MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Monthly Membership Meeting
Bangor Depot, Bangor, Michigan
November 14, 2009
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Dianne Patterson, Robert Patterson, Burt Ten Brink, Jim Hinkins, Rosemary Insidioso, Dick Pekarek, Kay Chase, John Langdon, Ken Ratzlaff, Jim Wallington, Martha Benedict, Archie Llamor, Barney Whittier, Ron Leatz, J. R. Valderas, Dave Randall, Jeanne Cohen, Ed Cohen
Also Present: Joseph Weiser, Duane L. Riley, Ed Hekman
Call to Order: Secretary Gurney called the meeting to order at 10:43 a.m. and immediately turned the gavel over to Treasurer Dave Randall. All present introduced themselves.
Guest Speakers: In the absence of scheduled speaker Bob Emmett, meeting host Ken Ratzlaff briefly reviewed some of Bangor’s railroad history. In the early years, Bangor was in the midst of a fruit growing area and a lot of fruit was shipped out by rail. Bangor was also famous for its pickles and was called the pickle capital of Michigan. The present depot was completed in 1925. After abandonment of passenger train service, the City of Bangor purchased the structure from CSX. Subsequently, Ratzlaff and his family purchased the property and have adaptively restored it. Today, the facility includes an Amtrak waiting area (still owned by the city), a restaurant, several businesses and a conference room. MARP worked with the city on the platform.
Valderas then introduced Joseph Weiser, a young man who oversaw the research, wording and installation of a large Michigan Historical Marker at the Niles station as his Eagle Scout project. Noting that the landmark station had only a small, obscure plaque recognizing its historic value, Weiser worked with the Michigan Historical Commission to research the history of the structure and fill out the lengthy and detailed application. All data had to be reviewed by community leaders and Amtrak. Most of his information came from the Niles Public Library. Once the wording for the marker was approved, Weiser then oversaw fundraising amounting to $3,425 to pay for preparation and installation of the marker. An interview with the local paper brought in a number of donations as well as fundraisers at the station and at the local historical museum.
Responding to a query from Robert Patterson, Weiser indicated that he was aware and appreciated the ability to use the train, but that most of his contemporaries were not and generally drove whenever they traveled to another community. It was agreed that MARP needed to do a better job in educating young people about travel by train.
Weiser was given a hearty round of applause for his efforts to mark the Niles station more prominently.
Breaking News: Wallington reported that Indian Trails will begin service to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on December 1. The existing bus from East Lansing will now continue north from St. Ignace to Sault Ste. Marie, arriving at the Eastern U. P. Transportation Authority station there at 12:40 a.m. If traffic warrants, it will also stop at Lake Superior State University. Passengers wishing to continue to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, can either take the bridge bus that connects the two cities or a taxi for a flat fee of $30.00. The Indian Trails bus will then continue to the western Upper Peninsula. The southbound bus will depart Sault Ste. Marie daily at 7:30 a.m.
The effort to restore regularly scheduled motor coach service to Sault Ste. Marie came out of a meeting between MARP and Transport 2000’s Harry Gow. Sault Ste. Marie is the third largest city in the Upper Peninsula. Indian Trails and MDOT are currently working on a press release announcing the service.
Treasurer’s Report: Randall reported that the reminder membership mailing brought in an additional $125 in October and $40 in November. As of October 31, 2009, the balance in the checking account was $3,467.02. The value of the Pratt Fund was $12,457.87, considerably more than earlier in the year. MARP has reached 100% of budgeted income and remains below target on expenditures. The balance in the checking account is lower than at the same point last year because of non renewals. Another issue of Michigan Passenger will come out of the 2009 budget. Each issue costs about $1,000. Langdon moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. Ratzlaff seconded. Those present concurred.
Secretary’s Report: Randall distributed drafts of the minutes of the October 10 meeting and Gurney passed out copies of the approved August and September minutes. The latter prompted questions from Robert Patterson about exactly what MARP’s financial commitments would be for the October, 2010, NARP meeting in Grand Rapids. He urged that we find out what is expected and plan for any additional expense. Gurney moved acceptance of the October minutes. Valderas seconded the motion. Those present approved the October minutes.
Funding Status: Langdon passed around copies of the Michigan Transportation Act approved recently in Lansing. It provides $5.7 million in funding for the Pere Marquette and Blue Water, enough to cover projected expenses until June 30, 2010. A supplemental appropriation will be needed for the remainder of the fiscal year.
With support from Senator Jason Allen of Traverse City, an Amtrak Caucus is taking shape. The Michigan Environmental Council has been doing a lot of the legwork. The idea is that the caucus will be headed by one Republican and one Democratic member in
each house of the legislature. The Michigan Railroad Association is interested in
participating. The first meeting is scheduled for December with Tim Hoeffner speaking. Tim Fischer of MEC is working on maps of professional quality to present.
Meetings: Wallington reported on possible meeting venues for 2010. He will e-mail the draft list to members and ask for their input. The first meeting of 2010 will be in Lansing on Saturday, January 9. It was suggested that the Annual Meeting be shifted from the usual September date to October and held in conjunction with National Association of Railroad Passenger’s fall meeting in Grand Rapids. Langdon moved that the draft of proposed locations be accepted as a work in progress. The motion was seconded by Robert Patterson and approved.
Public Affairs: Langdon felt that the 35th Anniversary of the Blue Water went very well with lots of media exposure. MARP members served as unofficial car hosts. Pekarek added that a good crowd gathered in Flint. Lt. Governor Cherry boarded the train there and was interviewed by many reporters. There was also a good turnout in Durand. Durand Union Station put out a pin commemorating the event. Valderas reported that, according to MDOT’s Therese Cody, Dowagiac had the best participation with 75-100 attending. A harp concert was part of the entertainment. Ron Leatz was given a round of applause for his part in the Dowagiac festivities.
