Meeting minutes –Niles– April 20, 2013

APRIL 20, 2013


Members Present:  Burton TenBrink, Gerald Smith, Phillip Mange, Mark Baruth, Charley Bonnell, Rick Rasmussen, Christine Ballard, Rich Vavra-Musser, David Williams, Deems Jensen, Chuck Merkel, Jeanie Merckel, Jack Kessler, Kathleen Newell, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, Dan Platz, John Delora, Doug Wilson, Bob Tischbein, John Langdon, Rosemary Horvath, Dan Westcott, Barb Spaulding-Westcott, Kim J. Powell, Frank Popp, Kay Chase, Hugh Gurney

Also Present:  John Michael Nevins, Amtrak, Bob Lotsbaich, Amtrak, Rachael Weber, Pete Weber, Robin Meyers

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:30 a.m.  Those present were asked to introduce themselves. 

Certificate of Commendation:  Chase presented a Certificate of Commendation to members of the Four Flags Garden Club of Niles for the fantastic job they do in maintaining the gardens and grounds around the Niles Amtrak Station.  John Delora reviewed some of the rich history of this beautiful station with its landscaped grounds.      

Guest Speakers:  John Langdon then introduced the day’s speakers, John Michael Nevins, Amtrak’s Michigan District Director for Capital Projects and Robert Lotsbaich, Amtrak’s Assistant District Engineer.  Nevins expressed confidence that the rail line between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek will be upgraded to 110 mph capacity by Christmas, 2013.  Amtrak crews under his direction are responsible for this segment of the 130 mile segment purchased by MDOT in December, 2012.  Work includes improvement of the track itself, a new interlock with the Grand Elk Railroad in Kalamazoo, and the laying of new fiber optic cable to operate signals.   According to Robert Lotsbaich, Amtrak’s Assistant District Engineer, the cable work will be done by a contractor under the direction of Amtrak.  Hopefully, Amtrak in Chicago can then begin dispatching trains between Battle Creek and the Windy City.

The Norfolk Southern will install ties on the existing main line between Town Line Road in Dearborn and Ypsilanti and site grading for the build out of the second main between Town Line and Wayne Junction.  These projects should be completed by year’s end.

The remaining sections between Battle Creek and Ypsilanti are programmed for future years, with all work completed by 2016.  Because there are many more curves on this segment, Nevins foresees average speeds of around 80 mph.  He feels that 50 mph is a reasonable speed for trains passing through Albion.

The total project will cost approximately $200 million and involve new welded track, some 200 thousand new wooden ties, upgraded passing tracks, 730 carloads of new ballast, and the rebuilding of 97 grade crossings.  All in all, 204 public and private crossings will see upgrades.

To keep this project on schedule, it is critical that MARP members apprise our federal legislators of the importance of this undertaking, asking them to keep pressure on FRA to release funds in a timely fashion.

In response to a question from Robert Patterson, Nevins agreed that it would be ideal if the entire rail right of way was fenced.  Unfortunately, that is not in the budget at this time.  Nevins suggested that MARP push for additional grants to accomplish fencing.

Nevins is not involved with the proposed West Detroit connector, so was unable to project when that would be complete.

Recess:  The Monthly Membership Meeting recessed at 11:40 a.m.

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the Monthly Membership Meeting back to order at 12:00 p.m.

Station Survey:  Gurney explained that a survey of all Amtrak stations in Michigan is necessary to clarify such issues as to who owns each station, who is responsible for management of the station, the actual hours the station is open to the public and other details.  Chase plans to develop a survey document.  It is her hope that the Regional Chairs can ask for volunteers to physically visit each station and gather the information on the survey document.  DeLora agreed to forward a copy of the survey document he used many years ago.

Sally Mead Hands Foundation Grant:  Gurney reported that he had applied for $25,000 from the Sally Mead Hands Foundation to develop an interactive web site which would permit travelers to plan and schedule trips throughout Michigan via public transportation.  The website would cover all forms of public transportation including rail, intercity bus, local transit and ferries and highlight likely transfer points between the various modes of public transportation.  Gurney expects a response sometime in May.

DeLora explained that the Sally Mead Hands Foundation focuses on green solutions and public transportation issues in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, the three states that members of the Hands family have lived in.  He questioned how we publicize the website if we receive the grant.  Langdon suggested we use the resources of the Michigan

Environmental Council.  Chase speculated on how we would pay for continuing support. 

 Bicycles on Trains: Noting that Amtrak’s Horizon equipment is capable of transporting bikes in Illinois, Landon suggested we make a push for transporting bikes in Michigan.  Robert Patterson asked if the new equipment on order would be able to carry bicycles.

