langdon and passed.

The discussion then moved to how MARP can best assist freight railroads. Bagwell felt that some type of rail banking was critical, so that not all little used rail lines are turned into bikeways. In many cases, the real value of many short lines is its salvage value. Slater suggested that any abandoned rail line go into a rail bank for at least 25 years. Langdon recommended we table discussion until we can consult with NARP on their experience and make the issue an agenda item for next month.

As to new business for freight railroads, Chase asked about bio-fuel plants. Bagwell responded that a proposed plant at Ithaca is at a standstill due to lack of capital. A second plant has also been proposed on the Great Lakes Central line. Further discussion of freight congestion, Porter-Chicago; better connections between Great Lakes Central and Norfolk Southern and passenger-freight conflict led Langdon to recommend that MARP establish a liaison with the Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Railroads.

Robert Patterson agreed to serve as that liaison.

In response to a question from Slater, Bagwell confirmed that funds currently exist for improving freight rail capacity. As to charter service, there has been discussion with another operator about a dinner train and passenger excursions out of Mt. Pleasant. The Northern Arrow trip this summer is doubtful.

Michigan Flyer:

Ken Henry of Indian Trails briefed the group on this issue. More than a year ago, Indian Trails instituted the Michigan Flyer scheduled bus service from East Lansing, Lansing and Jackson to the Detroit Metro Airport. The Airport Authority permitted signing at Smith Terminal, but not at McNamara. About a year ago, when Ann Arbor was added to the Michigan Flyer schedule, the Airport Authority claimed that this service was in conflict with a limousine service contracted by them to serve Ann Arbor. Indian Trails was advised that if they dropped service to Ann Arbor, the problem would go away. Indian Trails contends that bus and limousine services are entirely different and should not be in conflict.

In late June, 2008, the Airport Authority announced that they were moving the Michigan Flyer stop to the opposite side of the roadway from the terminals, but would not put this in writing. The suggested new location required passengers to disembark right into the traffic. No provision was made for wheelchairs. Gordon MacKay, President of Indian Trails, has been attempting without success to set up a meeting to discuss the issue. As of July 12, Detroit Metro Airport is saying they will relocate Michigan Flyer to a different undisclosed location as of August 4. Meanwhile, all other buses are permitted to stop at more convenient locations. Michigan Flyer does pay the airport $10 per passenger to board and disembark at the airport, so fees should not be a problem. FAA says that airport authorities have the right to establish fees and designate spaces for public transportation, but not prohibit such service.

Henry feels this issue may wind up in court. He urged MARP to use whatever influence it has to help resolve the issue.

All agreed that Indian Trails was providing a valuable transportation service that should be continued. Gurney suggested contacting TRU and the Sierra Club to get them involved. It was decided that Chase would draft letters of concern to those who appoint the Airport Authority Board and that Vavra-Musser would finalize and send these letters. Most members of the Airport Authority are appointed by the Wayne County Executive, Robert Ficano. Two are appointed by the Governor. MacKay has been in contact with John Conners, one of the Governor’s appointees.

Review of Minutes: Postponed until the August meeting.

Treasurer’s Report: According to Treasurer Dave Randall, MARP had $6,055.88 in the checking account as of June 30, 2008 and the Pratt Fund was valued at $13, 676.40. As to budget performance, we are pretty much on target except for hospitality, where we have expended over twice the budgeted amount. Our operating ratio is 51.12%. Dues for membership in the Environmental Council will be paid in August. The Treasurer’s Report was approved.

Regional Coordinator Reports:

East/Central: Wallington reported that the Bluewater Promotion Committee is scheduled to meet in August. He thanked Pekarek for arranging today’s meeting.

Northern: Charter trips to Northern Michigan are still up in the air, according to Kent.

West: Westrain continues to provide imput to the MITRAIN website, Langdon reported.

For the Pere Marquette, ridership is up 8% and revenue is up 30%, as more people are paying for higher priced buckets. Amtrak plans to increase fares in all buckets by 5% this fall.

In response to a query from Vavra-Musser on how Michigan can capture some of this additional revenue, Langdon suggested that the issue be taken up with MDOT.

Metro: Hinkins reported that the pre-engineering study for the Woodward Avenue light rail line should be completed by the end of the year. A Vision Statement is expected by the end of September. SEMCOG continues to move at its usual pace on the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line. Plans for the bikeway along the abandoned Dequindre cut rail line in Detroit are proceeding from Jefferson Avenue north, but the right of way near the center city will be left open for commuter rail. The proposed bikeway will connect with the bridge to bridge river walk along the Detroit River.

