Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Troubles in Toonerville?? (Revised)

(ed note:  we just made a change to the third bullet point in the ‘wrap-up’ below the house of cards regarding expected life of hardwood ties.)         

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, your humble correspondent earned his living as an engineer.  As such, we were sentenced to a life of mockery, and to this day, we still apparently have ‘engineer’ stamped on our forehead. 

We thought of it as teasing back then; now it’s probably considered ‘verbal abuse,’ or ‘mental abuse,’ or even worse, ‘bullying.’  At least if we were moved towards legal action and ‘damages.’  One of these days, we expect to see a TV commercial touting lawyers who will help us collect.

One of the classic pieces of bulletin board humor back then was a poorly drawn cartoon with the caption shown in this more contemporary graphic.

                           

All of which serves as our trademark rambling introduction to the subject of the moment.  For which we have a more ‘timely’ citation:


"I knew nothing about the rail business, or how trains worked or the engineering side of it," Quinn says about the day, 11 years ago, she applied for a job with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the Portland-based organization bringing back passenger rail to Maine. "When I started this job I had never ridden a train before."

Now Quinn is a passenger-rail authority herself. As executive director of NNEPRA, Quinn is a widely recognized expert on developing passenger trains in rural markets. Despite coming into this business with zero industry experience, Quinn has made a profound, lasting impact on Maine's transportation infrastructure and economy.

http://www.mainebiz.biz/article/20110808/CURRENTEDITION/308089992/track-star-|-patricia-quinn-northern-new-england-passenger-rail-authority


                 

Note that the passage above is from 3 years ago.  Since then, Ms. Quinn has won at least 3 awards we know of for being a superior “business leader” or equivalent.  We’re sure she’d be quick to point out that the award was not for her, but for NNEPRA, the organization she heads.

                     

Which, of course, is devoted to providing badly needed passenger rail service in Maine, and especially, in the constipated infrastructure link that connects Brunswick and Portland.  How many friends do you have who tell stories of being dead stopped in traffic on 295, radiator boiling over, dreaming of a train that could save them from it all?  Shirley and Chance, for example.

The challenge, of course, is that Maine has four seasons, including winter, which can be cold, snowy, and even icy at times.  Official records show that it’s been this way for some time, at least as far back as before NNEPRA came into existence.  But apparently, NNEPRA staff did not get the memo on maintaining track beds all year round, especially in wintry conditions, until spring arrived a few months ago.  Funny how a “a widely recognized expert on developing passenger trains in rural markets” could be taken by surprise by such conditions.

                 

So sure enough, ‘unexpected’ problems visited themselves upon the Downeaster route, leading to all sorts of problems and need for remediation.  For the record, we reported on such matters in May, in this post and others that followed.  Including these words in a post on May 6:

Which makes us ever so grateful for this reminder published today in the BDN.  It looks for all the world like trains have their own equivalent of ‘potholes.’

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Federal Railroad Administration has placed “slow orders” on around 27 miles of Pan Am Railways track — running from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border to Maine — in about 25 different spots.

“The fact that some are in areas of track where the train [normally] goes 70 mph, it’s really impacting the time,” Quinn said. “It’s hard to tell how long [repairs] are going to take.”

We note that she didn’t mention the ‘alternative routes’ train passengers should take.  Oh wait….because there aren’t any.

So we thought readers might enjoy this update on Ms. Quinn’s profound, lasting, and recognized expertise in matters of passenger rail system management since that time, all taken from the NNEPRA web site:


PRIORITY ALERT: Track maintenance causing train delays

Due to continuing track maintenance being performed on the railroad, most Downeaster trains are experiencing delays of approximately 10-35 minutes. 

PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for week of July 7 - 11 due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will occur this week:

Thursday and Friday trains 681, 683, 684, and 686 will not operate. All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.


PRIORITY ALERT: Track maintenance causing train delays

Due to continuing track maintenance being performed on the railroad, most Downeaster trains are experiencing delays of approximately 10-35 minutes.

To check train status of your train please call 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train Status" or visit www.AmtrakDowneaster.com and look-up your train on the righthand column under the train status tab.

PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for July 14 - 16 due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will ocur (sic) this week:

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday trains 681, 683, 684, and 686 will not operate. All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.


PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for July 21-24 -due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will ocur this week:

Tuesday trains 683 and 684 will not operate.  All other trains will operate according to schedule.

Wednesday trains 681, 683, 684, and 686 will not operate. All other trains will operate according to schedule.

Thursday trains 683, 684 and 686 will not operate.  All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.


            

Long story short, we remember early on hearing that it would be ‘weeks’ with ‘some delays’ blamed on weather damage.  This has morphed into 12 weeks (or more) of delays plus numerous cancellations; and with each week’s new “PRIORITY ALERT,” no estimate is given of when the repairs will be complete.

                     http://wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/nakedpastor/files/2013/06/house-of-cards-550x550.jpg

We’ll wrap up our report with some key facts that bear on this story.

  • While the ‘PRIORITY ALERTs’ repeatedly use the words ‘as we work to improve the railroad,’ it’s obvious that the work is being done to REPAIR the railroad.  A need to ‘improve’ the railroad would mean track upgrade was not done correctly before Downeaster service began.  Which would lead to a ‘for shame’ declaration.
  • Federal Railroad Administration regulations require that tracks used for passenger rail service be inspected a minimum of twice a week.  We take that to mean all year round, winter included.  Passenger use requires a higher standard for track condition than does freight train use.
  • Railroad ties normally have a 15 year expected service life.  We’ve just been corrected by a railroad professional, who says: “depending on climate and traffic volume, hardwood ties should last 25-40 years.” Ties that were in perfectly fine condition at winter’s onset would not reasonably be expected to require replacement just months later when things thawed out.
  • Twice weekly inspections should allow for minor corrective maintenance on a regular basis; months of major repairs seem symptomatic of lax inspection routines and reporting.
  • NNEPRA has reportedly been paying Pan Am Railways on the order of $1 million per year since Downeaster service began to inspect and maintain track to the required Class 3 (60 mph max) and Class 4 (80 mph max) FRA standards.

In our view of things, this means NNEPRA, directed by its highly awarded and ‘widely recognized’ passenger rail authority, has the obligation to oversee and manage track conditions through it’s subcontract to Pan Am, and to be accountable for meeting all applicable federal standards.

Failure to do so, as exemplified by the ongoing repairs and cancellations, is a clear indication of flawed maintenance practices, poor management of subcontracts, and lack of related expertise.

Regardless of the multiple awards and gushing praise in various media reports, not to mention lavish acclamation from TrainRiders Northeast.  But then, some people will do anything for a free cake.

Given the circumstances just described and illuminated, we believe expecting NNEPRA, under Ms. Quinn’s leadership, to do an effective and professional job of managing a $20 million major industrial construction project may be a bridge too far.

        

As a final thought, should Ms. Quinn some day tire of the ‘same old, same old’ at NNEPRA, perhaps she’d like to apply her widely acclaimed and awarded management skills to other needy areas of public transportation infrastructure.

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1 comment:

  1. Have you tried to get ridership and ticket sales information from NEPRA? Answers: the dog ate my homework, my hard drive crashed, I don't happen to have them handy, those figures are kept by a different department and you can call ........, those figures are confidential business data we need to keep from our competitors, if you vote for those who provide or subsidies we will give you a discount.

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