Minutes – January 12, 2008 – Lansing

General Membership Meeting
Lansing Public Library, Lansing
January 12, 2008


Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Bob Tischbein, John Langdon, Kay Chase, Jim Wallington, Michael Frezell, Andrew Kent, Richard Vavra-Musser, Jim Hinkins, Dwignt Phillips, Kazuya Fujita, Roger Webster, Ren Farley, Clark Charnetski, Steve T. Sobel, Dave Randall, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, Mike Whims, Don Monteith

Also Present: Therese Cody, Michigan Department of Transportation

1) Call to Order: Vice Chair Don Monteith called the meeting to order at 10:08 a.m. Those present were asked to introduce themselves and give their hometown.

2) Minutes were approved after correcting the spelling of Gordon MacKay’s name throughout the report. Approval moved by Phillips, seconded by Randall.

3) Executive Director’s Report: Whims spoke of various Visions and how they fit together. The MARP Vision was published in the our most recent newsletter. While always a working document, we consider it “official”. In December, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, a group authorized to look into the issue by Congress several years ago, issued its Vision for the Future through 2050. This document squares very well with MARP’s Vision. By 2030, it calls for 79-110 mph service, Chicago-Detroit, on a separate track, 79-110 mph service, Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo on a separate track, and 79 mph service, Detroit-Toledo on a shared track. For 2031-2050, the Commission envisions upgrade of existing Detroit-Pontiac service to 79 mph on a shared track, new 79 mph Detroit-Port Huron service on a shared right of way and upgrade of Detroit-Toledo service to 79-110 mph on a separate track. Langdon pointed out that not elements of the MARP Vision have been incorporated into the NARP Vision as of January 12, 2008. He urged this to take place as soon as possible.

Whims reported on the proposed rerouting of CN traffic around Chicago via the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern and said that, absent opposition from the membership assembled, he would send a letter to the Surface Transportation Board urging construction of a flyover at Grand Crossing prior to abandonment of the CN Airline Route into Union Station. This would be in support of the Midwest High Speed Rail position and is part of the Illinois state rail passenger program. Without such an improvement, both Michigan and downstate Illinois passenger service would be severely impaired. According to Wallington, the full recommendation is on the Midwest High Speed Rail Website, www.mwhsra> In response to a question from Charnetski, Whims said the Grand Crossing flyover would have no relationship to the South of the Lake proposal.

MDOT and Amtrak are estimating that the annual subsidy for a second Pere Marquette frequency would be around $2.0 million plus one time capital expenses of $800,000 per coach for a new train set. It would cost $160,000 annually to add a car to an existing train. Therese Cody stated that MDOT had been burned once on rehabbing coaches and would not upfront cash to Amtrak to rehabilitate cars. MDOT would insist on more control including that Michigan have first use of rehabbed cars and that they be stored in Michigan. MDOT would reimburse Amtrak once the rehabilitated cars were delivered. On a positive note, Cody said that Amtrak has been providing more equipment, particularly during the holidays. Langdon and Cody agreed that when Amtrak adds a car because of increased demand, all seats on the additional car should be sold at the top bucket.

The next step is to ask the legislature for the additional money. Langdon urged that we look to Illinois and develop a grassroots effort for a second Pere Marquette as the best means of winning legislative support.

4) Treasurer’s Report: Randall noted the death of longtime member Walter Weibel of Livonia, who passed away last July. As of January 31, 2007, the checking account had a balance of $3,315.14, which includes a donation of $1,000 from Larry Schwartz. The Pratt Fund had a balance of $15, 444.39. Concluding a discussion about our role in collecting dues for NARP, Vavra-Musser stated that MARP wants to get out of this middleman role. In response to a question from Vavra-Musser, Randall stated that approximately 70% of new memberships come from the newsletter and 30% from the brochure. Langdon moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report, seconded by Sobel.

5) Regional Activity Reports:

Eastern – Wallington reported that the Executive Director of Durand Union Station has left, with no replacement named.

Metro – Whims reported nothing new to report on the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter project and a reluctance on the part of Livingston County to support WALLY.

Charnetski mentioned that the Washtenaw County Transit Plan has a questionnaire on its website at www.miwats.org and urged members to check it out.

The QuickTrak machine at Royal Oak seems to be out of service most of the time. Cody mentioned that SMART is planning a new kiosk at Royal Oak that should alleviate this problem. She added that the cities of Birmingham and Troy seem to be working cooperatively on a proposed Transit Center around Fifteen Mile Road. They are getting more accurate cost estimates including a tunnel to the Birmingham side. This facility must be completed by December, 2010, or developer Grand Sakara will take back the land.

Cody further reported that VIA is working on a High Speed Rail Study that includes bringing that service into Detroit. Plans are underway to add a connecting track at West Detroit sometime in 2009 which would improve train movement and cut around five minutes from the schedule. SEMGOG plans to have the capacity study for the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter line from Norfolk Southern by the end of March.

Cody concluded with an assessment of the situation in Pontiac where the various uses for the transit center never materialized and the building reverted to MDOT. The cost of repair was too high, so MDOT is constructing a new building which it will own. Unfortunately, it has been designed primarily for busses and coordination with the rail use has not been as good as it could have been. She is hopeful that the bus tunnel will remain intact during construction for convenience of rail passengers.

Charnetski reported that plans continue for a new station in Dearborn. The people there want to tie into the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter project.

Northern – Kent confirmed the MARP monthly meeting at the Standish Depot at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 16. Newsletters were successfully distributed on various train tours during 2007 and will again be distributed on tours scheduled this coming summer and fall. Rail shuttles to new casinos in the area are a possibility, but the tracks will have to be upgraded. Clare has asked Standish for advice on their project. No decision has yet been made on relocating the Clare Depot. The old roundhouse has been torn down. Monteith reported that Gordon MacKay has agreed to look into extending the Indian Trails route into Boyne Falls. An alternative would be to have the county operate a bus to Boyne Falls.

Western – Langdon reported that Westrain has signed a contract with MDOT for marketing. Part of the funding will update the website. Indian Trails timetables are now available in Holland and Grand Rapids. FRA, MDOT and Amtrak have finally agreed that the height of the new platform at New Buffalo should be 15” above the rail. A new contract will need to be drafted, calling for the city to maintain the platform. With increased use of the Pere Marquette stop at New Buffalo, Langdon urged that it not be discontinued. Platform lights at New Buffalo, St. Joseph and Bangor need repair. Superliner equipment is still operating on the Pere Marquette route.

Grand Rapids Transit is planning enhanced bus service on U. S. 131 South. Some are urging commuter service on North U.S. 13l. The MARP meeting in Holland is confirmed for May 10, 2008. An extra effort will be needed to accommodate Spring Break traffic on the Pere Marquette.

Cody added that the Superliner equipment will stay on the Pere Marquette until warmer weather, when Amtrak needs it elsewhere. She feels that Amtrak and MDOT will be able to proceed quickly on the lease of the New Buffalo platform to Amtrak.

Langdon concluded by saying that he had been working with Travel Michigan on the “Amtrak Classic” basketball games in Grand Rapids and Chicago in March . Hosts will be needed on trains shuttling between the two cities. Unfortunately, those attending the game in Grand Rapids will have to spend two nights. Those attending the Chicago game will need to spend one night.

6) Committee Reports

Ride the Train – Robert Patterson handed out the Ride The Train Operating Parameters, the committee’s Education and Research Corridor’s Initiative and its proposed list of activities for 2008 including requesting Amtrak to participate in Durand Railroad Days in May, requesting Amtrak to support a MARP booth at the Chrysler Arts, Beats and Eats Festival in Pontiac in August/September, a request for Amtrak support of a float in the Detroit Thanksgiving Parade, and the encouragement of MDOT to include a line drawing of Amtrak routes in future editions of the MDOT Transportation Map. Patterson suggested review of these documents with discussion at a future meeting.

Route Enhancement – Wallington reported a very positive three hour meeting on January 8 with Gordon MacKay and others from Indian Trails. MacKay stressed that the Battle Creek-Chicago run was the backbone of his operation. If that were impaired, Indian Trails would be unable to do anything in support of public transportation. He still feels that the Blue Water is a threat to his operation. However, he understands there are lots of areas where we can work together. We have a common goal of getting people out of their cars on onto intercity busses and trains. Wallington is asking each of the five MARP members who participated in this meeting to contribute to a summary he will write of the meeting. Charnetski was particularly pleased that MacKay has adjusted the Calumet-Milwaukee schedules to mesh with Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service and is working with Amtrak to have that designated as an Amtrak Thruway Connection. Langdon added that improved connections with Amtrak trains in Toledo was also discussed. Chase indicated that she would like to see cooperation on promotion of Indian Trails service in Northern Michigan, including IT timetables at MARP exhibit tables. Cody responded that IT did receive some money from MDOT for marketing and that some of the funding going to Durand Union Station could be used for Indian Trails promotion. Whims suggested that Indian Trails schedules be added to the mitrain website.

Wallington added that Indian Trails will need more funding from the state to expand service in Northern Michigan.

Beautification – Langdon reported that the Holland depot had been decorated for Christmas.

Membership – Vavra-Musser reported that a letter to be sent to new members has been developed. He is currently revising the brochure and developing a membership card. He plans to share information about new members with their respective regional chairs on a monthly basis.

Communications – Chase informed the group that she will be attending the Carmichael Conference on the Future of American Transportation in St. Louis on January 28-29. The purpose of the conference is to discuss the report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, mentioned earlier by Mike Whims, and plan the way forward. The Commission recommends spending about $8 billion annually to upgrade the rail transportation network and suggests a number of ways to fund these expenditures. Options include a significant increase in the taxes funding the Highway Trust Fund, a general fund increase, tax credits, and greenhouse gas emission funding. Chase urged all to review the report and give her feedback prior to the meeting.

Charnetski noted that Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky are major beneficiaries of the plan and speculated as to whether those states have the political will to fund their share.

Outreach – Frezell handed out a revise outreach schedule. He stressed that, if nobody volunteers for a suggested show, MARP will not be represented. He asked that those proposing attendance at an event get all the details an make the arrangements.

7) Old Business

At Large Committee Assignments – Monteith reported that we still had two Coordinator positions open. Until volunteers come forward, he will assume the responsibilities of those positions.

Newsletter – Valderas announced that the Winter newspaper will be 8 pages. Deadline for articles is Tuesday, January 15. Valderas would like a critique from the members present. Valderas would like a critique from the members present on the value of the various news articles in the newspaper. As he sees it, the newspaper is written primarily for MARP members. Valderas urged regional chairs to keep track of distribution.

Future Meetings – Whims announced upcoming meetings at Durand Union Station on February 23; Toledo, Ohio (in conjunction with NARP on March 15; Standish on April 19; and Holland on May 10. The June meeting is planned for Owosso, but not yet confirmed.

8) Other Business – Robert Patterson passed out some ideas on funding and suggested they be discussed in March.

9) The meeting was adjourned at 12:20 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary



John Delora, Chair