Membership: Speaking for Vavra-Musser, Langdon reported that membership is down by about 8%. He urged analysis of both new members and non renewing members.
Pekarek urged that we work to make riding the train seem “cool”. Randall noted that Livonia State Senator Anderson’s son rides the train all the time, so some young people are getting the message. Chase agreed that a significant number of young people are regular train riders. Randall countered that efforts to lure young people to the train are being undercut by Megabus. The Ann Arbor Amtrak ticket agent recently told him that Megabus is loading three Chicago bound busses every Friday night at the University of Michigan. Their fare is $30 as opposed to Amtrak’s Friday night fare of $70. Discussion of such issues is one reason we need regular meetings with Amtrak.
Communications: Chase informed the group that she had recently sent a thank you to Sue Higgins of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council for helping set up the August meeting. Higgins has been extremely supportive of Westrain. Chase tries to send thank you’s to all MARP speakers.
Chase noted that the 10th anniversary of TRU was coming up and asked if anyone from MARP was planning to attend. Randall asked if MARP should make a donation to TRU in lieu of attending the event. Langdon so moved. The motion was seconded by Robert Patterson and approved by those present.
Newsletter: Valderas plans to complete work on the fall issue of Michigan Passenger now that a date for the January meeting has been set. The opening of the New Buffalo station will be the lead article. Copy will be sent to the printer on Monday and the paper should be on the street in about two weeks. Valderas plans to get the winter edition out in January.
Website: Chase is putting the final touches on a slightly reworded Vision Statement. As soon as completed, it will be posted on the MARP website. In response to a question from Robert Patterson about social networking, Chase suggested that a committee be appointed to explore various concepts.
Outreach: Langdon passed the schedule of upcoming outreach opportunities around and asked for volunteers. He noted that souvenir programs from the Owosso Train Festival are now available.
Western: The big event was the October 26 opening of the new station in New Buffalo. All kinds of Amtrak representatives were there. Therese Cody represented MDOT. MARP members Langdon, Leatz, Valderas and Vavra-Musser were in attendance as was a representative of Fred Upton. The high school band played. A shuttle bus from the new casino will meet all four trains that stop. This is the second largest casino in the U.S. with slot machines. Amtrak removed the Amtrak signage from the old station and donated it to the local New Buffalo Railroad Museum. Vavra-Musser has offered to work on larger signs with schedules at both the New Buffalo and St. Joseph stations.
As of October 26, Amtrak has restored the connection between the eastbound California Zephyr and the eastbound Pere Marquette. Albion is now a flag stop.
Northern: Indian Trails service to Sault Ste. Marie reported earlier.
East/Central: 35th Blue Water anniversary reported earlier in the meeting.
Metro: The Woodward Avenue light rail project is on the back burner at the moment, as DDOT and Haertel work out details.
The Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project is still scheduled to get underway in October, 2010, with two eastbound morning trains and two westbound evening trains. It is a demonstration project, which means it could be a failure and cease operation. If successful, it will probably lead to additional commuter rail projects. Hinkins hopes that one such project would be a spur into downtown Detroit which would pass the abandoned Michigan Central Depot. That would be an incentive for restoration and reuse of that historic structure. Over a mile of track is needed at West Detroit to accommodate the Ann Arbor-Detroit line. Hopefully, construction will begin in January.
WALLY is slated to be operational sometime in 2011. If successful, it could lead to a rail link from Detroit through Ann Arbor to Lansing.
Chase passed around a circular describing the efforts of the Friends of the Buffalo Michigan Central station.
Interstate Traveler: Chase, who is on Mike Rogers’ e-mail list, reports that the committee is still at work. She agrees that we need to keep abreast of what is happening and keep in communication.
Amtrak in Winter: Amtrak’s Daryl James has confirmed that the Pere Marquette will operate with Superliner equipment year round, including a coach/café car, Wallington reported. The Blue Water is scheduled for Superliner equipment in the winter.
Vice-Chair Position: Valderas has put the vacancy announcement in the fall issue of Michigan Passenger.
Liaison with Amtrak and MDOT: It was agreed that we strongly urge our Chair to try to set up regular meetings with Amtrak.
Colorado Rail is now US Rail and based in Ohio.
Ron Leatz continues as the Dowagiac host, at the station daily during train times. The station is opened weekdays by city employees and closed in the evening by the police. Many students board Sunday evenings on their way back to Western, MSU and UM. To date, Leatz has been unsuccessful in getting official directional signage to the station. Apparently, the municipality must order and install signage. To promote more travel, Leatz would like to use the Blue Water promotional brochure when corrected as well as the popular Amtrak Chicago brochure. Leatz hopes to encourage civic organizations to sponsor trips by train.
Chase noted that the new Michigan Environmental Council brochure features an Amtrak train on the cover. MEC realizes that our current transportation system consumes 75% of the nation’s energy.
Wallington is now serving on Amtrak’s Passenger Advisory Committee. Amtrak has a team that focuses on a specific train with attention to cleanliness, on time performance and promotion. A Michigan train may be featured in the coming year. The Texas Eagle is slated to become a daily Chicago-San Antonio-Los Angeles service.
In response to a query from Robert Patterson, Valderas stated he will have a report on National Train Day at the January meeting.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 1:37 p.m.
Respectfully Submitted: Approved:
Hugh D. Gurney John DeLora