MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
MONTHLY MEMBERSHIP MEETING
FORMER GRAND TRUNK STATION, LANSING
JUNE 14, 2014
Members Present: Robert Tischbein, Larry Krieg, Hugh Gurney, Jeanie Merckel, John Langdon, Kay Chase, Kathleen Newell, Jim Wallington, Robert Patterson, Rosemary Horvath, Don Monteith, Al Koole, Doug Wilson, Jan Bourque, Tom Bourque, Eric Schertzing, Phil Chamberlain, Kaz Fujita, Richard Pekarek, Barb Spaulding-Westcott, Don W. Westcott, David Williams, Kim J. Powell, Clark Charnetski, J. P. DesCamp, Darryl Apps, Michael Frezell, Jared Becker, Diane Stone, Martha Benedict, Dan Platz, Chuck Merckel, Diane Patterson, Cathy Hart, Tim Hoeffner, Tim Fischer, John Guidinger
Also Present: Mary Ann Charnetski, Dan Somerville, Joann Stoddart, Ken Hart
Call to Order: Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:15 a.m. All present were asked to introduce themselves and tell what community they lived in. Tischbein particularly welcomed new members Jan and Tom Bourque.
Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting and the Monthly Membership meeting held on April 5, 2014 at Wayne County Community College in Detroit were distributed and reviewed. Wallington moved acceptance of the Executive Committee minutes. The motion was seconded by Langdon and approved by the members of the Executive Committee present.
Langdon moved acceptance of the Monthly Membership meeting minutes. Wallington seconded the motion and it was approved by the members present.
Treasurer’s Report: Tischbein welcomed Jeanie Merckel as the newly appointed Treasurer. After thanking the group for nominating her, Merckel reviewed the Treasurer’s Report for the period ending May 31, 2014, explaining the new format which attempts to capture all expenses program by program. As of May 31, 2014, MARP had $29,537.07 in its JPMorgan Chase account, of which $17, 141.16 is designated as the Pratt Fund, leaving $12,395.81 available for operations. The account is now at a Chase branch in Utica and will be moved to Livonia when the present supply of checks is exhausted.
Langdon commended Merckel for the new format. Krieg noted that it is the first Treasurer’s Report he has truly understood.
Langdon moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. The motion was seconded by Newell and approved by the members present.
Future Meetings: Wallington introduced MARP member Eric Schertzing, currently Ingham County Treasurer. Schertzing is one of the candidates hoping to replace U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, who is retiring.
Wallington then discussed our meeting venue, the former Grand Trunk Western station in Lansing. Recently restored by the Lansing Board of Water and Light, the building is an absolute delight to all who enjoy historic structures. Built in 1902 by the Grand Trunk Western Railway, the ornate brick structure with a terra cotta roof was designed to make a statement about the importance of both the railroad and Michigan’s capital city. Restoration was overseen by the nationally acclaimed architectural firm of Quinn Evans in Ann Arbor and Cornerstone of Grand Rapids. While not generally open to the public, the exterior of the structure is clearly visible at 1205 South Washington Street in Lansing, twelve blocks south of the Capitol.
The meeting is being held in the former waiting room with its beautifully restored wood ceiling and wainscoting. Lansing Board of Water and Light plans to use the facility for board meetings, staff meetings and conferences. Wallington expressed the hope that MARP could meet again soon in this historic structure. He recalled that, when he worked in Lansing, the station was one of his favorite haunts. At that time, six trains each way stopped at the station. He particularly recalls mail being transferred from the railroad post office on the night train to a connecting highway post office which served northern Michigan.
The last Grand Trunk passenger train stopped at the station in May, 1971, and for three years, Lansing had no rail passenger service at all. When Blue Water service was inaugurated in 1974, it was decided to use the current station in East Lansing as its stop in the Lansing area. The Blue Water and countless Canadian National freight trains pass the station daily, but its function as a train station has ceased. Fortunately, the structure has been put to good use by the Lansing Board of Water and Light. It is listed on both the State Register of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.
Our next meeting will take place on July 19 in Traverse City. An Executive Committee Meeting is slated for August. The Annual Meeting will take place on September 20 in Durand. Grand Rapids will host the October 18 meeting and Port Huron will be the venue for the November meeting.