Charnetski commented that planning for a new Amtrak station in Dearborn is proceeding. Robert Patterson asked that MARP not loose sight of the 3.5 acre tract in Troy that is supposed to be dedicated for a transportation center.

Old Business:

Membership: Vavra-Musser reported that 37 renewals have come in as a result of the reminder notice. He is working on a corporate membership proposal which he will present next month. He is checking with both the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers and the Midwest High Speed Rail on their corporate membership structure.

Ohio lists sponsors in their newsletter.

In response to a query from Langdon, Randall responded that he did not think such listings would interfere with MARP’s non-profit status.

Communications: Chase urged all present to contact members of Congress who supported S.R. 6003, the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill, thank them, and urge them to push for final passage. We should also contact those who voted against the bill and continue urging them to change their stance. We also need to thank state Senator Basham for introducing Senate Resolution 200 urging greater Amtrak capacity and ask members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to act on it. She informed the group as to who were members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Newsletter: Valderas apologized for the delay in getting the summer edition of The Michigan Passenger out on schedule due to his flooded basement. It is now at the printer and should hit the streets in about two weeks. He asked Hinkins to take over distribution of the papers Whims used to distribute. He urged immediate distribution as the registration for the Annual Meeting is included in this issue. Kent, Monteith and Patterson agreed to help with distribution in Northern Michigan if the Northern Arrow trip materializes. Monteith will look into lodging for Patterson.

Gurney suggested adding the Algoma Central Station in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to the distribution list. Ken Henry agreed to help distribute newsletters at Indian Trails sites.

Route Enhancement: Gurney reported that he had been tracking the WALLY and Michigan Flyer issues, discussed earlier. He discussed a recent visit to the airport and the paucity of public transportation and its lack of any signage whatsoever. Only employees seem to be aware of the existence of one SMART route. Hinkins wondered if SMART Route 220 could be extended to the airport. Patterson and Wallington agreed that more publicity was needed. Langdon expressed the fear that Detroit Metro might now allow access to buses connecting with the proposed Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line. Has anyone really talked to the airport about this?

Monteith shared a letter MDOT Director Kirk Steudle had sent to Senator Jason Allen indicating that his agency would not be able to fund an extension of the Indian Trails Lansing-Boyne City bus to Charlevoix.

Public Affairs: Langdon continues to work for support of Senator Basham’s resolution urging additional routes and capacity for Amtrak in Michigan. A petition is to be circulated to all mayors in Michigan urging support for the resolution. He asked all MARP members to follow up on this effort. A lobbyist for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association spent a day in Lansing recently pushing additional trains on all routes. MARP favors pushing for a second Pere Marquette frequency first. Michigan House Bill 5008 appropriating $6.9 million for Amtrak in 2009 is now in conference committee. No immediate issues are anticipated. This will not cover funding for a second Pere Marquette.

Wallington asked about the Statewide Transit Vision being circulated. It is unclear who drafted it. Perhaps the Let’s Get Moving group. Langdon urged that MARP get its vision into this document. Wallington and Gurney agreed to follow up.

Outreach: Frezell reviewed upcoming events where MARP hopes to have a table. Gurney and Tischbein will cover the July 20 show in Redford. For the Crossroads Village-Huckleberry Railroad show, Whims and Ward will staff the table on Saturday, August 2 and Pekarek and Gurney will assist on Sunday, August 3.

New Business:

Annual Meeting: The meeting will take place on Saturday, September 20 at 10:00 a.m.at the Durand Union Station in Durand. Wallington agreed to work with Don Westcott, President of Durand Union Station, on details including food. Chase will attempt to secure a speaker.

Upcoming Meetings: The next meeting will be on Saturday, August 16, at 10:15 a.m. at the Public Library in St. Joseph. Vavra-Musser is trying to get a speaker from the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

The meeting schedule is:

August 16 Public Library St. Joseph 10:15 a.m.

September 20 Durand Union Station Durand 10:00 a.m.

October 18 TBA Kalamazoo 11:00 a.m.

November 15 TBA Dearborn 10:00 a.m.

Other Business:

Robert Patterson handed out a proposal for a Lottery for Transit for discussion at the next meeting.

Hinkins agreed to provide maps of all rail lines abandoned since 2002 at the next meeting. -7-

Charnetski described how helpful Amtrak personnel were when his son took ill on a recent trip from Chicago to Ann Arbor.

Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 12:15 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary


John DeLora, Chair