Sunday, June 7, 2015

NNEPRA’s “Governance:” Foolish thinking starts at the top.

               Image result for Capital Y

The significance of this large sized letter “Y” will become clear in a moment or two.  Before we get to that, however, we’d like to give you some background.

            

A long, long, long time ago, your humble correspondent spent his summers working at the amusement trade on the Boardwalk in New Jersey.  One of the perennial favorites was Bumper Cars, which back then, cost 25 cents for about a 7 minute or so ride.  Adults and kids alike loved them, and you never forget the aromas of ozone from the constant sparking, along with the smells of various lubricants, electric motors, etc.

Some time after that, during our professional career, we coined the term “Bumper Car Management Style.”  That’s where you go full speed ahead on a course until you run into a wall or some other party that threatens your forward progress.  At which point, you cop a quick 180 degree turn, or more, and hit full throttle again.  Full speed ahead in the new direction; keep going until you collide once more; and when you do, repeat the same evasive maneuvers.

The essence of the ‘style’ is that where you’re going, or where you’ve just been, have no real significance.  You just want to keep moving and spending, and you’re ready to change course and speed randomly and abruptly to do so.  If you have to collide with other travelers, so be it.

Which seems at the moment like an appropriate metaphor for NNEPRA’s management of Downeaster passenger rail service, and the capital projects associated with it.

Not too long ago, Patsy Quinn, Executive Director of NNEPRA, came before our town council to affirm that Brunswick would be the end of the Downeaster Line, and that no further expansion was planned or foreseen for the service.  A little later in the same appearance, she suggested that if they expanded service to the Lewiston/Auburn area, another Maintenance and Layover Facility (MLF) would be required there to make things work.

Reminds us of the old standard “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”

You’ve probably seen the recent reports that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has issued a draft ruling on the NNEPRA plan to build a 53,000 sf MLF in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood in downtown Brunswick, on the current railroad track property.
NNEPRA of course is euphoric, as are the usual trainies.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, praised the work of state regulators and said the input from residents and officials led to improvements.
“People can be assured that the project has gone though a very thorough review,” she said.
Wayne Davis, chairman of Trainriders/Northeast, a rail advocacy group, said the decision was a relief.
“We have been holding our breath,” he said.
Tempting as it is, we’ll leave that comment alone, other than to say that Davis is not known for holding his breath; in fact, just the opposite when appearing in public settings.

                
                        Image result for Capital Y

Which brings us back to that letter.  We’d like you to think of the tip of the arm heading in the 11 o’clock direction as Lewiston/Auburn.  And the tip of the arm heading in the 1 o’clock direction as Brunswick.  And think of the “foot” of the leg heading in the 6 o’clock direction as Boston.

The place where the three connect is Portland, the natural hub of the Downeaster service as currently conceived and projected.  It’s abundantly clear that political and social momentum to expand Downeaster service to Lewiston/Auburn is strong and growing…even to the point of legislation making it’s way through the law-making process.

Take a look at these passages from a recent article in the Portland newspaper (http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/02/coalition-pushes-state-lawmakers-for-rail-expansion/):
A coalition that includes rail advocates, municipal officials and the Sierra Club pushed for expanded passenger rail service in Maine on Tuesday, arguing before lawmakers the economic and environmental benefits of public transit.
The group is rallying around three bills: a $25 million bond to upgrade rail infrastructure; a bill that allocates $500,000 to study extending passenger service to Auburn and Lewiston; and a bill that allows communities to work together to borrow or raise money for transportation projects.
The rationale is that passenger rail service creates economic benefits for host communities.  Just like Brunswick, where town officials refuse to examine such claims, and local businesses continue to close and/or move elsewhere.
“Expansion to Lewiston-Auburn is the next logical step and a potentially huge economic driver for Maine’s interior,” Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald on Tuesday told the Appropriations Committee during a public hearing for L.D. 438. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, authorizes the state to borrow $25 million for improving railroad lines between Portland, Lewiston and Auburn and also on railways statewide. The bond would also fund construction of a 4-mile long siding in Yarmouth. The siding would allow Amtrak’s Downeaster service to operate more frequently between Portland and Brunswick and set the stage for rail service between Portland and the Twin Cities.
Macdonald said extending rail service to Portland would be a significant “kick start” for efforts to revitalize Lewiston, which has been struggling with an eroded industrial base.
We’ve met Mayor Macdonald in the past, and thought of him as a rational individual when we did.  But it’s abundantly clear that he’s lost the bubble, so to speak, and needs to get back to drinking coffee at Tim Horton’s, instead of supping Kool-Aid in the halls of the state house.
Now the best part…
Another bill, L.D. 323, allocates $500,000 to study the potential market demand and economic benefits of connecting Lewiston and Auburn with Amtrak’s Downeaster service.  ….  Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor, said it would have economic impact beyond the Twin Cities.  …   “It will be good for the state’s economy when we connect the two large economies – Portland and Lewiston and Auburn together,” he said in an interview.
                               
And the capstone of our essay of the moment (emphasis ours):
Martin Eisenstein, chairman of the board that oversees the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, spoke in support the bill. The rail authority, which manages the Downeaster service, has long planned to extend rail service to the area, he said. Extending the service to Brunswick, he said, was the first step in bringing the service closer to Lewiston and Auburn.
                                         Image result for Capital Y
Now let’s go back to that “Y.”  At one tip, Lewiston/Auburn; at another tip, Brunswick.  At the bottom, Boston.  And Portland where all three segments join.

Who the hell in their right mind would propose building a Maintenance and Layover Facility at the tip of the arm heading Northeast?  How can a location other than the hub in Portland make any sense for the Downeaster, for Maine taxpayers, for Maine State Government, and for Chairman Eisenstein and the agency for which he has official oversight?                   

                                          Image result for keystone cops

Do Chair Eisenstein, NNEPRA Executive Director Patsy Quinn, and our betters in the Legislature and Executive Branch of state government expect us to see such thinking as in our best interest?  Do they really expect us to take such decisions as indicative of due diligence and a commitment to accountability to those who pay for everything they do?

We think not.

                                 Image result for keystone cops

Forgive us if you will.  In the face of such idiocy, it’s hard to maintain one’s respect for those charged with looking out for ‘the public good.’  Perhaps it’s time for those involved to borrow a technique made popular in the great wars for mapping out the physical relationships between assets and plans.

      

If those in charge can’t grasp the spatial and economic consequences of what they have in mind in the abstract, maybe they should have it reduced to a physical model that just about anyone should be able to comprehend, and use as a basis for common sense and critical reasoning.

      

If they have to, they can always call upon those adept at ‘modeling’ situations such as these.

                              

We already know, thanks to Brian Beeler, as described in our post earlier today, that there are many grandfatherly types who buy into the “mystique’ of the train.
  
             

And you know what?  As a grandfather ourselves, we’re pretty sure the more engaged train types can quickly point out where the MLF should go on that letter Y, and it sure as hell isn’t in Brunswick.

Unless you have $20 million or so in OPM to ‘invest’ in ridiculous and unnecessary facilities, in exactly the worst possible location.

Just because you’re the government, and if you want to, you can, damn it.

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