General Membership Meeting
Standish Welcome Center, Standish
April 19, 2008
Those signing in: Hugh Gurney, Andrew Kent, Bob Tischbein, John DeLora, Jim Hinkins, Rich Vavra-Musser, Dave Randall, John Langdon, Burton Ten Brink, Clark Charnetski, Kay Chase, Robert Patterson, Kay Patterson
Also present: State Senator Jim Barcia, Curt Hillman, Chair, Heritage Route Authority
1) Call to Order: Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:15 a.m.
2) Speaker: DeLora introduced State Senator Jim Barcia from Bay City, who represents the counties of Arenac, where Standish is located, Bay, Tuscola, Huron & Sanilac.
Barcia spoke at some length of his support for both passenger and freight rail as key parts of the transportation network and as a way to conserve fossil fuels. Rail is definitely the most economical way to move both passengers and freight.
Barcia spoke of a $50 million tourism package being considered by the legislature. If passed, part of this money could promote excursions by charter bus and rail. Barcia expressed concern that rail companies in Michigan are being hurt by MDOT’s insistence that they bear the brunt of repairing rail crossings damaged mainly by heavy truck traffic. Lake State Railroad, which serves Standish, has been directed to repair ten crossings at a cost of $200,000 each. They may be forced to tear up portions of their system and sell the rails for scrap.
Highway bonds issued during the Engler administration can now be renegotiated at lower interest rates, This will free up around $700 million annually for infrastructure improvements in coming years. Barcia said he would support in the Senate the $7.9 million Amtrak appropriation passed by the House of Representatives.
Barcia praised the people of Standish for the beautiful restoration to the depot. He urged MARP members to get to know their legislators.
With the floor open for questions and comments, DeLora suggested that Barcia talk with Representative Marie Donigan for advice on how to form a rail caucus.
Langdon expressed concern that the Amtrak appropriation was really $6.9 million, lower than the Governor’s previous year request of $7.1 million. Langdon urged Barcia to get the $6.9 million currently under consideration increased to $7.1 million. Barcia speculated that unencumbered sales tax revenue could be redirected to transportation.
Barcia seemed positive about using part of the $50 million tourism package to fund a second Pere Marquette frequency bringing more Chicago people into Michigan. He felt such a train could go all the way to Traverse City.
In response to Vavra-Musser’s concern that we must move beyond just maintaining what currently exists, Barcia advised that we educate, educate, educate. MARP needs to work with the media and with allied groups including rail freight and those concerned with the environment and global warming. He stated his support for lower weight limits on trucks, better bases on highways, better railbeds, the acquisition of both freight and passenger rail cars and the linking of passenger rail with public transit in Michigan cities and towns.
2) Chairman’s Report: DeLora reported that both he and Dwight Phillips have been reelected to the NARP Board. Mike Whims has resigned as both Executive Director and Metro Regional Coordinator. Jim Hinkins has agreed to take on the duties of Metro Regional Coordinator. The appointment of Jim Hinkins to Metro Regional Coordinator was moved by Langdon, seconded by Randall, and approved by the membership present.
3) Treasurer’s Report: Randall reported that the balance in the checking account was $7,512.31 as of March 31, 2008 and the value of the Pratt Fund was $14,057.89. Approval of the Treasurer’s Report was moved by Robert Patterson, seconded by Charnetski, and approved by the membership present.
Randall then presented a proposed operating budget for Calendar Year 2008, showing $9,300.00 in income and $8,346.00 in expenses. Highlights include a call for $3,000.00 in contributions, $2,500.00 in grants to other organizations, and a $500.00 transfer from the checking account to the Pratt Fund. After discussion on the history of the Pratt Fund and its purpose as a long term investment to be tapped only when its interest and dividends will cover total operating expenses, Langdon moved acceptance of the 2008 budget. The motion was seconded by Chase and approved by the membership present.
Randall reported that he will continue to research the prospects of a MARP raffle, but his findings to date are not positive. MARP does not appear to meet the criteria of the Michigan Department of Gaming and could run afoul of the IRS, which requires that no revenue can provide a personal benefit to any member. A better avenue may be seeking corporate sponsors.
