MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
CLARA’S ON THE RIVER, BATTLE CREEK
SEPTMEBER 10, 2011
Members Present: Barry Adams, Jared Becker, Martha Benedict, Dietrich Bergmann, Phillip Chamberlain, Clark Charnetski, Kay Chase, James Clynch, Douglas Deaton, John DeLora, J. P. Des Camp, Robert Dunn, Tim Fischer, John Guidinger, Marilyn Guidinger, Hugh Gurney, Jim Hinkins, Jane Hinkins, Andrew Kent, Alan Koole, Larry Krieg, John Langdon, Archie Lhamon, Phillip Mange, Don Monteith, Daniel Myers, Mary Myers, Robert Patterson, Diane Paterson, Richard Pekarek, Dwight Phillips, Tom Post, Kim Powell, David Randall, James Roach, Hazel Rood, Josephine Rood, Gerald Smith, Larry Sobczak, Burt TenBrink, Ebony Thorpe, Robert Tischbein, Donald VanUum, Richard Vavra-Musser, Jim Wallington, Barney Whittier, David Williams, Doug Wilson.
Guests: Susan Baldwin, Rick Chapla, Ron DeCook, Paul Egnatuck, Madeline Grennan, Rick Harnish, Tim Hoeffner, Joe Schwarz, Andrew Snow
Welcome & Introductions: Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 11:00 a.m. Guests were introduced.
Welcome to Battle Creek: Susan Baldwin, Mayor of Battle Creek, welcomed the group to her city. Early on, Battle Creek was a major station on the Underground Railroad and assisted many slaves on their way to freedom in Canada. It later became a center of the Seventh Day Adventist movement, which hired Kellogg, who opened a sanatorium specializing in a vegetarian diet. This was the impetus for the cereal industry. Later, C. W. Post developed a cereal based coffee, Postum, as well as cereals such as Grape Nuts. By 1902, the area had 40 companies manufacturing cereal products.
During World War I, Fort Custer was established west of the city. At its peak, the post had 2,000 buildings on an 8,000 acre site and trained 60,000 soldiers.
Battle Creek Stations: John Langdon reviewed the various railroad stations that have served Battle Creek. Clara’s on the River was the Michigan Central Station, 1880-1980.
The current Amtrak station was opened in 1980. It is now undergoing a $3.6 million renovation to serve Amtrak and Indian Trails. Battle Creek Transit will have its main terminal with platforms for 8 buses just across the street.
A New Era For Passenger Trains in Michigan: Tim Hoeffner, Administrator of the MDOT Office of High Speed Rail, reported that all passenger and freight rail functions administered by MDOT had recently been brought together in a single office. Negotiations with Norfolk Southern on the transfer of the Dearborn-Kalamazoo line are going well. NS, MDOT, and FRA are working together to expedite the package. NS will continue dispatching in the interim – for at least a year. Then Amtrak will take over dispatch. MDOT hopes to contract with Amtrak for maintenance. Bids for the restructuring of West Detroit Junction will go out this fall. The Chicago section of the route will be critical. MDOT is moving away from the High Speed Rail terminology, now calling their efforts Accelerated Rail.
Planning for the Ann Arbor-Detroit and Ann Arbor-Howell commuter rail lines continues.
At the present time, Hoeffner anticipates only modest improvements to the four mile stretch in Battle Creek remaining in CN ownership. In the future, he would like to see a separate passenger track which would simply cross CN. In the long run, a flyover would be ideal.
Funding has been authorized for Bi-level cars to re-fleet the Midwest rail system and its projected 30-40% projected growth. Next-Gen locomotives to be ordered at the same time will be used on the Blue Water and Wolverine routes in Michigan. The vision of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission is 10-12 trains daily making the trip between Detroit and Chicago in less than four hours.
Funding for the South of the Lake project has not been obligated at this time. Amtrak and the three states of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois will be reviewing options and determining the preferred alternative. Twenty-seven alternatives are on the table.
Because slow orders on the Ypsilanti-Kalamazoo section were hurting ridership, MDOT made the decision to get the tracks stabilized immediately. Work should be completed within ten days and trains should be back on their previous schedule.
Amtrak is now working on its Porter-New Buffalo section as plans proceed to up speeds to 110 mph. The Michigan section is ready now.
Work at West Detroit will allow passenger trains to cross directly from Norfolk Southern to Canadian National tracks. This involves building one mile of new track. MDOT is negotiating with the City of Detroit on land for a new station which could serve both tracks from a center platform.
As to the commuter lines, MDOT is moving ahead on a robust overhaul of the ex- METRA equipment it has leased. Seating issues have been resolved and new seats should be installed within a couple of months. Amtrak will probably be the operator of the Ann Arbor-Detroit line, as it currently works with the freight railroads.
MDOT chairs the Eastern Border Coalition, a broad-based group attempting to resolve issues making cross border train travel so difficult. Both Canadian and US federal officials are involved as well as representatives from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine, Vermont, New York and Michigan.
MDOT’s focus at the moment is on the Detroit-Chicago line. Issues involving other Michigan routes will have to wait. Hoeffner feels that better bus connections will be the first step.
The current maintenance effort will not resolve the problems at Jackson. A permanent solution awaits the upgrading of the Dearborn-Kalamazoo line, which is at least two years in the future.
Track Work on the Wolverine Line: Larry Krieg showed a video of recent track work along the Wolverine line from Kalamazoo to Dearborn. The machinery used and the speed at which repairs can be made are impressive.
As to the status of the WALLY commuter line, a good bit of ballast and tie work has been completed. Needed now is access into downtown Ann Arbor via the Ann Arbor Railroad and finalization of station locations and cost estimates for constructing them. Outstanding capital costs will be at least $19 million. The local match for operating costs will be around $2 million annually. The University of Michigan and Washtenaw County remain very positive as does the City of Howell. Most officials in Livingston County remain unconvinced.
Keynote: Cooperative Effort Pays Off for the Midwest: Dr. John J. H. “Joe” Schwarz, Governor’s Appointee to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, gave the keynote address. Schwarz recounted that he was born in Chicago and made his first train tip when he was just a few days old, traveling with his parents to his Battle Creek home. Over the years, he traveled frequently from the Michigan Central Station which today houses Clara’s Restaurant where we are meeting today. Schwarz would like to see the current Wolverine line offer the best passenger rail service in the nation, with new rail and new equipment. He feels this is possible if citizens continue to lean on our leaders. Each member present should work to see that their U. S. Representative supports Amtrak. Key people working on the project include Governor Snyder, Schwarz, Tim Hoeffner, and MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. Norfolk Southern has agreed that a change of ownership of the rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo can happen. There is no through traffic on the line.
At the conclusion of his remarks, MARP Chairman Tischbein presented Schwarz with its Leadership Award for Schwarz’s untiring efforts to support passenger rail service in the state of Michigan.
Illinois Leads the Way: Rick Harnish and Madeline Grennan of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, then discussed their efforts to bring high speed rail to Illinois and the Greater Midwest. They noted that the famed Japanese high speed route serves a
population density very similar to that between Chicago and New York. Better connections between major urban centers in the Midwest and to Midwest airports are badly needed. With true high speed rail, one could travel from Chicago to either Detroit or St. Louis in two hours. At 220 mph, ridership could total 43.6 million annually.
On June 3, 2011, Illinois Governor Quinn announced a partnership between the Illinois Department of Transportation and the University of Illinois to study the possibility of 220 mph high speed rail between Chicago, Champaign and beyond, including hourly service to O’Hare Airport. At Champaign, Harnish foresees the high speed line splitting, with one branch going to St. Louis and a second line heading east to Indianapolis and Cincinnati. This would allow direct service between St. Louis and the two more eastern Midwest cities. Harnish anticipates that the Illinois Toll Authority will be given power to build high speed rail tracks and charge user fees for their use. The Toll Authority could raise tolls on toll highways to fund rail construction. Legislation to make all this happen has passed both houses of the Illinois legislature.
Governor Quinn has asked Amtrak to study how to extend service from Chicago Union Station to O’Hare Airport. Studies are also underway for Amtrak service from Chicago to Dubuque and between Bloomington and Peoria. The Chicago-St. Louis line is currently being upgraded for 110 mph speed with all concrete ties. Much of the line will be double track. Success in Illinois will be a model for the nation. Harnish foresees multiple HSR frequencies between Chicago and New York. He urged people to check the standupfortrains.org website.
Harnish concluded by asking members to re-imagine Chicago Union Station and how it could be more functional.
Noting Midwest High Speed Rail Association’s success, Hoeffner urged MARP to step up its efforts, engaging more with the business community than it has done in the past. He suggested MARP leaders talk with Ron DeCook and the Michigan Economic Development Authority on ways to build the rail industry by retooling unused auto plants.
In response to Charnetski’s suggestion of through Chicago-Detroit-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-New York service, Hoeffner visualizes Chicago-Detroit-Toronto-Montreal-Boston service, with Detroit as the epicenter. He reported that the Englewood Flyover in South Chicago is now in the design phase, with construction anticipated to begin during the summer of 2012.
MARP Business Meeting: Minutes of the 2010 Annual Meeting were reviewed. Charnetski moved approval. The motion was seconded by Robert Patterson and approved by the members present.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 2:20 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Approved:
Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein