Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cough, cough and Cedar Street–the day after….

Pursuant to the letter from Mary Heath to Brunswick’s Town Manager and Town Council, we stopped by the Cedar Street area yesterday about 1:30 or so in the afternoon.  We took this video of the Downeaster engine idling away; we were standing in the parking area in front of the Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention Program food bank.  The Brooks Feed & Farm warehouse is just on the other side of the rails, to the left of the engine.

Be sure to have the volume control full up on the YouTube embed above, and on your computer, so you can get the full effect of the engine sound.  You should be able to see diesel fumes exiting the rear area of the engine.  We were there for no more than 5 minutes or so, and we can tell you that we were still smelling and tasting the fumes at least 5 hours later.

We reported on Ms. Heath’s letter here: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/06/june-16-council-meeting-cough-cough.html 

We’d very much like the Interim Mr. Manager and the entire town council to fix brown bag lunches for themselves, and eat them picnic style next to the tracks while old #152 (or its brethren) is there idling away.  And we’d love to interview them on camera while they are doing so.

Our experience puts the lie to repeated NNEPRA assurances that the engines only need to idle when temperatures are in the 40’s and below.  This is supposedly to make sure the diesel fuel doesn’t gel.  Which makes us curious why our son-in-law, who drives a diesel powered auto, and lives in NJ, doesn’t have to idle his engine in his employer’s parking lot during winter sub-freezing days.

         

We had not yet heard the news about the FRA issuing a FONSI for the Brunswick MLF, or read the coverage of Monday night’s council meeting that addressed Mary’s letter.  Now we know that NNEPRA, which no-doubt knew of the FRA decision before the rest of us, was doing their usual stiff-arming of public concerns.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn said on Monday that adding the power supply would be too expensive and redundant once a maintenance layover facility for Amtrak engines is built, pending federal approval.

“Too expensive?”  Is she kidding?  The Downeaster is operating at a nearly 50% loss, and she’s worried about costs?  Why now, if you don’t mind us asking?  And what about the fact that you won’t be able to build the MLF for the advertised $12 million?

BTW, if you want a sense of just how shameless and disingenuous NNEPRA and the Federal Government can be in such matters, take a look at this passage in yesterday’s FONSI announcement (emphasis ours):

This Project is funded as part of a $38.4 million High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant (HSIPR) awarded to NNEPRA for improvements to the Downeaster passenger rail service. NNEPRA intends to construct the proposed passenger rail equipment layover facility using a combination of federal and state funds, including state multi-modal and bond funds and approximately $6 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program grant funds.

Congestion mitigation?  What congestion??  Or are they referring to respiratory congestion caused by the diesel fumes?  Air Quality Improvement?  Now they’re really slapping us in the face.  This is improved air quality?  And we’re supposed to trust these folks to look out for our interests, and to be good stewards of public resources compelled from us by force of law?

                                 

Now let’s look at the big fairy tale – the one that’s too good not to be true, at least if you’re a true believer; an Amtrakerrati, like Saint Wayne. 

                             

This is the promise that the MLF will mitigate all environmental issues, including the effects of idling engines.  So much so that the Federal Railroad Administration has just concluded that there will be no significant impact on in-town neighborhoods.  The current modality has a train set idling away for 5 hours a day in town year round.

We assessed this assertion some months back in this post: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/04/quality-of-place-downtown-master-plan.html.

We based our assessment on the proposed expansion (“everyone is so excited!”) to five round trips per day between Portland and Brunswick.  Rather than ask you to open that post, we’re going to append it below.  (In particular, take a look at the gray high-lighted text.)  If our little ‘study’ is correct, with the planned expansion, and MLF construction, there will still be 5 hours a day of puffing engines out of doors year-round, nicely distributed from Stanwood Street to Maine Street.

 

So the burning question becomes whether or not there is someone who will take on the huffing and puffing giant, no matter how hard it is.  And no matter how many of the beautiful people take offense.

As we reflect on things, we’re increasingly convinced that the very center of town was no place to locate a heavily used train station, anymore than it would be for a sewage treatment plant.

    

But boys and girls will be boys and girls, and we’ve got to keep them happy.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Quality of Place; Downtown Master Plan; and the Amtrak MLF. What a splendid outlook for in-town living.

                       

For years and years, the anemic economic vitality and lack of opportunity in Maine have been rationalized by various non-profits and other anti-prosperity groups with the consolation that we have ‘quality of place’ that more than makes up for these shortcomings. 

                               

You should be familiar with their typical rhetoric by now. Here’s a sample:

"Quality of Place" What does it mean?

What brought you to Maine? Why do you stay? What keeps you coming back year after year? That is Quality of Place. The rocky coastline, the old growth forests, the rolling farmlands, the historic downtowns, the loon calls on still lakes, the 3rd generation family that works the fields, the farms and the fisheries. The quintessential Maine that we all have come to love - the thing that makes Maine...Maine - that is Quality of Place.

Try as we might, we couldn’t find the sounds, vibrations, and aromas of diesel electric train engines in the same literature that talks of ‘loon calls on still lakes.’

You know how it works; rocky shore lines and lots of trees compensate for low incomes and lack of opportunity that would keep your children and grandchildren here near family to build their lives, their families, their futures, and oh by the way, to be your comfort and solace in your old age.

All well and good; let’s not debate the terminology.  Instead, we want to talk to you about Brunswick’s Quality of Place, and how those of you who live in the downtown corridor are about to have yours ‘adjusted’ for the greater community good.  We trust you’re prepared to make the necessary sacrifices so that those with a higher purpose can find their fulfillment.

MLF to station run

Those we particularly want to address reside/work in the areas shown in the google earth image above.  You can see a larger view in your browser by going to this link:

https://www.google.com/maps/@43.91021,-69.96998,911m/data=!3m1!1e3

Loosely defined, we include the residential/commercial areas on both sides of the existing tracks between Church Road and Stanwood Street, which consists of the Bouchard Drive and adjacent neighborhoods on the south side of the tracks, plus a mix of properties on the north side; the neighborhoods along Hennessy Ave both to the North and South and the Hammond Lumber facility; those along the Cedar Street corridor, including the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program facility, and any other person and/or property that is within the sound, the smell, and the feel of the Amtrak train. 

This includes the Hannaford area, Brooks Farm Supply, Union Street businesses and residences, Maine Street Station businesses and offices, and even The McLellan – our not so new but new town hall.  We might as well include the Inn at Brunswick, the Noble Street neighborhoods, and Page, Potter, and Weymouth Street areas as well.

Maybe even HBS school and the adjacent playground areas.

Before we get to that, though, we want to refer back to the lovely message that Alison Harris, a volunteer at the Maine Street Station “Departure Center” (as we have renamed it), sent to Jane Millett and the town council on March 12, 2014.  We wrote about it here:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/03/amtrak-mlf-are-bouchard-drive-residents.html

and you can find the memo here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/213746651/Alison-Harris-letter-to-town-council-on-March-12-2014

We think these words of Alison’s are particularly germane to our discussion today:

“I’m glad that you have come to recognize the serious imposition on your Cedar Street constituents posed by the Downeaster idling for five hours a day….. as they used to at Brunswick Station until someone shooed them down the line to bother someone else.”

“…eliminating the noise, odor and vibrations endured by your Cedar Street constituents, as well as the airborne pollutants that blow throughout Brunswick while the diesel engines idle.”

“…it just puts the idling engines into some other unfortunate neighborhood’s back yards.”

“…idle out of doors disturbing some neighborhood or another and polluting the environment.”

“Without a layover facility in Brunswick, the Downeaster will be unable to add a third round-trip a day to Boston every day…”

“(When track improvements are made in Yarmouth, I understand that we could have five round-trips every day!)”

Alison makes it abundantly clear that idling trains are bothersome, noisy, smelly, vibrating; pollute the air ‘throughout Brunswick;’ and disturb unfortunate neighborhoods, to paraphrase her words.

18 Quality_of_Place-Dean Meyers-REV.jpg

Now here’s the part that Alison forgot to mention, and where your sacrifice of Quality of Place comes into play.

All those things Alison finds objectionable about those icky-poo idling trains are equally true of running/moving trains as well.  Plus more: the noise, smell, pollution, and vibration levels increase significantly.  Track noise, horns at crossings, ground vibrations as trains roll.  Then there are the at grade street crossings, bringing traffic and pedestrians to a stop.  In the case we’re examining here, these would be Stanwood Street and Union Street.  But no matter; those are quiet, seldom used streets.

