Meeting Minutes — Traverse City – July 19, 2014

JULY 19, 2014

Members Present: Robert Tischbein, Larry Krieg, Hugh Gurney, Jeanie Merckel, John Langdon, Kay Chase, Jim Wallington, Robert Patterson, Don Monteith, Martha Benedict, Warren Fritz, Jim Roach, Tim Hoeffner, Chuck Merckel, Jim Hinkins, Jane Hinkins, Dan Platz, Don W. Westcott, J. P. DesCamp

Also Present: Dan Somerville, Laurel Burchfield, J. W. McCloskey, Liz Treutel, Samuel Chupp, Gabriel Chupp, Richard Hoadley, Michael Clynett, Susan Cooper, Ella Cooper, George H. Gregory, James Bruckbauer, Kimberly Pontius

Call to Order: Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:15 a.m. Those present introduced themselves and identified their place of residence.

Officer Reports:

Secretary: Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting and the Monthly Membership meeting held in Lansing on June 14 were reviewed by Gurney. Langdon moved acceptance of the Executive Committee minutes. Monteith seconded and the minutes were approved by the members of the Executive Committee present.

Westcott moved acceptance of the Monthly Membership meeting minutes. The motion was seconded by Wallington and approved by the members present.

Vice Chair: Krieg distributed the results of the MARP Organizational Issues Survey he conducted among members of the Executive Committee in June. Issues ranking very high included Delegation of Communication Authority, Running Meetings, Communication Process, and the Decision Making process. Krieg will press for clarification on these issues in the coming months.

Treasurer: Merckel distributed and reviewed the Treasurer’s Report for the period ending June 30, 2014. As of June 30, 2014, there was $28,552.07 in the JPMorgan Chase checking account, of which $17,141.26 was designated as the Pratt Fund, leaving $11,410.81 available for operations. A reminder letter in June resulted in 12 member renewals. Krieg moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. The motion was seconded by Fritz and approved by the members present.

Langdon then presented Merckel with a check from the Transportation For Michigan in the amount of $5,000 to cover MARP’s efforts in support of Michigan By Rail.

Coordinator Reports:

Meetings: Wallington reviewed upcoming meetings for the remainder of 2014:
September 13 Annual Meeting Durand Union Station
October 18 RAPID Conference Room Grand Rapids
November 15 Port Huron
December Executive Committee Meeting Only

Public Affairs: Langdon called attention to the upcoming Michigan Rail Conference, to be held at Macomb Community College August 26-27. Of particular interest to MARP members will be a field trip to the M-1 Rail site in Detroit to examine progress on the streetcar line. Brochures are on the table at the back of the room.

Langdon then introduced Dan Sommerville, who has been heading up the Coast to Coast Rail project for Michigan By Rail. Sommerville reported that he has had very positive meetings with Tim Hoeffner of MDOT’s Office of Rail and they are working together on the scope of work. Michigan By Rail has successfully raised the required 20% match from Chambers of Commerce and other stakeholders. Sommerville has encountered very little negative response on the project, which calls for a study of the feasibility of passenger rail service connecting Holland and Grand Rapids with Lansing and Detroit. Michigan By Rail is awaiting the results of their grant application.

Communications: Chase reported that the summer issue of The Michigan Passenger is being put together as we speak and will soon be on the street. She has added several hundred names to the recipients of On Track as a result of outreach efforts this spring and summer. She is currently assisting with Annual Meeting plans and preparations. Chase would like reminiscences from those involved in the start up of the Blue Water and the Pere Marquette in conjunction with the anniversary celebrations for these trains this fall.

Outreach: Chuck Merckel is looking at events attracting large numbers of people who may not be familiar with Amtrak or rail travel. He needs people to staff tables at such events. He asked for suggestions on how best to distribute the outreach schedule in a way that will get the attention and support of all members, not just those who generally attend meetings. He thanked Warren Fritz for suggesting that MARP work more closely with libraries.

Route Enhancement: Gurney reported that Route Enhancement Committee member Jared Becker has been reviewing the results of the increase in ridership in Illinois after the number of frequencies was increased on several lines in that state. Over a period of three years, despite the long recession starting in 2007, ridership has more than doubled. As a result, Becker has changed his projection of several years back that adding a second frequency on the Blue Water and Pere Marquette routes would result in a 40% increase in ridership to 100+% on each line. Becker projects similar results for the Wolverine line.

Regional Reports:

Detroit Metro: Robert Patterson pointed out several items on the back table including a Ride the Train promotional piece, three Ride the Train newsletters and a diagram indicating the stops on the M-1 streetcar line. He plans to attend the monthly meetings of the M-1 Citizens Advisory Committee.

Northern Michigan: Monteith expressed pleasure that the Charlevoix Amtrak Thruway station is taking in over $1,000 monthly in ticket commissions. He is anxious to see the services at that station listed correctly in the Amtrak National Timetable. Wallington agreed to bring the issue up at an Amtrak meeting he will be attending in October.

Western: Langdon reported that the June Amtrak ridership reports are out, with station by station statistics. He feels that competition from Megabus is an issue in Grand Rapids. Hoeffner countered that declines in ridership are more a result of delays caused by ongoing track work.

Langdon continues to work with Westrain on plans for the Pere Marquette 30th anniversary commemoration this fall. The connections between the station track at the new Grand Rapids train station and the CSX main line should be installed soon.

Langdon then introduced Warren Fritz, a new member, who has expressed a willingness to serve as Western Regional Chair. He moved that Fritz be appointed to the long vacant position effective immediately. Chase seconded the motion and it was approved by the members of the Executive Committee present.

Blue Water Anniversary: Don Westcott reported that September 10 is the day for the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Blue Water. A special anniversary trip is planned for that day. Approximately 9-10 billboards promoting the train are now visible along highways paralleling the Blue Water route with several in the Lansing area. Brochures are being distributed to senior citizen centers. Posters promoting the fact that the Blue Water welcomes bicycles are in the works.

Amtrak and the Amish: Samuel Chupp observed that the Amish use Amtrak a lot. He publishes a newsletter for the Amish and would be happy to include information about passenger rail.

Michigan Land Use Institute Report: MARP members learned that there is a real possibility for limited passenger rail service between Traverse City and the Village of Williamsburg and nearby Turtle Creek Casino eleven miles to the east. James Bruckbauer, Transportation Policy Specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute, suggested that passenger trains operating on existing tracks between these points could relieve traffic congestion along U.S. 31 and M-72, and offer a more scenic and tranquil way to get between the emerging area east of Traverse City and the city center.

Bruckbauer is the co-author of Getting Back on Track, Uncovering the Potential for Trains in Traverse City, released to the public today at the MARP meeting by the Michigan Land Use Institute. Among MLUI objectives are getting locally grown food into the hands of local consumers, clean energy and environmentally friendly transportation. The report was funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the National Association of Realtors, the Traverse Area Association of Realtors and others.

The suggested rail link could be used by visitors coming into the Traverse City area on M-72 after exiting I-75 at Grayling. Rather than fighting bumper to bumper traffic, they could enjoy numerous vistas of East Traverse Bay as the train moved effortlessly into the city. Residents and visitors already in downtown Traverse City, could access the casino and developing attractions in Acme and Whitewater townships. Rail service would be particularly helpful during the 2015 construction season, when US 31 in the area will be reduced to one lane because of construction. Bikers and walkers could use the train to reach particular sections of the parallel Traverse Area Recreational Trail.

Numerous obstacles prevent immediate implementation. The tracks are currently in deplorable condition, permitting freight traffic only at no more than 10 mph. It will cost at least $1.7-$2.0 million to bring them up to a level where passenger trains could operate at 25-30 mph. Equipment would have to be identified and acquired and an operating entity created. Looking at examples from Astoria, Oregon; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Nashville, Tennessee and Napa Valley, California, Bruckbauer suggested the service could be operated by a non profit organization, the local transit authority or a for profit corporation.

The report recommends that Traverse City start off slowly, with service on summer Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and additional service during The Cherry Festival and the Michael Moore Film Festival. With a positive response, tracks and signals could be upgraded further to permit faster and frequent commuter level service eventually extending southward to the Grawn area and ultimately to downstate Michigan. As Kimberly Pontius of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors noted, limited service on the Williamsburg line could be the beginning of a return to passenger rail for Northwest Lower Michigan.

Susan Cooper and Ella Cooper questioned the viability of the proposal, citing obstacles they had encountered operating a dinner train on the route for nine years. Noting that the report presents a vision and not a concrete plan, Bruckbauer and Pontius invited their input in turning the vision into a reality.

Adjournment: Langdon moved adjournment. The motion was seconded by Krieg and approved by the members present.

The meeting adjourned at 12:16 p.m.

Respectfully submitted: Accepted:

Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein
Secretary Chair