Meeting Minutes — Chicago, Il– November 2, 2013

NOVEMBER 2, 2013

Members Present:  Hugh Gurney, Gerry Callison, Kathleen Newell, Jim Wallington, Martha Benedict, Barb Spaulding-Westcott, Steve T. Sobel, Melanie Ehrhart, Chuck Merckel, Jeanie Merckel, Shane Nodurft, Rosemary Horvath, Kaz Fujita, Dave Vander Bee, Barry Adonis, Clark Charnetski, Jim Hinkins, Dan Platz, Don Heydens, Dennis Schumaker, Pat Schumaker, George Dines, Michael Frezell, Charles Shong, Richard Pekarek, J. P. DesCamps, John Langdon, Cathy Hart, Ken Hart, Rick Burn

Also Present, Sidney Burkett, Amtrak, Joy Smith, Amtrak, Rick Rogers, Amtrak, Dave Rasmussen, WisARP, Rick Harnish, MHSRA, Tom O’Malley, Mark Weitenbeck, WisARP, Tess Craven, Bob Johnson, Trains Magazine, Doug Yerkeson, Hoosiers for Passenger Rail

Call to Order:  Vice Chairman Larry Krieg called the meeting to order at 11:40 a.m.  All present were asked to introduce themselves and their place of residence.  Steve Sobel was appointed time keeper.

Track Work in Michigan:  While waiting for all to arrive and for the buffet lunch to be set up, Steve Sobel gave a power point presentation on current construction projects along the Wolverine line.  The Troy Transportation Center is complete, but opening is yet to be scheduled because of legal issues.  Construction on the Dearborn Transportation Center is moving along nicely and should be complete sometime in 2014.  A significant amount of work has been done on the tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo, with work currently focusing on the stretch between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.  Norfolk Southern crews, under MDOT and Amtrak supervision, are concentrating on the worst sections during 2013 with the goal of getting operating speeds up to 80 mph between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.  The elevation on some curves is being increased.  A number of crossings are being upgraded.  New signals are being installed.

Travel has been disrupted, with through trains operating earlier in the morning and later in the evening, and bus bridges put in place from Kalamazoo east during the middle of the day.  Construction will wind up on November 21, so Amtrak can run full service during Thanksgiving week.

Construction will continue during 2014 and 2015 with the goal of increasing speeds on most of the line to 110 mph when complete.  New equipment is scheduled to arrive in late 2016 or early 2017. 

At the present time, the City of Albion has a 25 mph speed limit.  MDOT hopes to get that raised to 50 mph.  The speed limit through Michigan City is currently 50 mph.

MDOT is very interested in retaining present freight business and attracting more customers.  The grain elevator in Augusta is a major customer.

Western Region:  Krieg announced that Dave Vander Bee would be hosting a meeting of Western Region MARP members at Osgood Brewing in Grandville.  All are welcome.

Amtrak Reorganization:  After lunch on site, Joy Smith, Superintendent, Passenger Services, Central Division, walked us through Amtrak’s recent reorganization.  Each of the fifteen long distance trains was to have their own manager who would supervise both on train staff and staff at stations along the route.  Because of the 2013 sequester, managers are in fact each overseeing several long distance trains. All state supported trains, including those operating in Michigan, will have a manager based in Oakland, California, with a deputy located in Chicago.  Moe Savoy, as Deputy General Manager, Long Distance Business Line, will remain in Chicago and will assure that all trains dispatched from Chicago are in tip top operating condition. This includes food service.  Savoy will also be in charge of operations at Chicago Union Station itself.

CrossRail Chicago:  Rick Harnish, CEO of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, briefed the group on CrossRail Chicago, his vision for linking O’Hare International Airport with Chicago Union Station and McCormick Place using electrified express trains.  Existing Metra lines would be upgraded as a step in developing high speed rail service throughout the Midwest.  Eventual electrification of the proposed South of the Lake right of way would be another step. 

Chicago Union Station Passenger Action Taskforce: Larry Krieg reviewed the status of the Chicago Union Station Passenger Action Taskforce.  Over the past year, the taskforce has been observing, interviewing and analyzing.  They have shadowed managers, talked with front line staff, surveyed passengers and observed twenty five choke points where passengers get confused.  Clear signage, located at these key confusion points, would help significantly.  The taskforce is recommending replacing the present artistic but hard to read lettering with standard Amtrak signage and using  international symbols throughout.   Putting signage in the most effective locations will require elimination of some advertising.  Train status monitors could be larger, paid for with advertising along one border.

The taskforce recommends returning the Great Hall to its original purpose as the main waiting room.  Approximately 45 minutes before train time, passengers would be called up and given boarding passes to enter the current coach waiting room, which becomes strictly a boarding lounge.

With the reorganization complete, Krieg hopes to get station people and train people talking to one another.

Krieg recommends gentle pressure to encourage change.  Letters to Mayor Emmanuel would help, noted Chuck Merckel.  The city wants people to come to Chicago and spend their money.  Now that the state Departments of Transportation are paying the full freight for trains running in their respective states, they should have more clout.

Tours: The group was then divided into two groups, with Group A going first on a Behind the Scenes Tour with Sidney Burkett and then to the Dispatch Center with Dick Rogers, Terminal Trainmaster for Equipment Planning.  The Behind the Scenes Tour including visits to several large unused spaces adjacent to the Great Hall, including a museum of train related photographs, the original ladies powder room with its elegant murals, and the former Fred Harvey Restaurant, closed since a fire in 1977.  Most significantly, the group was shown an unused area near the current Metra ticket windows, slated to become the new Metropolitan Lounge in 2014.  This would permit the current coach waiting lounge to be expanded significantly.

In the Dispatch Center, the group watched a number of graphics showing available open tracks in and around Chicago Union Station, along the Amtrak owned section of the Wolverine line, and an area around the terminal in New Orleans.  There were also videos of Metra and Amtrak trains arriving and departing.  Amtrak monitors all tracks into and out of Chicago Union Station for several miles to the north and to the south.  It was particularly interesting to watch the progress of Train #352 as it moved eastward across western Michigan.

Group B visited the Dispatch Center first, then did the Behind the Scenes Tour.

Adjournment:  The meeting adjourned at the close of the tours, around 3:30 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                                          Accepted:

Hugh D. Gurney                                                                     Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                                 Chair