MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
General Membership Meeting
Padnos Transportation Center, Holland
May 10, 2008
Those signing in: Hugh Gurney, Dave Randall, John DeLora, Don Monteith, Dick Pekarek, June Troost, J. R. Valderas, Richard Klecka, Jim Hinkins, John Langdon, Clark Charnetski, Steve T. Sobel, Rich Vavra-Musser, Jack Kessler, Kay Chase
Also present: Al McGeehan, Mayor of Holland
Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:05 a.m.
Guest Speaker: Mayor McGeehan welcomed the group to Holland and to the 79th annual Tulip Time. Over 600,000 people attend Tulip Time and McGeehan sees Amtrak as one way to move people to the festival. He spoke of a recent trip to Italy and the seamless movement from air to safe, affordable, clean and convenient public rail. Unfortunately, the comprehensive passenger rail system we once had in the U.S. deteriorated as families moved from one car to two and then to three in many cases. With gasoline now $4.00 a gallon, we need to demand a new vision for transportation. The rest of the industrialized world is now way ahead of us.
McGeehan is grateful for the once a day Amtrak connection to Chicago, but feels this is inadequate. In addition, Holland should have a morning train from Chicago and an evening train to Chicago. MARP has the power of truth on its side and should be talking to mayors across the state about expanded rail service.
McGeehan stated it was insane for Amtrak not to rehabilitate damaged rail coaches and get them back in service. If a manufacturer sees a demand for his product, he produces more of that product. Amtrak should do the same. The state of Michigan should be pushing Amtrak on this. Adequate rail service is part of economic development.
In response to a query from DeLora, McGeehan stated that he would write any letter or attend any meeting that would further the prospects of a second Pere Marquette.
As a follow up to comments by Monteith, McGeehan urged more decision makers to go to Europe and see how transportation works there. The U. S. is still in a 50 year old paradigm that is no longer sustainable.
Minutes were reviewed. After correction of the spelling of DeLora’s name, approval was moved by DeLora, seconded by Sobel, and approved.
Treasurer’s Report was presented by Treasurer Dave Randall. As of April 30, 2008, the checking account had a balance of $6,662.49 and the Pratt Fund was valued at $14,614.82. Results include a $150.00 donation from the Steam Institute and a $747.68 expense for the most recent newsletter. The printer is now invoicing us for UPS charges.
In response to a request from Langdon, Randall agreed to adding the approved budget to his monthly report for comparison. Charnetski moved approval, seconded by Hinkins, and the Treasurer’s Report was approved.
Regional Coordinator Reports:
East/Central: Pekarek displayed copies of the National Train Day proclamations issued by the Mayor of Flint and the City Council of Flint. Copies of these have been posted at the Flint Amtrak station. Pekarek thanked Kay Chase for providing the prototype. Blue Water trains are still frequently late, sometimes held up in Port Huron, sometimes in Durand, sometimes at Porter, Indiana. Poor on time performance makes it difficult to push the product.
West: Chase displayed a similar National Train Day proclamation from Kalamazoo and stated that Train Day had received good coverage. The Michigan Model Railroad Association is holding a reception in honor of train day at the Kalamazoo Amtrak station.
Langdon reported on the issuance of a proclamation by the City of Holland and the ceremony held upon the arrival of the Pere Marquette that morning. The CVB participated and Meijer donated a beautiful cake. Ceremonies were also held at Bangor, St. Joseph, New Buffalo and Durand. For 2009, Langdon urged early planning so that National Train Day can be a major MARP event. Chase suggested that this could be called Michigan Train Day.
April ridership on the Pere Marquette line was up, but down on the other Michigan routes. Langdon attributes this to the fact that Easter was in March in 2008. He expressed frustration at the “illegal” connection between the eastbound California Zephyr and Train #37l, forcing Pere Marquette riders to go to Kalamazoo. MARP should make this an opportunity.
Langdon pointed to Page 15 of the recently released report of the Tourism Task Force which discusses the need for public transit connections including Amtrak’s Thruway busses. Charnetski noted that the current MDOT Transportation map shows airports throughout the state, but not rail stations.
Langdon reported that he and Kay Chase had a very profitable day at the Michigan Municipal League meeting in Lansing. Mayor McGeehan was very helpful. They were able to hand out draft resolutions urging the addition of a second Pere Marquette frequency as a means of promoting tourism and economic development. North Muskegon has already passed its resolution.
Vavra-Musser introduced member Jack Kessler who serves as host for the St. Joseph station, reporting weekly to the City and Amtrak on conditions at that facility. Kessler was thanked for his diligence.
Metro: Hinkins reported progress on the Woodward Avenue light rail project. Pre-engineering will be completed this fall. For a video of the ride from Comerica Park to the State Fair Grounds, check out www.dtogs.com Things are not progressing as well on the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project, with a start date now of late 2010. Some, including Ann Arbor Transportation Coordinator Eli Cooper, are promoting an interim commuter bus service operated by Indian Trails.
Charnetski added that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has an $80 million federal grant to fund Chelsea-Ann Arbor commuter bus service by Indian Trails. In response to a query from Monteith, Hinkins stated that this funding could probably go for rail as well.
As to WALLY, Livingston County is now in and a Transportation Authority is being established. This could be expanded to the seven county SEMCOG area. A success with WALLY could stimulate other transit developments. Eli Cooper recently informed Charnetski that a feasibility study for WALLY is now underway and galley cars are available for the service.
Michigan Day: Langdon reported that plans are coming along well. He, Monteith, Valderas and Ten Brink will represent MARP. This is good coalition building for us. Last year, Travel Michigan handed out 5,000 brochures. Grand Haven, Holland, Saugatuck/Douglas will be represented with interest at least as far north as Whitehall. Monteith suggested promoting the connection to St. Ignace via Indian Trails as a means of making the Thruway Service better known. We should also work to promote connections to the ferries at Muskegon and Ludington.
Membership: Vavra-Musser urged the regional chairs to contact those members who have expressed interest in being more involved. A renewal reminder will be going out in the near future. Chase urged that we collect and utilize members’ e-mail addresses.
Communications: Chase reported that the National Park Service was doing a big event at Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah in honor of National Train Day. Charnetski reported on a very nice piece on National Train Day on NPR this morning. In response to a request from Monteith, Chase stated she would prepare a standard thank you to be sent to speakers.
The MARP website has been down a lot recently and Webmaster Sobczak recommends changing providers. It was moved by Langdon and seconded by Randall that Chase be authorized to work with Sobczak on finding a new provider. The motion passed.
Outreach: Langdon handed out the Outreach Schedule and asked members to add their names if willing to staff an event, then return the schedule to him. For Mount Pleasant, Valderas suggested handing out material around the Mountain Town Restaurant. Vavra-Musser asked people staffing an event to mark the membership brochures so he could determine which event produced the new membership. Troost suggested that we contact Michigan Traveler Magazine. It was pointed out that the Spring/Summer 2008 Amtrak National Timetable has several nice views of Michigan.
Route Enhancement: Gurney reported that he had sent information to a media contact in the Houghton area, urging her to write a piece on the new Amtrak Thruway Connection to that part of the state. Langdon is urging CVB’s to add links to Amtrak and Indian Trails to help potential visitors get to their communities. Charnetski reported on the dismal marking of Indian Trails bus stations and bus stops in the UP. Langdon suggested that those interested in better wayfinding signs contact the MDOT Regional Office for that part of the state to get the ball rolling. DeLora suggested taking the FHA Sign Manual with you on such a call to show exactly what was required.
Chase reported some confusion on where the Indian Trails bus stops actually are. On a recent trip, she was dropped at a site other than the one the schedule indicated.
Langdon stated that Indian Trails is truly appreciative of MARP’s efforts to better publicize their routes.
Langdon urged MARP to get more involved with the Let’s Get Moving Coalition and get them to view Amtrak as a link in the public transit network. MARP had four representatives at last year’s legislative day. We should strive for eight next year.
Detroit River Crossing: DeLora noted that this is really a project to turn the existing Detroit rail tunnel into a truck tunnel, then build a new rail tunnel. In his opinion, the project is unnecessary as the projected need is only 90% of current capacity. If passenger train service was restored, that could eliminate 1,000 cars per day on the Ambassador Bridge/Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. DeLora plans to get his comments in within two weeks.
Charnetski expressed the opinion that a new rail tunnel may be needed, as not all double stacked cars and auto carriers can go through the existing tunnel A tunnel like the one at Port Huron is needed. A new tunnel would allow for electrification.
DeLora expressed concern about the 8,000 trucks per day the proposal would put through Detroit’s Mexicantown area. Furthermore, the project will be 100% Canadian funded and he fears all the jobs will go to Canadians.
State Matching Grants: DeLora plans to review proposed federal-state matching grant proposals with Al Johnson of MDOT. Projects under consideration at this time are the West Detroit connection between Norfolk Southern and CN, extension of CSX trackage into the Grand Rapids Transportation Center, a station track at Battle Creek and a second track at the Ann Arbor station. Gurney asked that DeLora talk to members familiar with the Blue Water route to see if any projects would qualify on that line.
Vavra-Musser has read that the grant program may be $400 million next year. Chase said that, according to Progressive Rail, the $400 million may be spread over several years.
Langdon reported that the Grand Rapids station will become a staffed station in the near future. The position now at Port Huron will be reallocated to Grand Rapids.
DeLora reported on the recent NARP Board Meeting, attended by himself, Phillips and Vavra-Musser. They met with all the Michigan Congressional delegation. All seemed positive. The combination of scarce foreign oil and high gasoline prices has created a real storm in Washington.
CEO Rose of BNSF spoke candidly to the group. Though he would prefer not to have passenger service on his road, he stated that he will maximize Amtrak incentives and see that the trains run on time. BNSF wants to see rail investment that benefits them, but are nervous about federal involvement.
Congressmen Mica and Oberstar, co-authors of the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill in the House of Representatives both spoke. Mica is very positive about a national passenger rail system, but would like to see private contractors running much of the system instead of Amtrak.
DeLora concluded by saying that the momentum for rail is now there.
As to the $50 million bill to promote tourism, Monteith indicated he would talk to Zingermann as to its use for rail and motor coach transportation.
Langdon reported that groundbreaking on the new New Buffalo station will take place soon.
Valderas asked for comments on the latest Michigan Passenger. It was suggested that he add a section on what was happening with passenger rail in adjacent states.
Referring to the Presidential campaign, Monteith noted that Obama had spoken at Beech Grove on the need for rail passenger service. Chase reported that Clinton’s website stresses the need to improve infrastructure including rail.
Randall passed around a recently received memo from the Surface Transportation Board indicating that it had approved CN’s application to acquire the Elgin, Jolliet and Eastern. No mention is made of the proposed Grand Crossing in Chicago. Charnetski stated that this had been reported in the latest edition of Trains magazine.
Hinkins expressed concern that the State Transportation Task Force has few representatives for transit. The Michigan Railroad Association is not positive about Amtrak. Chase added that rail is not really involved. DeLora urged that new construction be suspended and that available funds be utilized for existing road repair.
Chase expressed hope that the Governor’s Environmental Group would offer an opportunity as rail can move 4-5 times as much freight with the same energy output. The environmental law group is exploring more use of electricity. Vavra-Musser urged that MARP build alliances with environmental groups.
The meeting adjourned at 12:30 p.m.
Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary
John DeLora, Chair