MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
27 Jan 2018
Haslett Public Library
1590 Franklin Street, Haslett MI 48840
Members present: Stewart Bolinger, Clark Charnetski, Kay Chase, Dave Falconer, Michael Frezell, Kaz Fujita, John Guidinger, Hugh Gurney, Tim Hoeffner, Larry Krieg, John Langdon, Chuck Merckel, Jeanie Merckel, Mark Miller, Robert Patterson, Richard Pekarek, Dan Platz, Kim Powell, Yuri Popov, John Rasmussen, Jim Roach, Charles Shong, Steve Sobel, Bob Tischbein, Adam Tauno Williams, David Williams, Doug Wilson
Guests present: Alison Barber, Kenneth Borg, Ron DeCook, Gerald Grossman, Al Johnson, Ron King, Ray Lang, Robert Lippert, Jeff Martin, Ed Rutkowski
Meeting called to order at 10:30 a.m. In the absence of Chair Steve Vagnozzi, who had a family emergency, Adam Williams presiding.
Safety briefing and introductions.
Williams moved, Rutkowski second, to approve the Order of Business as presented.
John Rasmussen has spoken with Derrick James, Amtrak Governmental Relations, about doing a survey of Michigan train passengers. He, John Guidinger and Clark Charnetski have formed an ad hoc committee to pursue this further.
Langdon distributes a member survey to be completed and returned to him at conclusion of meeting.
Bolinger – MARP began 2017 with around $12,000 in the bank and ended $11,000-plus. The Vanguard investment account currently stands at around $24,000. A $5,000 grant from Michigan Environmental Council is in a separate account to be used for work on rail initiatives around the state: next phase of Coast-to-Coast proposal, new station in Port Huron, activities in Livingston County. Mark Miller and Hugh Gurney will work with Bolinger to prepare the 2018 budget.
Langdon (Government Affairs): Calls attention to materials available at back of room including Amtrak 2017 Michigan Fact Sheet, FRA-led Midwest Rail Study information and newsletter, new Michigan train schedule effective 22 January, and information about how to download the national timetable from the Amtrak website.
Adam Wiliams (Meetings Coordinator): In 2018 the number of member meetings will be reduced to four (April in Detroit, June and October in venues to be announced, Annual Meeting in November). Executive Committee will have monthly conference calls, members may participate. MARP will focus attention on special meetings and outreach events in a continuing effort to engage a wider constituency, particularly younger people, in our advocacy efforts.
Panel Discussion “How do we engage the younger generation”
Panelists: Tim Hoeffner is Director of MDOT’s Office of Rail and immediate past chair of Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC). Ray Lang serves as the Senior Director of Amtrak’s National State Relations. He is also President of The Chicago Union Station Company, a wholly-owned Amtrak subsidiary.
Tim Hoeffner: NARP, MDOT, Amtrak, MARP have had a lot of discussion about how to meet with and engage a new generation of rail advocates. The current membership of MARP is not representative of the people who are using passenger services. We need the younger generation to help us develop services to match their expectations. Michigan will elect a new governor and legislature in 2018. They may well ask “Why should we partner with MARP? How can they help us?” Not sure that what MARP wants is in alignment with what the future patronage wants.
Ray Lang: MARP should set a goal of getting 20 students at each meeting. Plan meetings on campuses. Have them fill out a survey, establish student chapters. Ask how many have the Amtrak app on their phones. Amtrak has a robust social media presence, uses geo-targeting, and tracks usage. Amtrak tracks visits to Facebook, sees that many then go to the Amtrak website, knows how many then buy a ticket. Michigan has many international students and they use trains to get from Chicago airports to Michigan campuses.
Hoeffner: Echoes the importance of international students. MSU is building dorms and facilities focused on international students. Students are not going to train shows. Print media is OUT. The new “elevator speech” is what fits on one screen of the smart phone.
There followed a lively discussion period, with members contributing their thoughts on how MARP can be more relevant to students. Popov has polled his 500 students at the University of Michigan and found that 2/3 of them do ride trains. Students have little time or money, but will find the time if presented with something exciting: high speed rail, technology, hyperloop. Krieg notes that the activist students gravitate toward environmental issues, are concerned that business as usual is not sustainable. Our message should be that trains are the most environmentally sound way to get around. Partner with organizations like MEC, Sierra Club, Ecology Center. Use the campus newspaper to reach out, even place ads.