Krieg noted that the July 19 meeting will include the release of a report by the Michigan Land Use Institute on the feasibility of a passenger rail link between Traverse City and a new casino in Williamsburg, some fourteen miles to the east. Because the present highway runs right along Grand Traverse Bay, it cannot be expanded. Trains would be operated by Great Lakes Central Railroad on tracks owned by the State of Michigan. People in Traverse City hope this rail service would some day connect to Southern Michigan. Watch On Track for details
As July is the high season in Traverse City, Chase urged those planning to attend to make lodging reservations early. Wallington advised Cadillac as an alternative.
Government/Public Affairs: Langdon distributed Amtrak Ridership Reports for May, noting that it was a soft month for Michigan trains and nationwide.
Revised Blue Water and Wolverine schedules remain in effect though August 31 to facilitate efforts to bring the track between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek up to 110 mph capability. Current schedules are on the Amtrak website. Langdon is heading up an effort to print sufficient copies of the revised schedule for the convenience of the traveling public.
Langdon stressed that MARP wants new equipment for Michigan trains, not renovated equipment. The Talgo equipment fits the bill. MARP members may need to communicate this message to their legislators.
A number of communities passed resolutions supporting National Train Day as did the Michigan House and Senate.
Dan Somerville, who heads up the Michigan By Rail Committee, reported that the recently approved state budget directs MDOT to do a feasibility study on the proposed Holland-Grand Rapids-Lansing-Detroit Coast to Coast passenger rail project. The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council has included Coast to Coast among its West Michigan Prosperity goals. Somerville explained that Michigan By Rail is also assisting with the Traverse City commuter rail project and the proposed Howell to Ann Arbor commuter rail project. Building community support is a major part of each project.
Communications: Chase expressed pleasure with the number of people who signed up to receive On Track at the recent Ann Arbor Green Fair and other events. MARP received a thank you for its presence at the Macatawa Senior Expo held last month. We would like to pass out information at more such events.
The local newspaper now has an office in the Dowagiac train station. Recently it published an article praising MARP member Ron Leatz for recruiting high school students to clean the numerous windows in the station.
Outreach: The Brighton Arts Festival is a three day event in early August. Outreach Coordinator Chuck Merckel is looking for volunteers to help staff a MARP/Friends of Wally table.
Membership: Newell asked if there was a way to identify where new members were recruited. Chase noted that the design of the application form would help.
The Executive Committee voted to add Rosemary Horvath, Clayton Farmer and Bob Tischbein to the Membership Committee. Along with John Langdon who was appointed to the committee in April, this group will assist Membership Coordinator Newell in devising strategies to recruit new members and retain existing members. Newell will be sending our reminder notices to members who have not yet renewed for 2014.
Detroit Metro: Tim Fischer, now Chief Administrative Officer for M-1, announced that construction of the Detroit streetcar line along Woodward Avenue, would be underway this summer. Fischer, formerly with the Michigan Environmental Council, was congratulated on his new position.
Robert Patterson attended a recent meeting of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network in Jackson and joined MARP member John Guidinger on his tour of historic sites in the city, including the Jackson train station. Guidinger is finishing up a book on the 170 years of railroad history in the Jackson area.
The second Michigan Rail Conference is scheduled for August 26-27 at Macomb Community College.
Michael Ford, currently CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, has been offered the position of CEO of the newly created Southeast Michigan Regional Transportation Authority. He is currently debating whether to accept the offer.
Charnetski reported that planning for a new station in Ann Arbor is moving ahead with several public meetings scheduled in late June. The planning group is looking at the site of the present station, a site previously considered on Fuller Road and several other locations up and down the Amtrak line. Many of the suggested sites impact public parkland and are protected by Section 4f of the Environmental Protection Act, Hoeffner explained.
East/Central: Horvath urged all MARP members to pay close attention to the Michigan Speaks agenda, which sees transportation as a major issue affecting Michiganians.
The Blue Water 40th Anniversary Celebration is slated for Wednesday, September 10. Don Westcott will have details at the July meeting. A redesign of the Blue Water brochure is needed. Westcott continues to see closed stations at night as a major issue on the Blue Water line. In response to a question from Wilson as to how we can improve the situation, Hoeffner stressed that MDOT, MARP and the affected communities must work together on solutions.
Fujita noted that the Capitol Area Transportation Authority is revising plans for the new station in East Lansing to fit its current budget but permit expansion in the future. A timeline has not been provided.
Langdon added that MDOT is waiting for Amtrak to provide a list of its requirements before proceeding further with planning on a new Port Huron station.
Northern Michigan: Monteith reported that new track has been laid to the Yellow Dog mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This is one of the few examples of a Rail to Trail route being returned to rail.
Western Michigan: Langdon reported that Amtrak Thruway buses between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo are running on a new schedule. The individual formerly overseeing West Coast Thruway service in now in charge of the Thruway program nationwide.
Michigan Day at Chicago Union Station went well with many Convention and Visitor Bureaus providing literature. CVB’s have been asked to add a link to Amtrak on their websites.
The new station in Grand Rapids is virtually complete. CSX continues to work on connecting the track to the mainline and installing signals.
The Pere Marquette 30th Anniversary Celebration will take place in conjunction with the opening of the new Grand Rapids train station, probably in October.
Nominations: Charnetski presented the names of those who have indicated their willingness to serve on the Executive Committee beginning after the Annual Meeting in September. They are:
Chair Larry Krieg
At Large (Communications) Kay Chase
At Large (Public/Governmental Affairs) John Langdon
At Large (Membership) Kathleen Newell
At Large (Meetings) Jim Wallington
Detroit Metro Chair Robert Patterson
East/Central Chair Rosemary Horvath
Northern Michigan Chair Don Monteith
Western Michigan Chair
To date, Charnetski has no candidates for Vice Chair, Secretary or Western Regional Chair. Those with suggestions for additional candidates should talk with MARP’s Chair.
Charnetski added that if vacancies exist after the election in September, the Executive Committee has the authority to appoint individuals to vacant positions.
Ontario Update: Wilson reported that in the recent election in Ontario, the Liberals won a majority of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Premier, Katherine Winn, is proposing $29 billion for public transportation, including $14 billion for facilities outside the Toronto metropolitan area. This could provide new services in Southwest Ontario and possible upgrade of the Algoma Central rail line.
Chicago For Lunch: Spaulding-Westcott announced that the next Chicago for Lunch outing will take place on September 23. Passengers can board at Port Huron, Lapeer, Flint, Durand or East Lansing.
Frezell Promoted: Former MARP Vice President Michael Frezell has been promoted to the MDOT Office of Communications and will be responsible for press releases and other communications affecting passenger rail and intercity bus. One of his first press releases announces that eight Indian Trails buses serving Northern Michigan will carry the Pure Michigan logo and be covered with giant photos of popular Michigan vacation destinations. Frezell was congratulated on his promotion.
MDOT Update: MDOT Office of Rail Director Hoeffner noted that MARP member Jerry Becker is taking the lead on the update of the Michigan Railroad History Guide. At a recent meeting in Kansas City, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission decided to take a more active stance in supporting long distance trains.
Both ridership and revenue are down throughout the Amtrak system this year. Fortunately, the budget for passenger rail was not an issue with the state legislature this session. Start up funds for the Regional Transportation Authority are included in the state transportation budget.
The 40th anniversary of the initiation of the Blue Water and the 30th anniversary of Pere Marquette service will be celebrated this fall.
Dates for the opening of the Troy, Dearborn and Grand Rapids stations have not yet been firmed up.
Communication between MDOT and the Coast to Coast project has been excellent.
Hoeffner asked for MARP’s assistance in promoting a new program offering senior groups reduced fares for rail excursions. MDOT also plans to promote Amtrak service at all the four year colleges and universities along Amtrak routes.
Hoeffner foresees little change in the current timetables through 2016. Work is ongoing now between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek to bring that sector of track up to 110 mph status. Double tracking of the section between Dearborn and Ypsilanti will get under way later this year. Plans for the Indiana Gateway work were recently approved. That work will take around two years to complete.
MDOT is currently doing a technical review on the pros and cons of purchasing the Talgo train sets built for the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison run, specifically, how the use of the Talgo units would affect the cost of the contract with Amtrak beginning October 1.
The life cycle cost is critical.
Hoeffner continues to meet frequently with Amtrak on mechanical issues. New equipment is anticipated in 2016 or 2017.
Death of George Schlaepfer: Chase noted the passing of George Schlaepfer, one of MARP’s founding members. His family is suggesting that memorials be sent to MARP.
Adjournment: Monteith moved adjournment. The motion was seconded by Guidinger and agreed to by the members present.
The meeting adjourned at 12:40 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein