RRHX - Michigan Railroad History
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Re: Alex Huff- question on a MIGN statement you made
Posted by Alex Huff on 12/13/2014, 1:59 pm, in reply to "Alex Huff- question on a MIGN statement you made"
Did Rep. Dan Stevens save Michigan Northern prior to start-up? Yes, he did. The back story is that the MDOT staff held a rather pro forma hearing with one visitor present, the state representative from Transverse City at the time. We presented our plan to operate, three round trips a week vs. one round trip by PC and by extension Conrail-to-be to Petoskey. PC had "rail-banked" the line up to Mackinaw City for a little over the past year. MIGN's operation would have included the Chief, a political consideration at the time. There was UP support to retain a rail connection between the upper and lower peninsulas. MIGN recognized it would need some overhead traffic which we would have to develop. USRA rightly concluded that on line business was insufficient to continue operation by Conrail north of Grand Rapids. At the end of the "hearing". MDOT staff announced they had concluded that subsidizing Conrail to operate was in the better interests of the state. You must remember that under the law establishing Conrail, it was required to provide service on lines not included by the USRA when, and only when, some entity subsidized the service. Conrail's operation of the northern end of the Ann Arbor before Michigan Interstate took over is an example. MDOT's decision is what a bureaucracy, risk adverse by nature, would be expected to make. MDOT referred to MIGN as "Mark Campbell's press release railroad". It was. It also was formed by people too young (or too dumb, take your pick) to be put off by the size of the task at hand. After the execution by MDOT, Mark Campbell and Beth Andrus went to talk to the rep from Traverse City and I made a cold call/visit to Dan Stevens. Dan intervened. MIGN rose from the grave before MDOT could put up a tombstone.
Regarding 100 shippers vs. 200 shippers. It was surprising how much single car business there was. An annual car of dried sewage from Milwaukee, sold as fertilizer for a golf course near Rockford, a car of Purina Mouse Chow for Ferris State College at the time in Big Rapids were two examples. Not enough to run a railroad. Five car blocks of agricultural limestone for a rail/truck operation north of Cedar Springs was the bulk of the business south of Cadillac. MIGN compiled a monthly list of shippers/receivers for the state as I recall. As to an additional 100, I am guessing that was mostly overhead lumber business as a result of the flagout.
Hindsight is 20/20. In an alternate universe, if MDOT had immediately purchased the line north of Grand Rapids at scrap value, rather than pay much more than that over time in annual lease payments, the track might still exist as a local service facility. This alternate universe would require developing new on line business. The truck/rail move of steel from Algoma Steel to Pellston was MIGN's most successful example. The industry shift to much larger trains, stack trains for consumer items, unit trains for commodities, would have killed the car ferry connection. Since we are playing in an alternate universe, moving the white elephant state funded tug barge combination to Mackinaw City, modifying the barges and/or slips to match and pushing the route as a bypass avoiding Chicago with scheduled service might have retained enough lumber business to keep the service alive. It was a short haul move, a factor in its favor. Whether a tug-barge could break ice in a hard winter is a question I can't answer.
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