Hoeffner: We will try to help MARP put together programs to entice students. Suggests raffling a ticket. Emphasized that MDOT can facilitate our success, but we have to do the legwork of organizing.
Lang: Commits to having Amtrak personnel if we meet on 3 campuses this year. MOBILITY should be the focus. He also admonished that MARP’s role is ADVOCACY, not to make money for Amtrak.
Michael Frezell: Important to talk to your elected representatives. Local business fairs offer good outreach opportunities.
Hoeffner: In response to a question, says MDOT is in discussions regarding the student discount which has been discontinued by Amtrak.
Clark Charnetski: Sees an opportunity to engage students in the design phase of the new Ann Arbor station and in the SE Michigan Regional Transit Authority issue that may be on the fall ballot.
Hoeffner: MDOT is making more of an effort to talk with universities, asking them to help with promotion and how to get the word out to the students.
Responding to Krieg’s comment that funding is needed to expand service which is currently at capacity, Hoeffner expressed the need to figure out how to grow the ridership mid-week and off-peak season. Is willing to try to do something to draw ridership to the low-ridership days: lower fares on these days, higher on weekends. Recognizing that new equipment is still a few years away, can use this period to grow the support and patronage.
In response to comments that the focus should not be entirely on millennials, Hoeffner noted that focus on students is the low hanging fruit. Get them on board as students, they are primed to continue post-college.
Updates on Michigan services:
Hoeffner: Recent press release on trip time reductions show that Michigan is reaping the benefits of the infrastructure work done over the last three years. Still some issues related to implementation of the ICTS train control system with the new Siemens locomotives, but expects to see resolution of these within a few months. Continue focus on Michigan service issues – driving costs down, tightening schedules – before addressing things like connections to Windsor at Detroit. Gives kudos to Al Johnson, Manager of Operations, MDOT Office of Rail, whose strategic decision-making is driving these efforts. Asks that MARP exercise good judgement in making public information about efforts that are in early stages. There are no plans at this time to add frequencies. Upcoming marketing efforts around Senior PGA Tournament and Holland Tulip Festival, perhaps other events.
The feasibility study is ramping up for the proposed Ann Arbor to Traverse City (A2TC) route. The SE Michigan Regional Transit Authority still holds the potential for Detroit to Ann Abor commuter service. Starting to have some talk about linking up with Toronto; there is lots going on in Toronto, but they’re not thinking of going to Windsor yet. MDOT sees stations as the front door to the communities they serve and thus as the communities’ responsibility. MDOT wants to have the communities engaged.
In response to a question about reliability of equipment as it impacts on-time-performance, Hoeffner said he met with mechanical last week in Chicago and urges that we keep in mind the P42 locomotives are going on 20-25 years of service. Have been some winter issues with the new SC-44 Charger locomotives (operating on the Pere Marquette route), but Siemens is focused on assuring excellent performance.
In closing remarks, Lang enthused about the progress that has been made in Michigan in the last several years. Improvements that are transforming the passenger experience include higher speeds and greater reliability as a result of improved trackage and signals, along with such projects as the Engelwood fly-over, the Indiana Gateway and the new stations. PRIIA Sec. 209 presents funding challenges. His parting shot was, “Watch what CSX is doing,” in reference to the recent news that CSX is reviewing 8,000 miles of rail lines as potential candidates for sale or lease, included the former Pere Marquette trackage in Michigan.
Hoeffner thanked MARP for all the support and looks forward to continuing to work together. He also cited the “unique and fruitful working relationship with our sister states”, particularly Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin. “It’s not just Detroit to Chicago, it’s Detroit to Milwaukee or Detroit to St. Louis.”
Adjournment: Langdon moved, Sobel seconded, meeting adjourned at 12:08 p.m.
_____Kay Chase________________________ ______Steve Vagnozzi ____________________
Kay Chase, Acting Secretary Steve Vagnozzi, Chair