Minutes of the 46th Annual Meeting of Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers
46th Annual Meeting, Saturday, 14 September 2019
Tony M’s Banquet Hall, 3420 Creyts Road, Lansing MI

Members Present:   Adam Tauno Williams, Alan Corbitt, Cecelia Roberts, Chad Lawson, Charles Shong, Charley Bonnell, Chuck Merckel, Clark Charnetski, Dalton Noren, Dan Platz, Dave Falconer, David Cammon, David Roberts, David Williams, Diana Bowman, Dwight Phillips, Gregory Clark, Hugh Gurney, James Roach, Jeanie Merckel, Jerry Becker, John Langdon, Joshua Hamilton, JP Descamp, Kay Chase, Kim Powell, Larry Krieg, Richard Pekarek, Robert Patterson, Steve Vagnozzi, Yuri Popov

Guests:   Charles Reisdorf, Dr. Joe Schwarz (Speaker), Rep. Julie Brixie (D-District 69), Mark Walbrun (Keynote Speaker), Robert Lajeunesse, Vincent Scarafino

Meeting Convened:   The 46th annual meeting was convened at 11 AM by Chair Adam Tauno Williams.

Introduction of Guests:   Steve Vagnozzi introduced State Representative Julie Brixie (D-District 69) who made brief remarks. A lifelong user of public transportation, she is a strong supporter and blames lack of vision for Michigan’s standing as one of the nation’s worst in support of public transportation.

Joshua Hamilton read a letter of welcome from Lansing Mayor Andy Schor commending MARP for service to the State of Michigan and citing the importance of rail to Lansing, both historically and currently.

Keynote Speaker:   Kay Chase introduced Mark Walbrun, Senior Consultant in Rail and Transit for Quandel Consultants, with more than 40 years of experience in railroad and transit system planning, design and construction.

Titling his talk “Building a fast, high frequency passenger railroad in Michigan”, Mr. Walbrun focused on some ideas for moving toward this goal. Public ownership of most of the Wolverine route offers the potential for a European-style arrangement in which private entities bid to provide service on infrastructure owned by the state. The revenue risk is borne by the operator who will evaluate the potential of a given route to provide an acceptable rate of return. Differing models compete on service, on price, or a combination of the two. TOCS, i.e., Train Operating Companies, look at a number of factors in evaluating the potential, among them a comparison of the time it takes to reach the destination by car or by train, then crunching numbers in a complex formula where the desired outcome—the “investment factor”—is a value approaching 1.0 or less. Frequency is a key element in the calculation. The investment factor is lowered each time an additional frequency is fed into the model, thus increasing the attractiveness to private investment. As an example, the Capitol Corridor in California, with 15 round trips/day has an investment factor of 0.5. For Chicago-Detroit driving/train times are close, but lack of frequency would be a deterrent to investment. Walbrun ended with two observations: (1) “To make money you have to have enough service to get a significant market share”; and (2) “Success has little to do with high speed, it has to do with frequency”. He would challenge Michigan to adopt this approach in order to capitalize on the considerable investment already made. Also required would be working in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration with the freight railroads to find ways to benefit both entities.

Former 7th District Congressman Joe Schwarz, who served several years in the state legislature and is currently a lecturer in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at U of Michigan, spoke following lunch. He urged members to talk with lawmakers about overturning term limits, positing that term limits adversely affect the quality of work in the legislature due to lack of experience. Convincing decision-makers of the importance of improving train service and extending it through Detroit and Port Huron to Toronto and the East Coast, as well as investment in equipment, are things “we’ve got to do”. He offered to do all he can to help MARP in dealing with the legislature.


Business Meeting Call to Order:   Chair Adam Tauno Williams called the meeting to order at 1:20 PM

Adoption of Agenda:   The agenda was approved as presented.

Approval of Minutes:  John Guidinger moved to accept as written the Minutes of 45th Annual Meeting, 10 Nov 2018, Joshua Hamilton seconded. Motion approved. Robert Patterson moved to accept as written the Minutes of the 6 April 2019 Meeting, John Langdon seconded. Motion approved. David Williams moved to accept as written the Minutes of 22 June 2019 Meeting, Dwight Phillips seconded. Motion approved.

Treasurers Report:   Steve Vagnozzi reports a bank balance of $18, 079. The Pratt Fund (Vanguard Total Stock Market Investment VTSMX) is valued at $28,344. As of 31 August 2019, annual income exceeds expenditures by $2,060.  Joshua Hamilton suggested thinking creatively about how to use Pratt fund monies to invest in projects to support our mission. Clark Charnetski pointed out that the Pratt Fund, originally set up as endowment, could be used more creatively since dues and donations are sufficient to cover normal operations. John Langdon mentioned the availability of grant money from Michigan Environmental Council for outreach and education to advance the Michigan By Rail program.

