MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
General Membership Meeting
Michigan Steam Institute Museum, Owosso
June 14, 2008
Those Signing In: Norma Ward, Michael Frezell, Dwight Phillips, Jim Hinkins, John Langdon, Stan Roth, Dan Myers, Dick Pekarek, Clark Charnetski, J. P. DesCamp, Andrew Kent, Kay Chase, Larry Sobczak, James Wallington, J. R. Valderas, Dave Bruins Slot, Barry Boyce, Dave Randall, T. J. Gaffney, Hugh Gurney
Also Present: Don Westcott, Durand Union Station, Inc.
Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:05 a.m.
T.J. Gaffney, Director of the Michigan Steam Institute, welcomed the group to the facility. He said he would soon be departing with a work party of volunteers to do work on nearby tracks. The weight of SRI’s Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive requires this.
Because of the economy and the cost of gas, traffic has been down so far in 2008. The Saturday excursion in May to Mount Pleasant was well patronized, but not the Sunday trip. Such statistics may affect scheduling for the remainder of the year. The condition of the tracks in the eastern part of the state is complicating collaboration with Blue Water. The cost of one trip with Blue Water would be around $30,000.00. The cost of coal is up from $105.00 per ton in 2007 to $150.00 in 2008. The Huckleberry Railroad in Flint and Greenfield Village are also feeling the crunch. Diesel fuel is also up. It takes 150 gallons of diesel fuel to run a locomotive to Mount Pleasant and back.
On the positive side, fall charters are looking good. David Rogers is bringing a group in September from the United Kingdom and over 1,100 tickets have been sold to date for a September 13 excursion. Caboose sales are especially popular. An article in the Chicago Sun Times plus a December, 2007, excursion with the 20th Century Railroad Club are resulting in more interest from out of state. SRI has been working with Blue Water to restore an Ann Arbor Railroad caboose, which may be ready for the fall trips. They may be able to add an additional coach by then also.
Despite a drop in attendance, the first quarter of 2008 has been more profitable because debt has been paid down.
The Steam Railroad Institute is best know for Pere Marquette 1225, recently used in the movie Polar Express. Built in 1941, the locomotive was the most powerful in Michigan. It was housed on the MSU campus until the 1980’s, when it was moved to Owosso and restored. It is the largest operating steam locomotive east of the Mississippi and has made numerous trips in the past two years.
SRI has an operational turntable to turn #1225 and quite a few cars. As they are put into service, passengers cars are named after long time volunteers. Freight equipment is generally used for storage.
Minutes of the May 10 meeting were reviewed. Langdon moved approval, which was seconded by Phillips and approved by the members present.
Treasurer’s Report was given by Treasurer Randall. As of May 31, 2008, the checking account had a balance of $1,195.33 and the Pratt Fund was valued at $14,826.32. Randall hopes to add a comparison to budget column by next month. A problem of sending renewal notices to some life members has been corrected. Approval was moved by Wallington, seconded by Monteith, and approved by the members present.
East/Central: Wallington reported that the Blue Water Connection, a promotional group like Westrain, has been busy. Five billboards have been placed at key locations along I-69. Durand Union Station, Incorporated, has been most active, along with Port Huron. Wallington thanked Pekarek and Chase for distributing promotional materials.
Northern: The excursion business remains murky as Lake States grapples with liability insurance issues. During the May visit of Pere Marquette 1225 to Mount Pleasant, Kent talked extensively with a woman doing a documentary on rail history in the Saginaw Valley. Kent has offered a link to the MARP website and may do some commentary. The woman has visuals of the Durand and Standish depots, but is in need of photos of streetcars.
Monteith made a presentation the past Monday, June 9, in Charlevoix in favor of extending Indian Trails bus service from Boyne City into Charlevoix. How much service depends on city support, but Monteith is optimistic. State Senator Allen and Phil Hoffman are very supportive. The bus service would get people to Charlevoix, where they could catch the Beaver Island ferry the following day. Wallington reported that he had taken an Indian Trails coach recently. He counted only 14 passengers north of Grand Rapids. He urged more publicity for this service and suggested the bus stop in Big Rapids be at the college.
West: Langdon reported that Michigan Day at Chicago Union Station was a huge success with 6,000 Travel Michigan guidebooks handed out by 8:30 a.m. Following up on Wallington’s concerns, Langdon agreed that MDOT should work more with Indian Trails on promotion. While at Union Station, he urged the CVB’s present to add links to showing how to get to their communities by bus, train and plane. Indian Trails schedules will change on July 1.
Westrain is focusing its resources on web site promotion. Fares on both state funded trains and the Wolverines are slated to go up by 5%. Because the trains are better patronized, revenue is going up faster than ridership. Michael Sak, Speaker Pro Tem of the Michigan House, was unable to book passage on the Pere Marquette on three successive weekends. On May 21, Langdon delivered the signatures gathered at the Michigan Municipal League Meeting in support of the second Pere Marquette to the governor’s office and key legislative people. Senator Allen of Traverse City specifically asked Langdon to keep in touch. He could be a key ally.
Langdon has also been working with representatives of the Environmental Law group in support of Senator Basham’s Resolution 200 urging Amtrak to provide greater frequencies and greater capacity in Michigan. The resolution has been sent to the appropriations committee. Langdon urged all members to speak in support of Resolution 200 to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He suggested that Chase send the signatures that she had obtained at the Ann Arbor Green Fair to the Appropriations Committee. Mayor Al McGeehan of Holland is urging all mayors in the state to sign the resolution.
In closing, Langdon informed the group that Amtrak now has a link to the on time performance of each train with the likely cause for the delay divided by the different railroads the train operates on.
Metro: Hinkins reported that a new report on the Vision for Transportation in Southeast Michigan is expected in the fall. Plans for a light rail system from New Center to downtown are proceeding. For the present, the line may stop at Comerica Park. Other alternatives are to go from 7 ½ Mile Road all the way to the Rosa Parks Bus Terminal. The idea is that it would link with the People Mover. A second route on Gratiot Avenue would likely be next.
Hinkins is working with Economic Development to assure that a planned Dequinder bikeway leaves room for a future rail line.
Hinkins has attended two meetings on the International Crossing. The best option would be a bridge some distance south of the Ambassador Bridge.
Charnetski reported on a recent conversation with Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor Transportation Planner. Cooper says a study of the WALLY will be coming out shortly. The consultant is saying that trackwork alone will cost $20 million. Charnetski handed out a flyer concerning the new Chelsea-Ann Arbor commuter bus service.
Introductions: At Langdon’s request, all present introduced themselves and where they were from.
Membership: Langdon reported no change in the membership count. The meeting on August 16 will be at the St. Joseph library with lunch at the depot.
Communications: Chase reported on the Ann Arbor Green Fair, where she saw a different audience than we see at train shows, people who are apprehensive about taking paper information. She felt the event was successful. In response to a query from Langdon, Chase agreed to see if there was a central clearing house for information on green fair events.
Chase urged those available to attend an Energy Seminar on Monday, June 16, at Oakland Community College. Hosted by Rep. Marie Donigan, the seminar will stress utility efficiency.
Chase handed out a survey form from SEMCOG and asked those present to fill it out and return it to SEMCOG. TRU is supporting this survey.
Because of rain prior to the Green Fair, Chase urged purchase of a canopy. DeLora suggested an open faced tent.
Chase called attention to a project in Minot, ND, where Boy Scouts rebuilt a section of track for the Magic City Express.
Outreach: Frezell thanked Chase for initiating MARP presence at the Ann Arbor Green Fair. Such events are just as important for outreach as train shows. Frezell urged purchase of a good shelter, one that is easy to put up. He has one that cost around $100.00. Patterson advised that sometimes we will need a full tent.
Frezell is looking into options for tabletop displays, something costing $100 – $200. Langdon suggested checking with NARP on their experience. Kent is putting together an 8”x12” exhibit for his shows. Both Frezell and Langdon suggested an easel for display of the state transportation map.
Upcoming shows include July 20 in Redford, the Northern Arrow excursion, Montcalm Community College and Crossroads Village.
