MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
MONTHLY MEMBERSHIP MEETING
FLUSHING AREA MUSEUM AND CULTURAL CENTER, FLUSHING
JULY 20, 2013
Members Present: Bob Tischbein, Hugh Gurney, John Langdon, Rosemary Horvath, Richard Pekarek, Jim Hinkins, Dan Platz, Charles Merckel, Jeanie Merckel, Kay Chase, Kazinga Fujita, Andrew Kent, Don W. Westcott, Jared Becker, Steve T. Sobel, Robert Patterson, Kathleen Newell, Don Monteith, Larry Krieg, Larry Sobczak, Jim Wallington
Also Present: Mary Wilson, Don Wilson, Flushing Area Museum and Cultural Center
Call to Order: Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:25 a.m.
Guest Speakers: MARP members were warmly welcomed to the beautifully restored Flushing Railroad Depot by Mary Wilson, Museum Director of the Flushing Area Historical Society and Don Wilson, Treasurer for the organization. In his Power Point presentation, Don Wilson explained that the depot was constructed in1888 by the Cincinnati, Saginaw and Mackinac Railroad which in fact ran between Durand and Saginaw, never reaching Cincinnati to the South or Mackinac to the North. The building was saved from demolition by the C & O in 1966 and became a restaurant. A fire in 1980 gutted the structure, but left the walls standing. The Flushing Area Historical Society acquired the property in 1984 and began restoration in 1986. It opened as a museum in 1997 and is open to the public on Sunday afternoons, May-December.
Passenger service ended years ago, but four freight trains rumble by in each direction on weekdays, servicing mainly Dow Chemical in Midland.
Regional Chair Reports:
Southeast Michigan: Hinkins raised several questions relating to the newly established Southeast Michigan Regional Transportation Authority. Does MARP want to be represented on the RTA Citizens Advisory Board? Do we want to see commuter rail operated under the RTA? Rail projects will require a unanimous vote of the RTA Board.
Chase suggested that a committee consisting of Tischbein, Hinkins and Krieg review these questions and report back at a later date. Langdon suggested that Krieg remain in contact with the RTA subcommittee of Transportation for Michigan (Trans4m).
Krieg noted that he had earlier advised caution in putting the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line under the RTA. He now thinks this would be his first choice. In his meetings with the RTA commissioners, he senses that most of them are not enthusiastic about the proposed Bus Rapid Transit option for public transportation between Ann Arbor and Detroit, which would be far more expensive to implement than commuter rail. He senses that it would be possible for the RTA to unanimously endorse commuter rail between those two cities.
Krieg and Robert Patterson reported that they had applied for membership on the Citizens Advisory Committee. The deadline for applications was yesterday, July 19. The RTA will make selections from those who have applied.
Hinkins observed that groundbreaking for the M-1 Streetcar project along Woodward Avenue has not yet occurred. Construction of the Troy Transportation Center is moving along well.
Patterson reported that he had toured the commuter rail cars when they were on exhibit in Ann Arbor in June. He was pleased to see the Ann Arbor Railroad cooperating in this event. He noted that the cars do provide space for wheelchairs and/or bicycles, but there are no tie downs. The cars presently have no rest rooms, but sixteen of the cars are now slated for that amenity. A self contained unit can be placed in these cars by Great Lakes Central Railroad at a rate of one car per month. Patterson noted the wheelchair lift was very slow and cumbersome.
East/Central Region: Horvath reported that she is part of a small group which includes Tischbein and Langdon studying the possibility of a new Port Huron Transportation Center at 22nd Street. They are looking into the likelihood of a bus from Canada bringing passengers to Train #365 in the morning and picking them up from Train #364 in the evening.
In response to a question from Sobczak, Westcott noted that the proposed location could accommodate future passenger trains on the Mount Clemens branch.
Fujita raised concerns about the adequacy of the planned East Lansing Intermodal Station slated to get underway in August. The proposed terminal building does not appear to be any larger than the current station, which is woefully inadequate. During construction, a temporary station will be located along the CSX tracks, requiring a long walk to the trains, which run on the CN tracks. There will be no shelter trackside to protect passengers during inclement weather. Parking will be extremely limited, as virtually the entire site will be fenced off for construction.
At the present time, local Capital Area Transportation Authority buses are not scheduled to enter the station property, making it less than a full intermodal facility. The new station is slated for completion in August, 2014, which may coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Blue Water. For more information, check out www.cata.org>
\Western Michigan: Foundations have been poured for the new rail station in Grand Rapids, Langdon reported. Hopefully, the new facility will be ready by August 14, 2014, the 30th Anniversary of Pere Marquette service. Ridership on the Pere Marquette has been down, possibly due to competition from Megabus or from the fact that the trains are running with fewer cars.