Chair’s Annual Report:    Adam Williams reported a number of encouraging developments during the past year. MDOT recently received a $23.3 million federal grant to rehabilitate bridges at Jackson and Mechanic streets in Jackson and to do other trackwork to the east. The West Michigan Express (WMX) project, which could be considered the first phase of implementing the Coast-to-Coast project (service linking Detroit-Ann Arbor-Lansing-Grand Rapids/Holland), is proceeding and could be operational in 2020. MARP recently contributed $1000 from the MEC/Hands Foundation grant to help advance the next phase of planning for WMX bus rapid transit service along Chicago Drive between Grand Rapids and Holland. The Laker Line, a 13-mile bus rapid transit route from downtown Grand Rapids to Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus (M-45/Michigan Drive), began construction in April, received the first of its thirteen 60-foot compressed natural gas fueled buses in June and is slated to begin service in August 2020.

Not so encouraging are: lack of progress on addressing Michigan’s road funding issues, the “austerity politics” that are stymying other urgent transportation needs, and the hype over autonomous vehicles that distracts attention from more rational and equitable solutions.

Williams suggested three things needed to make our preferences manifest in public policy: Activation – Alternatives – Awareness. He ended his report by asking Joshua Hamilton to speak about a project “making lemonade out of lemons” – a volunteer station host program.

Joshua Hamilton, East/Central Regional Chair, explained the Volunteer Station Host Program being instituted at the East Lansing station. He and Steve Vagnozzi worked with the Capitol Area Transportation Authority (CATA), Rail Passengers Association (RPA), MDOT and Amtrak to begin this program designed to mitigate the effects of the elimination of Amtrak station agents and to create a sense of the station as a community asset. He was pleased with the number and variety of people who came to the August 23 and 24 open houses to learn about the program and to volunteer.  Background checks are being carried out by Amtrak police personnel and the training program will commence next week, led by James Ratliff, Amtrak.

Announcements:   The final MARP meeting of the year will be held November 16 in Kalamazoo and will feature a presentation by Andreas Hoffrichter, who directs the Center for Railway Research and Education at Michigan State University. He will speak on alternative motive power sources for railways, particularly hydrogen fuel cell technology, subjects about which he is passionate.

Member Comments:

Yuri Popov suggests holding regional meetings to encourage wider participation.

Hugh Gurney reported on encouraging progress in expanding transit services in Livingston County, the result of a community survey funded by MDOT and the work of the Livingston County Coalition revitalized by the leadership of Leo Hanifin, Dean Emeritus of the College of Engineering, University of Detroit Mercy, and Greg Kellogg, the new director of Livingston Essential Transportation Services (LETS). On October 1, the Michigan Flyer will begin serving Brighton, picking up passengers at the Meijers parking lot and connecting to East Lansing, Ann Arbor and Metro Airport. WALLY, the proposed commuter rail between Howell and Ann Arbor, is not much talked about at present.

John Langdon mentioned state funding to upgrade a track segment into Traverse City to allow “demonstration” trains to run for special events. Also, completion of the Toledo-Detroit Ridership Feasibility & Cost Estimate Study, initiated by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG).

Larry Krieg urged members to participate in the student-led Climate Change Strike on September 20.

Clark Charnetski expects the final environmental report on siting of the new Ann Arbor station in the next few months. Challenges remain with a city council loath to build anything. He says the high-level platform at the station generally works well, allowing much faster boarding of passengers. Chuck Merckel recently communicated with Robert Kokx of RLE International, designer and builder of the platform, reporting that Amtrak is happy with the results but has no current plans to deploy elsewhere.

Steve Vagnozzi designed a business card with the Amtrak website, phone number and QR code to place in unstaffed stations.

Dan Platz would like to see commuter service between the Michigan Central Station and Ann Arbor. Adam Williams has been in contact with Ford Land Holdings, the entity that purchased the station, and is cautiously optimistic of a meeting with MARP at some point.

Robert Patterson reported uncertainty in next steps for SE Michigan regional transit plans, particularly how to accommodate rural areas that may not benefit directly from new regional services. Krieg adds that the RTA board makeup is changing with entry of a new Oakland County manager and that there are statutory constraints on what the board can do. Further legislative action may be needed.

Adjournment:   Langdon moved, Patterson seconded, group concurs. Adjournment at 2:45 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Kay Chase, Acting Secretary