As an aid to those staffing MARP exhibits, Patterson handed out an index he had created to the current Amtrak National Timetable indicating where specific information is located in that extensive document.
Newsletter: Valderas apologized that a storm that flooded his basement has set back publication of the summer Michigan Passenger. He now anticipates publication in August. He asked the group for help on a catchy caption for the first page.
Valderas stated that he has received photos of the Michigan Municipal League event and the visit of Pere Marquette 1225 to Mount Pleasant, but no captions or accompanying stories. He asked if someone could do an article on why the Battle Creek rail yard is empty.
A discussion ensued on the advisability of posting Michigan Passenger on the MARP website. Langdon moved that we post past issues, but for the current issue, potential readers would be directed to membership. The motion was seconded by Patterson and approved by the members present.
REC: Gurney reported on a piece he had seen called Getting Around Wisconsin Without A Car, put out by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. He thought the format could be used as a guideline for fulfilling one of REC’s mandates. Monteith urged that we link the Station Locator information for Indian Trails busses with our website. Information about all bus and train stations should be linked to the MARP webpage.
In response to a concern about lack of signage raised by Sobczak, Charnetski urged that we look to California for guidance.
DeLora reported he is checking with an attorney for the American Bus Association for guidance on what we can do about Metro Airport’s refusal to publicize the Michigan Flyer service to Ann Arbor, Jackson and Lansing. As to elected officials who appoint the Metro Airport Board, DeLora suggested contacting Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick and Wayne County Executive Ficano.
Change of Internet Provider: Sobczak reported that, because of constant problems with our internet provider. MARP has switched to Network Solutions. The new provider will cost half as much and offers 24 hour rather than 12 hour daily support. It also has more storage capacity and will be renewed on an annual rather than a monthly basis. At Sobczak’s request, Randall will send a cancellation notice to the old provider.
Detroit River International Crossing: DeLora reported that Dietrich Bergmann had done extensive research into the issue of a new international crossing at Detroit. The Senate Resolution supporting the crossing has been halted once senators were provided with accurate information. From Ontario Transport, Bergmann learned that the total cost of a new crossing would be $5 Billion and that based on recent figures, traffic has actually declined on the Ambassador Bridge since 2000. Running two round trips trains daily through the existing tunnel would alleviate auto tie ups. Through personal observation, DeLora has determined that tie-ups on the Ambassador Bridge are solely a function of how many customs booths are open, not the number of vehicles crossing.
Chicago-Porter: DeLora informed the group that the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill, HR 6003, cites Chicago-Porter as a key chokepoint that should be corrected and provides Federal/State matching grants to correct the problem. It is also on Amtrak’s priority list. Wallington added that an article in Reuters stated that Chicago-Detroit is specifically mentioned as a key high speed rail corridor to pursue in the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill.
In response to a question from Langdon, DeLora reminded the group that HR 6003 is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill. Funding could start as early as October 1, 2008, if an appropriations bill was passed into law. An appropriations bill could provide funding for up to five years, subject to annual reauthorization. The 80/20 Federal/State match is for capital improvements only. It could give the state an incentive to refurbish coaches.
Cooperation with Freight Carriers: Monteith asked if we could put this issue on the agenda for the July meeting. Without the freight railroads, there will be no rails for future passenger service. MARP needs to work with these carriers to determine how we can help them best.
Annual Meeting: After some discussion, it was decided that the Annual MARP Meeting will take place on Saturday, September 20, 2008, at Durand Union Station. Norma Ward agreed to help locate a caterer. The registration fee will be $20.00. It was recommended that for 2009, we consider Lansing, Bangor and Niles.
Future Meetings: Future Meetings were confirmed or established as follows:
July 12, 2008 Lapeer
August 16, 2008 St. Joseph
September 20, 2008 Durand
October 18, 2008 Kalamazoo
November 15, 2008 Dearborn
Other: Patterson is seeking information about liability for charter trains. He also wonders if we have a DVD presentation we can use for outreach.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 12:15 p.m.
Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary
John DeLora, Chair