4) Regional Coordinator Reports:
Metro: Gurney reported that Livingston County has approved $15,000 toward a study on the feasibility of WALLY, the proposed commuter rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor. The City of Howell will serve as fiduciary agent for this study. Gurney also reported that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has contracted with Indian Trails to provide commuter bus service between Chelsea and several points in Ann Arbor. The service will be funded by a federal grant for two years.
Northern: Kent informed the group that two excursion trains were planned for 2008, one on August 9, Bay City-West Branch and the second on October 4, which will run Bay City-Grayling. The 1225 steam locomotive will not operate through Standish during 2008.
Western: Langdon reported that Westrain will have $200,000 to spend for promotion in 2008, $100,000 appropriated this year and $100,000 that was appropriated but frozen last year. They plan to focus on promoting mid week travel, mainly through the internet.
The New Buffalo platform is back on track. The City of New Buffalo is slated to approve the agreement next week. Langdon, Monteith and others are working on the Michigan Day promotion at Chicago Union Station, May 12-13.
Based on a recommendation by the Tourism Task Force, Westrain will be working more closely with the Convention and Tourist Bureaus in western Michigan. Gordon MacKay has been introduced to the Tourism Task Force and is working with them.
5) OLD BUSINESS;
Ride the Train: Robert Patterson plans to have buttons made for Earth Day and distribute them at the Dearborn train station on that day along with MARP brochures. The cost will be around $230.00. Langdon recalled that $500.00 had been approved earlier for the committee. Chase commented that if the buttons are well received in Dearborn, we could hand them out at the Green Fair in Ann Arbor in June. Vavra-Musser moved that Patterson have buttons made for handing out in Dearborn on Earth Day. Tischbein seconded the motion and it was approved by the membership present.
Membership: Vavra-Musser passed out current membership statistics, a list of new members who have indicated they want to be more involved and a list of ten possible work activities these members might consider. Regional Coordinators will be asked to contact these members and review options with them. In the discussion that followed, it was agreed that station “host” was a better work that station “agent”. Three states, North Carolina, Texas and California currently have station hosts. Langdon felt MDOT would be willing to cover the liability insurance for station hosts.
As to increasing membership, Hinkins suggested that we ask TRU to include a membership ad in their newsletter.. DeLora pointed out that All Aboard Ohio sends out 200 solicitations every two weeks with a 4% return. Chase added that all of those who attended the March meeting in Toledo are now receiving the All Aboard Ohio newsletter and other membership information.
Vavra-Musser will be sending out renewal reminders to all who have not yet renewed for 2008.
Communication: Chase asked all Board Members present to review their listing in the newsletter and make corrections if necessary. She asked that comments on the website be directed through her.
Outreach: Langdon passed out the current Events Schedule for 2008-2009. He has VIA Rail material he will deliver to Gurney for the exhibit in Durand, May 17-18. Kent reported that the MARP table was well received in Mount Pleasant and that the mayor of Alma had asked for membership information.
Bus Connections: Langdon passed out an article from the Charlevoix Courier supporting the extension of the Indian Trails Lansing-Boyne Falls bus into Charlevoix. So far, this extension has not been approved by MDOT, so will not happen by May 1. A petition signed by many at the Michigan Municipal League meeting in Lansing will be used to encourage a favorable decision from MDOT.
The Traverse City Area Vision Study has been expanded to six counties.
Since Indian Trails has been operating the bus service in the UP, ridership is up 50—70%. A
s to Wisconsin service, DeLora reported that Al Johnson, who manages MDOT’s intercity bus and train operations, has been in contact with his counterpart in Wisconsin.
In addition to discussing enhanced service between Milwaukee and the UP, they are also considering extension of Indian Trails service to Duluth.
Charnetski suggested signing all Indian Trails Thruway bus stops with Amtrak signage to emphasize the Amtrak connection. DeLora agreed to discuss this with Gordon MacKay. Langdon will seek advice from the MDOT representative in Holland. A discussion followed as to whether or not MDOT was adhering to the FHA Manual in signing train stations.
6) NEW BUSINESS:
State Matching Grants: DeLora indicated he would like MARP to suggest a list of possible projects that could be accomplished under the new grant program initiated by FRA, where the federal government will pay 50% of easy to do, inexpensive projects that would improve passenger rail travel. MDOT has already agreed to go with improvements to the West Detroit interchange as its first priority. Other projects suggested were a station track at Battle Creek, relocating the Grand Rapids Amtrak station to the transportation center, adding a second track at Ann Arbor, expanding the parking lot at Ann Arbor, and bringing platforms at St. Joseph and the Pere Marquette station at New Buffalo into compliance with handicapped regulations. Chase reminded all that any improvements must be included in the state’s long range transportation improvement plan. DeLora urged members to e-mail suggestions to him.
National Train Day: Chase shared a proclamation she had drafted in honor of National Train Day which is slated to be approved by the Kalamazoo City Council. She will share her template with others and urged them to have similar proclamations approved by each city and town served by Amtrak. She suggested that such proclamations be read at the various train stations on May 10 as a media event. Robert Patterson suggested that county governments could also issue similar proclamations.
After some discussion, it was decided to have the May Board meeting on May 10 as planned. Vavra-Musser urged that we start planning for 2009 now.
Porter-Chicago Track Improvements: Gurney asked what we, as residents of Michigan, could do to see that one or more additional tracks are laid along the old New York Central right of way to improve traffic flow through Indiana and Illinois. DeLora suggested a quid pro quo approach in which MDOT agrees to extend the Positive Train Control zone east of Kalamazoo in exchange for Indiana and Illinois improving train flow west of Porter. There are strong rumors that Norfolk Southern wants to transfer its tracks from Kalamazoo to Ypsilanti to either Amtrak or MDOT. Since this is really a high speed rail project, Langdon suggested working with Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. He doubts that Indiana will put any money into the project. Langdon agreed with Charnetski that CREATE was viable and would cost no more than one interstate highway interchange.
Railvolution: DeLora stated that he would like someone from MARP to attend the Railvolutions Conference in California in late October. The sessions cover a wide variety of topics including public transit, bike trails, etc. After some discussion, Langdon moved that MARP pay up to $1,000.00 to cover travel costs to California by Amtrak, food, lodging, and registration fees. The motion was seconded by Vavra-Musser and approved, with Robert Patterson abstaining. Patterson had indicated he might be able to attend.
Langdon reported that he and Kay Chase had attended a session in Chicago put on by the Environmental Law and Policy Group in Chicago. They also attended a recent meeting of the Michigan Municipal League in Lansing. The United Transportation Union passed out petitions urging the full funding of Amtrak and the inauguration of a second Pere Marquette frequency. The petitions were signed by 120 municipal officials.
Langdon talked with a woman from Muskegon who is working on an Amtrak Thuway connection at Holland. Such a connection would also permit travel from Muskegon to Milwaukee via the high speed ferry.
In response to a question, Langdon reported that Amtrak has 140 passenger cars out of service for various reasons. They need capital to repair them.
Vavra-Musser urged MARP to push to assure that the additional $500,000 Amtrak earned last year in Michigan is used to benefit Michigan. We need additional equipment. Langdon responded that the state appropriation can only be used for the Amtrak contract, The legislature would have to vote to expend any savings on the contract for other purposes such as equipment. At Langdon’s urging, DeLora agreed to try to find out exactly how much the state appropriation is and exactly what it can be used for at his May meeting with MDOT.
Charnetski reported on a model train show scheduled for the Arbor Brewing Company in Ann Arbor on June 8.
MINUTES: The minutes of the February 23, 2008 meeting in Durand were reviewed. One correction was noted. Approval of the minutes was moved by Langdon, seconded by Vavra-Musser and agreed to by the members present.
The meeting adjourned at 1:10 p.m.
Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary
John DeLora, Chair