Northern Michigan: Monteith bemoaned the fact that the Pellston Airport had received $1.4 million for upgrades, despite the fact that the facility is served by just one plane per day and 24,000 passengers annually. Because of the lack of railroads in Northern Michigan, heavy trucks are becoming more and more of a problem.
Kent expressed the hope that new grain elevators will lead to an upgrade of the tracks between Bay City and Standish.
Langdon noted that the future of rail is Northern Michigan is part of the Michigan Rail Conference scheduled for late August.
Communications: Chase asked if everyone had received a new membership card. The response was affirmative. She realizes that the 2007 date as to when each member joined MARP is incorrect, and asked members to provide her with the correct date they first joined the organization,
Chase has sent a Certificate of Appreciation to the Dowagiac Choir Committee for completing the herculean task of cleaning all the windows in the Dowagiac station.
Gurney noted that the Publications Committee needs to know how many newsletters are being distributed to each station. Langdon felt it was the duty of the Regional Coordinators to gather that information.
Governmental/Public Affairs: Langdon passed out a written report outlining a Michigan By Rail proposal to operate passenger trains along the I-96 Corridor, Detroit-Lansing-Grand Rapids-Holland. MDOT has requested a study as a first step, which is estimated to cost around $100,000. Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council has amassed around $80,000, and is looking for more support. The study would determine the kind and cost of equipment, the location of stations, projected ridership and other data. Jerry Becker noted that they can use models from other projects for some of the data. We will need to identify bottlenecks such as how to get from CSX tracks to the current Amtrak station in Detroit.
Membership: Renewals are slowing down, Newell reported. About 40 people have not yet renewed. She will be sending out a reminder in the near future.
Meetings: Wallington thanked Mary and Don Wilson for the excellent meeting space and the refreshments.
Our next meeting will be on Saturday, August 10, aboard the SS City of Milwaukee in Manistee. Six cabins aboard the ship are still available. The group that operates the ship museum will be having their annual meeting the same day and we are invited to participate in their activities.
The Annual Meeting will take place at the Durand Union Station on September 14. We plan to meet in Bangor on October 12. The November meeting location is still up in the air.
Route Enhancements: On July 17, 2013, Wallington, Gurney, Langdon, Fujita, Monteith plus Fischer and Dan Sommerville of MEC met with the leadership of Indian Trails including President Gordon McKay, Vice President Chad Cushman, Ken Henry and Brenda Cheney concerning connections between Indian Trails and Amtrak. Indian Trails does have a grant for better trail blazers in many localities in Northern Michigan, which should assist in identifying where the buses stop. Wallington asked all members to note where they think additional signage is needed along all routes north of the Bay City. latitude.
Indian Trails is ready to do a Thruway connection at Pontiac with westbound Amtrak #355 as soon as Amtrak puts it in its system. A northbound connection with Amtrak #350 awaits the completion of construction along the Wolverine Route which is currently delaying trains. Monteith commented that is now possible to connect from Indian Trails at Kalamazoo with eastbound trains to Port Huron and Detroit/Pontiac.
Indian Trails is perfectly willing to consider additional service to Port Huron and London, along U.S. 31 and daylight service across the UP. However, they need the assurance of funding to implement such plans.
Westcott asked how people even know about Indian Trails service. Their ticket window in Flint is filthy and doesn’t give a good impression. Wallington noted the need to find grants to publicize intercity bus service throughout Northern Michigan.
Indian Trails is designing a flyer making students at Alma College and Central Michigan University aware of Indian Trails service to those campuses. Horvath will assist in distributing. In Alma, Indian Trails is hoping to add a stop just across the street from Alma College. This has not happened yet.
Hinkins reported that he had recently taken the new Indian Trails service from Detroit to Oscoda. The bus was clean and stayed on schedule. Ridership thinned out north of Bay City.
Outreach: Merckel announced that he will be contacting colleges and universities along the rail lines in Michigan to promote Amtrak service. He also plans to contact travel clubs. He is open to all ideas that would promote passenger rail ridership.
Ridership: Langdon again expressed his concern that lack of equipment is throttling rail ridership. In response to Merckel’s inquiry, Krieg responded that the recently refurbished commuter equipment now in Owosso would not be suitable for Amtrak service to Chicago because it is certified only to 79 mph. The old Santa Fe bi-level cars would be suitable. Sobel added that additional business cars would help ridership.
Chicago Union Station Passenger Action Taskforce: The taskforce’s efforts to identify problems at Chicago Union Station and recommend inexpensive solutions is being thwarted by an ongoing Amtrak reorganization which will displace much of local management as of October 1, Krieg reported. Many in the current management hierarchy will become route directors. The Chicago Metropolitan Planning Commission has identified a significant amount of underutilized space in the building, but Amtrak lacks the money to implement most of those recommendations.
CUSPAT plans to encourage Amtrak’s real estate department to identify and open up some areas of the station for revenue producing activities in lieu of the Great Hall, which could be used once again by passengers on a regular basis.
Langdon noted that the new route managers will have significant influence over stations along their routes, including Chicago Union Station.
National Association of Railroad Passengers: John DeLora, one of MARP’s Vice Presidents, has sent word that the House and Senate in Washington are far apart on transportation funding for the 2014 fiscal year. The result may be a continuing resolution, which would not be bad for Amtrak.
Electronic Signage: Sobczak is working out the final glitches before electronic sign boards at Pontiac become operational. The boards will show the arrivals and departures of Amtrak trains, Indian Trails, intercity buses, and local transit SMART buses. Partial funding has been provided by Transportation for Michigan (Trans4m), Indian Trails, and America By Rail. A donation from SMART is anticipated. The sign boards will be located so they can be viewed even when the station is closed. Sobczak will be able to check the software and make scheduling changes from his home.
SMART buses do not currently come from the street into the transportation center. Their northbound buses would have to modify their routing to accomplish this. In addition, Indian Trails may want to charge a fee for the entry of SMART buses.
Indian Trails staffs the station throughout most of the day, but Amtrak pays a caretaker to open the facility for Trains #350 and #354.
Newsletter: The summer issue of The Michigan Passenger was sent to the printer last weekend, Sobczak reported.
Electronic Media: Sobczak confirmed that MARP is set up for both Facebook and Twitter, but the response has been minimal. Chase commented that MARP needs to determine how to better utilize both Facebook and Twitter.
Wally: Krieg reported that Wally Project Manager Michael Benham and a representative from MDOT had met recently with representatives of Watco, which now owns the Ann Arbor Railroad. They left a number of technical questions with Watco.
Gurney reported that the Friends of Wally would be meeting in Howell on August 3 to discuss options for funding operation of the Howell-Ann Arbor commuter line once construction is complete. Michael Benham plans to attend.
Southeast Regional Transportation Authority: Krieg noted that he had been working closely with the RTA committee of Transportation For Michigan (Trans4m), making sure that contacts are made with all the newly appointed commissioners. He himself has met with Washtenaw County Commissioners Richard Murphy and Elizabeth Gerber, whose field of study is regionalization. Neither Murphy nor Gerber believe that Bus Rapid Transit is the way to connect Ann Arbor to Detroit. Others on the RTA Commission agree.
Krieg plans to start an educational campaign so people understand what they are voting for when funding questions come up. He realizes that professional pollsters will be needed to determine what people at present believe about the RTA and the role of rail, intercity bus and local transit.
Engaging Younger People: Krieg plans to locate places where we can engage with younger people about the environment in general and transportation in particular. Spots may include gourmet coffee shops, and micro breweries. He is aware of a micro brewery located near the tracks in Northwest Lower Michigan called Ale by the Rail.
Passenger Rail to Northwest Lower Michigan: Krieg believes now is the time to visit the owner of the Great Lakes Central Railroad again about launching passenger rail service to Northwest Lower Michigan. He was quite interested before the economy tanked and he lost a lot of money. Krieg asked for ideas on what would motivate people to use the train on trips to Northern Michigan.
France: Krieg will be visiting France in October, checking out how they handle such things as airport-rail connections. He asked what information members would like for him to bring back.
Blue Water Marketing: Don Westcott, Rosemary Horvath and John Langdon plan to meet at the Durand Union Station on July 31 to discuss marketing for the Blue Water.
A consortium supporting the Blue Water received funding for marketing from MDOT for a number of years, but that support has ended. They hope to get the consortium going again, emphasizing the value of passenger rail to the economy as a whole. Durand is interested and Westcott has met with representatives of the Flint Chamber of Commerce which recently absorbed the Flint CVB. They would like to engage other communities along the route including East Lansing, Lapeer and Port Huron.
Michigan Rail Conference: Langdon handed out the tentative agenda for the Michigan Rail Conference, scheduled for August 27 at the Lansing Community College Center in Lansing. Conference sponsors include MDOT, the Northern Michigan University Rail Center and the Michigan Tech Rail Transportation Program. Both freight and passenger rail issues are on the program. Langdon urged all to plan to attend.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 12:50 p.m. All were invited to gather at Kathy’s Restaurant and Lounge for lunch.
Respectfully Submitted: Approved:
Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein