MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
39TH ANNUAL MEETING
DURAND UNION STATION, DURAND
SEPTEMBER 22, 2012
Members Present: Clark Charnetski, Arman Balk, Christine Ballard, Lawrence Bancroft, Leonard Barry, Jared Becker, Frederick Bevis, Charley Bonnell, Tom Carroll, Philip Chamberlain, Kay Chase, James Clynch, John DeLora, Michael Frezell, Kaz Fujita, John Guidinger, Hugh Gurney, Jim Hinkins, Jane Hinkins, Rosemary Horvath, Janet Howes, Andrew Kent, Larry Krieg, Phillip Mange, Don Monteith, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, Richard Pekarek, Dan Platz, Dave Randall, James Roach, George Schlaepfer, Radley Smith, Sandra Smith, Gerald Smith, Larry Sobczak, Steve Sobel, Burt TenBrink, Steve Vagnozzi, Rich Vavra-Musser, Jim Wallington, Martha Wallington, Norma Ward, Robert Weinberger, Mike Whims, Don Wilson, Doug Wilson, Tim Hoeffner, MDOT, Larry Swartz, American By Rail
Others Present: Melissa Horste, Senator Levin’s Office; Chris Hennessey, Senator Stabenow’s Office: Bob Johnston, Trains magazine; Marc Magliari, Amtrak; Mary Warner-Stone, Durand Union Station
Welcome & Introductions: Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:40 a.m. Durand Union Station Executive Director Mary Warner-Stone then welcomed all to the facility and pointed out recent improvements including a paved and beautifully landscaped long term parking area, refinished floors, repainted walls and new exhibits. Over 200 hours of volunteer labor have gone into these improvements.
Melissa Horste from Senator Carl Levin’s office provided a status of rail improvements in Michigan. Through Senator Levin’s efforts, Michigan has received $200 million for purchase and upgrade of the Kalamazoo-Dearborn rail line and new transportation centers in Troy, Dearborn and Battle Creek. Ann Arbor has received planning money for a new station. Horste then briefed the group on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill signed into law in July, 2012. Referred to as MAP-21, it authorizes funding for both highway projects and public transportation for the next two years and promises to create or sustain 3 million jobs nationwide. A New Starts program can be used for both rail and bus rapid transit projects. A loan provision offers seed money for much larger transportation endeavors.
Charnetski expressed the need for a new transportation center in Detroit to connect Amtrak with the proposed M-1 streetcar running up Woodward Avenue from downtown.
DeLora reported that a Continuing Resolution had been passed the night before, September 21, assuring transportation funding through March, 2013. The scheduled Sequestration in January, 2013, will create problems.
Members present asked Horste to thank Senator Levin for his support for passenger rail over the span of many years.
Chris Hennesey welcomed the group on behalf of Senator Debbie Stabenow. He was asked to convey thanks to Senator Stabenow for her unwavering support for passenger rail.
The group then viewed a one minute video in which Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Joseph C. Szabo expressed appreciation for MARP’s role in preserving and enhancing rail travel in Michigan.
California High Speed Rail: Larry Krieg showed a brief video on the status of the California High Speed Rail project and its impact. As the largest public works project in fifty years, it will reduce travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to 2 ½ hours at 1/3 the energy expenditure of airplanes, saving 12.7 million barrels of oil annually. It is estimated that 100 million passengers will be using this service by 2030.
Bob Johnston of Trains magazine pointed out the area to be done first.
Status Board Project: Past MARP Chair John DeLora unveiled the Status Boards which will display electronically all arrivals and all departures from the Kalamazoo Transportation Center. Designed by Larry Sobczak, the board will scroll up as each Amtrak train or Kalamazoo Transit, Indian Trails, or Greyhound bus arrives or departs the station. It will show both scheduled and actual times for arrivals and departures and connections to the Kalamazoo Airport. Funded by the Sally Mead Hands Foundation, the Status Boards are a prototype for other transportation centers. Battle Creek and Flint may be the next.
“Full-Throttle For Michigan”: Tim Hoeffner, Director of the MDOT Office of Rail, expressed confidence that the actual transfer of the Dearborn-Kalamazoo rail line from Norfolk Southern to MDOT would take place shortly. Establishing clear title to property that has not been transferred in 180 years is proving a challenge. Norfolk Southern also needs time to transfer affected employees to other positions in compliance with union rules. Hoeffner confirmed that Amtrak would be responsible for track maintenance once the transfer takes place. Contracts for design of the double track section between Dearborn to Ypsilanti have been awarded. Materials are being stockpiled in Niles. Major construction work is slated for the spring of 2013. The section between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek will be pushed. For the time being, Norfolk Southern will continue dispatching.
Construction at West Detroit is awaiting a final meeting with Canadian National.
Hoeffner urged all present to participate in public meetings scheduled during the coming week initiating work on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Passenger Rail Corridor. This is a three state study, with MDOT serving as the lead agency.
In response to a question from Pekarek, Hoeffner agreed to take a look at the current Blue Water schedule to see if it could be tightened up. He confirmed that, with PRIIA Section #209 taking effect in October, 2013, the state support for Amtrak Michigan train routes will be increasing – possibly to $25 million annually.
Hoeffner assured Doug Wilson that border crossing issues are being studied by a consortium of affected American states and Canadian provinces as well as many federal agencies on both sides of the border. The chair of this group is in the MDOT Office of Rail. Over 30 U.S. federal agencies have something to do with border crossings.
MDOT is very interested in hosting stationary exhibits and special runs of the reconditioned commuter equipment during 2013.
Robert Patterson urged MDOT to take a look at passenger service on the CSX line between Grand Rapids and Detroit.
Charnetski noted that the freight carried daily through Menominee by CN is equal to 1,000 additional semis each day. He would like to see the state’s growing crop production moved by rail.
Remembrance of Dietrich Bergmann: After the lunch break, DeLora offered a tribute to Dietrich Bergmann, one of MARP’s early supporters and a past Chairman. Bergmann, who passed away earlier in 2012, had remarkable grasp of details.
Minutes of the 38th Annual Meeting on September 10, 2011 were reviewed. Jim Wallington moved approval. Jared Becker seconded the motion, which was then approved by the members present.
Treasurer’s Report: Treasurer Dave Randall passed out the Treasurer’s Report. Income for the 2012 Calendar Year as of August 31, 2012 stood at $19,045, while expenses have been $9,374. DeLora moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. This was seconded by Krieg and approved by the members present.
Nominations: Steve Sobel presented the report of the Nominating Committee. For the 2012-2014 term, the following have agreed to serve:
Chair: Robert Tischbein
Vice-Chair: Larry Krieg
Secretary: Hugh Gurney
At Large Executive Committee Members: Kay Chase
Regional Chapter Chairs: Don Monteith, Northern
Lawrence Bancroft, Western
Rosemary Horvath, East/Central
Jim Hinkins, Metro Detroit
DeLora moved that the slate be adapted by acclamation. This was seconded by George Schlaepfer and approved by the members present.
“Untold Stories: Routes Under Siege”: Bob Johnston, correspondent for Trains Magazine, briefed the group on the conflict over food service on trains. Those involved in the operation of trains see food service as an intrinsic part of ticket revenue, while Congressional critics try to compare it to restaurant revenue. Johnston then provided visuals of rail passenger service in the remote northern regions of Ontario and how trains keep residents in communication with the outside world. In areas without roads, trains are the only way to move people and their goods in and out. Johnston bemoaned the planned discontinuance of the Northlander Express connecting Toronto to Cochrane in the far north. Many with medical conditions use this train to get to their appointments. A long bus ride will be far more excruciating. VIA Rail’s Canadian provides a way to get in and out of other sections of remote Ontario. It is slated to be cut from three times a week to two times a week during the winter months. The Algoma Central operates passenger trains three times weekly to other remote sections of the province.
Johnston explained the threat to segments of the Empire Builder route in North Dakota because of flooding in the Devil’s Lake area. Fortunately, Amtrak, BNSF, the state of North Dakota and the Federal Railway Administration are working together to raise the tracks. The Southwest Chief’s present route through Western Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico is threatened because of deteriorating track conditions. Unless the states affected are willing to assume responsibility for the maintenance of these tracks, the Southwest Chief will be rerouted through Oklahoma and countless small communities will loose passenger rail service. Many of these communities, including Dodge City, Kansas, have invested considerable resources in upgrading station facilities.