We have some exciting news for those of you within this lucky vicinity, and it’s found on pages 14 and 15 of the Amtrak MLF Environmental Assessment we discussed in our prior post, which you can find here:

http://www.nnepra.com/sites/default/files/Brunswick%20Final%20EA%20-%20%20091213_0.pdf

We tried to copy and paste the table on page 14 here, but couldn’t do it.  So we’re pasting the related text.  (Note that ‘Build Alternative’ means building the MLF as proposed along Bouchard Drive.  ‘No Build’ means an MLF would not be constructed (at least in Brunswick.))

(emphasis in the passage below is ours)

In summary, Exhibit 7 compares Amtrak train movements with and without the Build Alternative, while Exhibits 8 and 9 diagram the volume of Amtrak train traffic on segments between Portland and Brunswick Station. Under current service levels, the Build Alternative would not affect total train moves between Portland and Brunswick, though all six trains would operate as scheduled Amtrak Downeaster service for the full length of the Brunswick – Portland – Boston route, maximizing ridership potential. In total, twelve trains would operate over trackage between the Brunswick rail yard and Brunswick Station – a distance of about 0.6 miles – under the Build Alternative. This would include the six Amtrak Downeaster trains and six ancillary train movements. Under the No Build, eight trains would operate over this segment in total.

Be clear on this.  Under current circumstances, you in the cited areas deal with 8 train movements a day through your area, between the proposed MLF site at Brunswick West and the in-town station.  When the MLF is built, that number will increase by 50%, to 12 train movements per day.  That means street crossings and everything else that goes with a train movement.

Under potential future service levels, the total number of train movements between Portland and Brunswick, a distance of 29 miles, would be ten with the Build Alternative, compared to 16 for the No Build, a reduction of six trains daily. The Build Alternative would increase the number of trips between Brunswick Station and the Brunswick rail yard, a distance of 0.6 miles, from four to ten. Hours of operation would be similar under either the No Build or Build Alternative.

And clear on this as well; once scheduled train service increases to 5 round trips per day (!!), the train movements daily through your neighborhoods and at your crossings will increase to 20.  Most of which will take place at all hours of the day, from very early (6 am), to very late (3 am.)

That’s the equivalent of 10 round trips between the Brunswick West site and the in-town station.  Each of those trips has to take place at very low speed.  You have to start the train, open the huge doors of the MLF, pull the train out and head for the station, and then idle there while crew and passengers board and de-board and generally ready themselves for the journey to come. 

After everything is tended to, the train has to move very slowly and cautiously back to the Brunswick  West site, either to continue to Portland, or to wait for shed doors to open so it can enter the facility.

We’re not train operation experts, but what if each round trip, including the stop (idling) at the station, took about 30 minutes?  From the schedule, it appears that the train spends 15-20 minutes at the station alone.  So 30 minutes total doesn’t seem out of line.

30 minutes times 10 is 300 minutes, or 5 hours of running train in the downtown neighborhoods. 

Hmmm; 5 hours.  That number rings a bell; where have we heard that before?  We’ll try to remember.

Well, at least you’ll be able to take solace in the Downtown Master Plan, adopted in January 2011, which in it’s (“our”) Downtown Vision, prioritizes, among other things, “Visual Quality;” “Pedestrian and Vehicular Movement;” and “Neighborhoods.”

(see http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Adopted-Downtown-Master-Plan.pdf)

And when you read the EA for the umpteenth time, remember that those pollution effects, health risks, and the other items discussed all relate to you in the ‘Quality of Place’ areas we alluded to.

Thanks for grinning and bearing it on behalf of the rest of us.  As thanks, we’re thinking of having signs made up for you, like those that say ‘this is a Neighborhood Watch area.’  Only it will say ‘this is a Quality of Place sacrificing area.’

You may not have been able to articulate “Quality of Place’ before you read this, but we’re guessing you have a much better idea of what it means now.

We only have one more thought before we close.  With the expansion in service, how many more round trips will Brunswick Taxi have to make back and forth to Portland to transport Amtrak crews?  Will the BDC have to give them another grant to buy more vehicles?  Will GoJo have to negotiate a more expansive contract with CTS?  Ka-ching, ka-ching.

Like they say, it’s good to be a King in Brunswick.  Especially if you’re an FU alumni.

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