Electronic Boards:  DeLora reported that the Electronic Board in Kalamazoo is working well and has cut inquiries at the ticket window by 80%.  He hopes to have a second one installed in the Battle Creek station by April 30.  Like the one in Kalamazoo, it will show arrival and departure times of all modes of transportation including Amtrak, intercity bus and local public transit.  Guilford and Springfield, Illinois, may be the next in line.  Soon, the boards will be able to show the exact location of buses at any given time.  DeLora confirmed that the electronic boards show the destination of trains and buses.

MARP State Meetings:  As part of its reorganization, NARP council members are now elected on a state by state basis.  Next will be statewide NARP Membership meetings.  DeLora will keep MARP abreast of developments including a possible joint meeting.

Public Affairs:  State funding for the Wolverines is not a done deal, Langdon informed the group. He is checking with FRA as to whether that agency would demand repayment of funds it has expended should the Wolverines not be funded by the state.  FRA says that it needs a 100% commitment to passenger rail service.  Six month appropriations are not acceptable. Langdon has discussed how PRIIA Section 209 impacts Michigan with the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriation Committees.  The bottom line is that an additional $20 million in state funding will be needed to keep the Wolverines running.  It is anticipated that the appropriation bills will be passed by the beginning of the summer. 

Horvath asked if Langdon would prepare talking points to assist members in discussing the issue with their local legislators.  Chase noted that one of the issues in the latest Transportation for Michigan brochure is “Full Funding for Amtrak in Michigan”  She suggested that members also review the Environmental Law & Policy Center website, which includes such facts as that Amtrak has a $10 million payroll in Michigan and purchases goods and services in the amount of $35 million annually. 

Langdon has already done 50 “Meet and Greet” sessions with new members of the state legislature and legislative leaders. DeLora stressed the importance of face to face meetings with one’s local representative and senator.

Chase expressed concern that the new Regional Transportation Authority legislation exempts GM test vehicles from any registration fees should RTA decide to add a levy on current registration fees to support public transit in Southeast Michigan.  This amounts to a lot of money.  Langdon handed out a list of all state bills dealing with transportation.

National Train Day:  Langdon asked those responsible for National Train Day events in each locality to check with their local ticket agents for supplies and materials.  Many stations will be receiving banners and give away materials, but the station agents have not been given any direction as to what to do with these items.  Langdon has sent out draft local resolutions which National Train Day coordinators can use.  He is working on state resolutions.

Communications:  Chase and Horvath reported on plans for the new East Lansing Transportation Center presented at a well attended public meeting on April 16.  They distributed schematics for two options, Concept A and Concept B. In each concept, the station is moved west to assure that trains are clear of intersections.  Seating is provided for 40 passengers.  While numbers fluctuate from day to day,  an average of 53 people board the Blue Water each morning.

Several items need to be stressed.  The station should be equipped to handle checked baggage.  Local CATA buses as well as intercity buses should be required to enter the station complex if it is to be a truly intermodal station.  Provision should be made for a platform on the CSX track for future commuter rail service.  Staffing is critical as there is little point in constructing a new station if it closed most of the time as is the case at present.  DeLora recommended a parking deck to assure sufficient parking.  Robert Patterson commented that the structure could have the station on the lower level with parking above.

Chase handed out comment sheets and urged all with knowledge of the station to submit comments.

 Membership:  Newell reported that renewals have been coming in steadily and we have a few new members.  Membership cards will be mailed in the near future.

 Southeast MichiganRobert Patterson has attended several meetings recently.  One dealt with extending the People Mover northward to the New Center area as an alternative to the M-1 streetcar.  A second was the organizational meeting of the Regional Transportation Authority.  He urged members to attend future meetings when they can.  Meetings will be held on the last Wednesday of each month in the afternoon at 1001 Woodward Avenue, Detroit.  SEMCOG meetings will be held on the same day in the morning. 

 The RTA is creating an Advisory Council.  Hinkins and Patterson are slated for membership.  They will cautiously press for rail as part of the RTA transportation network.

Outreach:  Tischbein reported that he will be sending out a schedule of all outreach events in the very near future.  He urged members to volunteer for events in their part of the state. 

Route Enhancement:  Gurney reported that Indian Trails will be taking over the Greyhound routes between Detroit and Flint as of June 1.  Details will be forthcoming.

TRANS4M:  Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council has sent his thanks for MARP’s participation in the legislative day held on April 16.  A similar event may be scheduled in the fall.

Future Meetings:  Our next monthly meeting will be on June 15 at the Vicksburg Historic Village and Depot Museum in Vicksburg.  Please review information in the next issue of ON TRACK for all the information on the August 10 meeting in Manistee.

Adjournment:  The meeting adjourned at 1:10 p.m.  All were invited to get together for lunch at the Nuggett Downtown Grill, 202 Main Street, Niles, about a mile from the station.



 Respectfully Submitted:                                                        Accepted:




Hugh D. Gurney                                                                     Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                                 Chair