Two corridors with augmented speeds up to 110 mph are underway in the Midwest, from Detroit to Chicago and from Chicago to St. Louis. 110 mph is the maximum allowed with grade crossings. Positive Train Control was initiated on portions of the Detroit-Chicago route beginning in 1995. The State of Illinois is funding some of the upgrade of the Chicago-St. Louis route.
In response to Doug Wilson’s query about Amtrak’s mandate for a national system, Johnston explained that long distance trains not only serve end points on a route, but many additional city pairs. Critics of long distance trains need to actually ride those trains to see how the really work, with people getting on and off at each stop. Unfortunately, many of Amtrak’s major markets are served by only on train daily. Revenue covers annual operating costs in the Northeast Corridor, but not capital needs. While PRIIA #209 does not mandate that states in the Northeast Corridor pay for service, it does specify that those states must together cover some of the costs. The formula is very complicated.
Wallington noted that VIA’s current model is to reduce losses by focusing on their major corridor, Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal and cutting back elsewhere.
“Amtrak’s Fleet Strategy and Chicago Union Station Master Plan” Marc Magliari, Amtrak Media Relations Manager, reviewed many of Amtrak’s recent successes. The company has had eight years of record ridership and is looking forward to another one. It has cut its debt in half since 2002. It now has a 79% fare box recovery rate. Eight trains daily now operate at speeds of up to 110 mph in Western Michigan. Under the leadership of Tim Hoeffner, Michigan has developed the first practical Positive Train Control system in the nation.
The Federal Government has moved more general revenue funds to the highway trust fund in the past five years than it has expended on Amtrak in the past 41 years. Federal operating subsidies for Amtrak are going down as ridership goes up. Approximately 880,000 people rode Michigan trains in the past year. Amtrak spends $46 million on procurement in Michigan. When salaries are added, Amtrak added $62 million to the Michigan economy – real money and real jobs.
Stimulus funds have allowed Amtrak to put a lot of disabled equipment back in service. New bi level cars have been ordered and will be put in service over the next several years, built in Illinois by a Japanese company.
Magliari acknowledged that Chicago Union Station is hopelessly overcrowded. The facility is now handling passengers once spread out over five stations. Each year, some 3.3 million people now pass through the station. Air conditioning of the Great Hall is now complete, so better use can of that space is now possible. Business Class passengers will now be allowed to use the Metropolitan Lounge, freeing up some space in the overcrowded coach waiting area. A CTA Bus Transfer Facility on Jackson is funded and should alleviate some of the mayhem outside the station.
Magliari foresees funding in the coming fiscal year for a taxi starter to control the jockeying of taxis on Canal Street. Awaiting funding are such projects as moving the Metropolitan Lounge to the upper level of the Great Hall, which would add 450 seats in the coach waiting area. Also planned are restroom expansion, and streetscape improvements to help people find their way into the station more expeditiously. Magliari would like to see a below ground passageway from Chicago Union Station to the parking garage and to the Blue Line. Wider platforms would help people get on and off trains more efficiently. Most tracks on the South Concourse are used by Metra.
A long term solution is more frequencies, so passengers do not have to wait as long at the station.
Amtrak is now updating its fleet strategy annually. The average age of the total fleet is 28 years, resulting in additional expenses. The company is currently looking for a vendor to build 40 additional Acela cars. The entire Acela fleet will need to be replaced in the near future. Some 100 single level cars are also in the works.
By 2026, Amtrak will need to replace:
825 single level cars
40 Acela cars
508 bi level cars
208 diesel locomotives
Amtrak’s nationwide map looks very similar to that of 1971. It remains a skeletal service, with major cities like Columbus, Ohio, and Los Vegas, Nevada, with no service at all. Cutting more from the long distance service would cripple the viability of the remaining system. Once a train is dropped, all its support facilities vanish – platforms, stations, even tracks. This infrastructure can be very costly when new service is started.
Magliari would like to see daily service to every major population center, with additional service on many lines. Magliari believes in adding frequencies, not additional cars on existing trains. The optimum length for short distance trains is six revenue cars. Adding more cars means adding more staff.
Magliari noted that the quiet cars on all Hiawatha trains have been well received. He would like to see more business class capacity.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 3:35 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein