Annual meeting minutes – Sept. 14, 2013 – Durand

SEPTEMBER 14, 2013

Members in Attendance: Barry Adams, Arman Balk, Jack Barbier, Charley Bonnell, Philip Chamberlain, Clark Charnetski, Kay Chase, John Cwiek, Joseph Deneen, Ren Farley, Tim Fischer, Michael Frezell, Lee Guinn, Hugh Gurney, Kenneth Hart, Cathy Hart, Farol Henkle, Jim Hinkins, Rosemary Horvath, Janet Howes, Larry Krieg, John Langdon, Keith Martin, Charles Merckel, Jeanie Merckel, Daniel Mitchell, Don Monteith, Robert Patterson, Diane Patterson, Richard Pekarek, Dan Platz, Kim Powell, Philip Rosenberger, Gary Sample, George Schlaepfer, Robert Tischbein, Duke Van Til, Viola Van Til, David VanderBee, Jim Wallington, Norma Ward, Roger Webster, Don Westcott, David Williams, Doug Wilson, Barb Spaulding-Westcott

Speakers: Michael Benham (Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority), State Representative Ben Glardon, Tim Hoeffner (MDOT Office of Rail), Melissa Horste (Senator Levin’s District Office), Chad Cushman, Indian Trails; Kevin Keefe (VP-Editorial, Publisher, TRAINS Magazine)

Guests: Allison Keefe, Rahn Stokes (MI-Operation Lifesaver), Dan Sommerville (Michigan Environmental Council), Guest of Joseph Deneen

Welcomes and Introductions: Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:40 a.m. All present introduced themselves.

Langdon then read a letter from Dave Camp, U. S. Representative for the 4th Michigan District, congratulating MARP on its 40th year of service to Michigan railroad passengers.

State Representative Ben Glarden of Owosso, whose District 85 includes Durand, welcomed the group and applauded MARP for all it does, including support for preservation of the Durand Station. Glarden has traveled to Chicago on MDOT excursions and is familiar with rail issues. He welcomes interaction.

Melissa Horste, from U. S. Senator Carl Levin’s District Office, welcomed the group on behalf of Senator Levin. For Fiscal Year 2014, the Senate has appropriated $1.45 billion for Amtrak. The House of Representatives figure is much lower, so a compromise figure will need to be arrived at. In all likelihood, a Continuing Resolution will provide funding until the end of the year. It is too early to project funding for High Speed Rail or New Starts.

Funding for the M-1 Streetcar project is on track and groundbreaking this fall is possible. Horste offered congratulations on MARP’s 40th Birthday.

Video Greetings to MARP: The group then watched video greetings from Joseph C. Szabo, Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration. Szabo noted the 30% growth in ridership in Michigan since 2005. As we speak, work crews are making improvements to the system so that the majority of the Wolverine route will be operating at 110 mph in the near future. The Battle Creek Station has been totally renovated and a new station in Dearborn should be ready by spring. We are trying to make up for decades of poor investment in rail. The major effort now is to find a dedicated source of revenue.

Choices: The Case for WALLY Commuter Rail: Michael Benham, Wally Project Manager with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, after expressing pleasure at being part of MARP’s 40th Anniversary Meeting, explained that what we have know for years as the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has been renamed the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority since Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township are now part of the Authority. He then provided an update on the proposed Howell to Ann Arbor Commuter Rail Proposal, nicknamed Wally.

The concept goes back to 2006, when MDOT came up with the figure of $430 million to rebuild U. S. 23 from Brighton to Ann Arbor, a figure far beyond the resources available. Enthusiasm built over the next two years, but dwindled during the recession. Benham joined AAATA in 2009 and was assigned to head up the project along with other duties.

Benham showed a number of graphics demonstrating how commuter rail benefits those who will not be commuters as well as those who would commute by train. Commuter rail service to a community increases property values, aids in workforce retention, and reduces both air pollution and energy usage. Within the transit shed of a commuter line, the economy will outperform the region as a whole by as much as 41.6%

As to retaining young people, the number of those 14-34 years old without a drivers license increase from 21% in 2000 to 26% in 2013, indicating that more and more young people do not drive and do not wish to be in a community without public transportation.

In 2010, MDOT upgraded tracks and grade crossings on about 4/5 of the proposed route, so trains can now operate at 59 mph. A layover track was constructed at Osmer, just north of Ann Arbor. Positive Train Control will probably not be needed as there will be no freight traffic while commuter trains are operating. To date, twenty three former Metra commuter cars have been totally rehabilitated by Great Lakes Central Railroad in Owosso. The carpets and the windows have been renewed and new seating installed. Space has been made available in each car for wheelchairs and bicycles. Most of this work has been done by Michigan residents. The plan is for leased locomotives to power these coaches. Approximately 2,500 inspected several of these cars during the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival in August.

Benham is encouraged by the response of Watco, the new owners of the Ann Arbor Railroad, who are far more positive about letting the commuter trains come into downtown Ann Arbor on tracks they own.

Wally picked up steam in 2012 with receipt of over $600,000 from the Federal Highway Administration to identify stations, parking, and bus connections. Coupled with matching funds from local communities, approximately $800,000 is available to identify sites for stations, parking lots and address environmental issues. A total of $19 million in capital costs will be needed to get WALLY up and running. Annual operating costs are estimated at 7.2 million, about 2/3 of which would be covered by passenger fares and the Michigan Comprehensive Transportation Fund. Ridership projections are in the range of the other 16 new commuter rail projects getting underway in the last decade or so while start up costs will be lower than that average.

Benham thanked Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council and Transportation for Michigan for providing the funds to enable one of the commuter cars to be on display in Hamburg on Saturday, September 21.

Michigan’s Accelerated Rail Program: Tim Hoeffner, Director of MDOT’s Office of Rail, wished MARP a Happy 40th Anniversary. Starting October 1, the State of Michigan will be supporting all Amtrak operations in Michigan including the Wolverine, Blue Water and Pere Marquette. He anticipates no major changes in operations. MDOT’s investment in Wi Fi will more than pay for itself within a year or two. Bicycles are now permitted on the Blue Water for an additional ten dollars. Quiet cars are now part of all Wolverine trains. Hoeffner is hopeful that Amtrak’s focus on corridor trains outside the Northeast Corridor will keep operational costs down.

If ridership in Michigan this September is comparable to last September, total ridership for the 2013 Fiscal Year will be around 890,000. Overall, revenue is holding up well, down slightly on the Blue Water and Pere Marquette, but up by $1 million on the Wolverine. While ridership has been down slightly on the Pere Marquette, possibly due to competition from Megabus, Hoeffner is not alarmed.

A major rebuild of the Wolverine line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo is currently underway. MDOT and Norfolk Southern have been working well together on this project. Some $38 million has been applied for under TIGER for additional sidings along the Wolverine line and to study a tie in between CSX and Amtrak tracks just north of New Buffalo. Construction of the transportation centers in Birmingham/Troy and Dearborn are coming along well. The new Grand Rapids station is taking shape. Its opening will augment collaboration with Indian Trails. CSX has agreed to implement Positive Train Control along its route, saving MDOT hundreds of thousands of dollars. Planning for the East Lansing station is moving forward and Ann Arbor has hired a consultant for that project. MDOT has been discussing parking issues in Port Huron with the Port Huron City Manager and others in that community.

MDOT is working with M-1 on plans for a new Detroit station which will tie in with the M-1 streetcar project. Work on the M-1 project will likely get underway in the spring. Consultants on the South of the Lake project have come up with a reasonable number of alternatives to review. Michael Benham of AAATA is working on the Howell-Ann Arbor commuter project and Alex Bourgeau of SEMCOG is taking the lead on the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project. Great Lakes Central Railroad has been a very helpful partner.

Increased frequencies for the 2013 holidays are uncertain at this time. Planning is complicated by the ongoing track work.

Hoeffner stressed the need for broader public support, citing Westrain as an example. We need to get more young people involved in the debate over transportation.

Indian Trails: Chad Cushman, Vice President for Indian Trails, saluted MARP on its 40th anniversary. The bus line recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Indian Trails is extremely proud of its association with MARP and Amtrak. Amtrak Thruway Services and the Michigan Flyer are seeing tremendous growth.

The View From Milepost 89: Thoughts on 40 Years of Train Riding in Michigan: Kevin Keefe, Publisher and Vice President for Kalmbach Publishing, spoke of growing up in Niles, Milepost 89 on the Michigan Central, particularly his association with old time railroad employees who considered that they worked for the Michigan Central, not the New York Central. He recalled crack trains on the line such as the Wolverine, Mercury and Twilight Limited. At MSU, he became familiar with Grand Trunk operations, the Maple Leaf, and other fine trains on that line.

Keefe recalled inspecting track in the Battle Creek area while examining the viability of Conrail. Most officials predicted the railroad would be ripped up in just a few years. Then Amtrak bought the line. He commended Michigan for real progress in making 110 mph speeds a reality.

Keefe then showed a series of visuals of the Twilight Limited at its peak in the 1950’s. This was an extra fare, all parlor car train that ran between Detroit and Chicago for many years.

Business Meeting:
Minutes: Langdon moved acceptance of the Minutes of the 2012 Annual Meeting. The motion was seconded by David Williams. After correcting to add Bob Johnston as present, the minutes were approved by those members present.

Treasurer’s Report: Langdon reviewed the Treasurer’s Report. As of August 31, 2013, the balance in the JPMorgan Chase Checking Account was @28,430.37.Pratt Fund proceeds of $17,141.25 are still in the JPMorgan Chase Checking Account, but will be moved to a Vanguard Account in the near future. The Pratt Fund is designed to build an endowment for the organization. David Williams moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. The motion was seconded by Larry Krieg and approved by the members present.

Future Meetings: Wallington announced that MARP will be meeting in Bangor on October 12 and at Chicago Union Station on November 2, where Amtrak will be providing a tour into the bowels of the facility including their new operations/control center.

Special Award: On behalf of America By Rail, Wallington presented Norma Ward with a $1,000 Travel Certificate for her successful efforts to save the Durand Union Station and for her many years of service as a tour director for America By Rail.

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers: The First Forty Years: Speaking from notes provided by John DeLora, MARP Founder and past Chairman, Kay Chase reviewed some of MARP’s accomplishments over the years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Detroit-Chicago route was served by both Penn Central and Grand Trunk Western. But modern highways promised to end passenger rail completely. The Pere Marquette was down to one coach on its Detroit-Grand Rapids run and Penn Central wanted to abandon all service west of Buffalo. Total demise was staved off by the creation of Amtrak in 1971.

MARP had its beginnings on September 19, 1973, when John DeLora, John Guidinger, George Schlaepfer and a few others gathered to organize. The group has seen ups and downs over the forty years since that date. An early project was the rehabilitation of the Chelsea station for the Michigan Executive, which provided weekday commuter service between Jackson and Detroit for several years. Despite MARP opposition, the Michigan Executive was discontinued, as was Pontiac-Detroit commuter service and the Niagara Rainbow, a Detroit-New York City train that crossed Southern Ontario. All but one car of this train was sealed as it crossed Canadian territory. Unpredictable border inspections and funding disputes between New York State and Michigan spelled its demise.

The slow restoration of the historic Jackson station got underway and the first Battle Creek intermodal station opened. MARP was able to persuade the Detroit Fire Department to hose down the Detroit Michigan Station for the Bicentennial and helped with restoration of the Dexter station in time for its 150th anniversary in 1974. A stop in Dearborn was added to the Wolverine schedule in 1979.

Between 1977 and 1982, MARP provided Passenger Service Aids who worked aboard trains as they crossed Michigan. As additional service to the traveling public, MARP printed and circulated Michigan timetables, worked on station signage, developed station standards, and attempted to beautify station surroundings. During much of this period, nobody really wanted anything to do with passenger trains except the traveling public.

Adjournment: Krieg moved adjournment, seconded by Sobczak and approved by the members present. The meeting adjourned at 2:25 p.m.

Respectfully submitted: Accepted:

Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein
Secretary Chair