Friday, November 17, 2017

Funny smells and loose ends on the Downeaster Noise Workshop; somebody’s got to do the clean-up!

Let’s face it; if there’s anything you can be sure of, it’s that the local media won’t do any clean-up work!

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OK; here are the details you need:

Meeting Video Replay: http://tv3hd.brunswickme.org/Cablecast/Public/Show.aspx?ChannelID=1&ShowID=3869

Quiet Zone Brochure handed out before the meeting: https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0889

FRA Quiet Zone Briefing given at the meeting: https://www.scribd.com/document/364670016/Quiet-Zone-Presentation-Brusnwick-ME-11-14-17

           

Last night, after another full day of reflecting on the Workshop of the night before, it seemed to us that some things didn’t smell right.  So we sent this message to town councilors and the Town Manager:

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Upon reflection on the meeting itself, and after following up with a railroad professional, the following comments come to mind:

1)  In retrospect, the "no public comment" gag order was even more detrimental than it seemed at the time.  There was no opportunity to challenge answers given by the visitors, to ask follow-up questions, or otherwise dig into the first broad-brush comments given in response to the pre-listed questions.

2)  Patricia Quinn, ED of NNEPRA, was largely silent for the workshop, other than platitudes about working with Amtrak and the TM.  This makes it easy to forget that the State of Maine operates the Downeaster, and that this statutory responsibility and authority is vested in NNEPRA, which she heads.  In this regard, Amtrak and Pan Am are subcontractors to NNEPRA, which buys their services through agreements with each, plus MBTA.  NNEPRA and Ms. Quinn are the direct customer for their services, and she is responsible for oversight of their efforts on NNEPRA's behalf, for seeing that all written obligations are met, and that when issues arise that are not included in the agreements, to see to their resolution and provide assurance to the State, and the host communities, that open deficiencies and complaints are being effectively dispositioned.

3)  NNEPRA has ownership of every aspect of the MLF.  They worked the permitting and approval process from start to finish, with the help of consulting contractors managed by and paid for by the Authority.  NNEPRA was and is the Program Manager and General Contractor for the overall project, including site selection, environmental approval, selection and hiring of subs, design, construction, and acceptance and commissioning.  While Amtrak may staff the MLF, and Pan Am may have tasking associated with the facility, both do so as subcontractors to NNEPRA, with written agreements that should govern these roles and consideration in return.  In other words, "the buck stops at Ms. Quinn's desk" on all matters regarding the MLF and the Downeaster's presence in our community.  She should have been the one summing up by demonstrating the leadership and stewardship to follow up on all Downeaster related tasking that was talked about last night.

4)  I expect that none of the visitors that attended the meeting last night will be at the upcoming Council meeting on November 20th.  So while residents may be permitted to speak in follow-up to last night's meeting, that option will be wholly unsatisfying because other than town officials saying they will pass the concerns and comments along, there will be no meaningful representation of NNEPRA's role in this entire evolution.  So the meeting will of necessity be an anti-climatic, largely symbolic event.

5)  Upon further investigation, it's possible the Pan Am rep sluffed off the east-end operating question with her mention of need to add "interlocks" at the east end.  I contacted a railroad professional to find out what this term means in railroading parlance.  As I understand it, interlocks will add electronics and signaling to the existing switches, but will have nothing to do with the actual placement and physical characteristics of the switches and the related track.  Her comment infers that such interlocks were part of the design and construction for the west end access to the building, but not for the east end.  Which sounds like an obvious management deficiency.  If east end interlocks were included, but not installed before the building was put into service, either Pan Am was not held to their obligations, and/or overall stewardship of the Project was again deficient.  It might be prudent to ask NNEPRA to test east end access geometry by demonstrating entry and exit of a train set from all three east end doors all the way to the Cedar Street wye area. 

6)  Many of the switches used for MLF operations, and other Brunswick train movements, including the Cedar Street wye, require manual switching by Amtrak personnel.  I understand this is a substantial physical task, and switch mechanisms have to be cleared of snow and ice in winter conditions.  Given "more than one way to skin a cat," railroad personnel have historically been known to minimize their "skinning" work by taking the path of least resistance, if you will.  The MLF is a facility ripe for such minimalist operations.  Amtrak staffs the facility, with no regular presence by NNEPRA or Pan Am.  Accordingly, the staff that runs the place is free to do things as they see fit, and if that includes using only one end of the facility for access, who is to challenge them?  In other words, the lack of use of the east end access may not be as the Pan Am rep stated, and no one else at the meeting was likely to challenge that answer.  It's not out of the question to think they may have planned it that way before the meeting.  Again, test runs to demonstrate east end access geometry and mechanicals worthiness seems like a good call.

In conclusion, I believe there is a lot of snow to be plowed on this challenging situation.  I was not encouraged by anything I heard last night, and as I said in a post afterwards,  the bottom line is that Brunswick needs to just "suck it up," and that things are going to get worse instead of better.  More round trips and summer extensions to Rockland that bring the East Side of Brunswick into play ensure that, it would seem.

Respectfully,

Pem Schaeffer

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There was another odd aroma that came across the room well into the meeting.  We noticed it around the time that “M. William Hollister” of Amtrak got on his soapbox for a few moments, in keeping with the format of his moniker.

He implored us to keep in mind that Amtrak and the Downeaster are all about “economic development,” and that “communities all over the northeast are pleading to have the same benefits as we do,” or words to that effect.

We respectfully take issue with that assertion, M. William, and we refer you to this briefing given to a number of state executives two years ago in the state capital.  Included were the Governor, the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, Ms. Quinn of NNEPRA, and several other state officials and passenger rail advocates:

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You can find this presentation here: https://www.scribd.com/document/284589130/PRAC-PDF-Briefing-13-October-15 

We assert that the information and evaluation contained in the briefing is, if anything, more relevant than it was then, as the promises and projections of economic benefits from the Downeaster have continued to fall astoundingly flat on their face.  Or, if you like, their butts.

                                    

M. William also praised the carbon footprint savings of the Downeaster as compared to driving personal vehicles.  We take issue with that claim as well, especially when one considers that the engines pulling the Downeaster are old and creaky, and are grandfathered out of contemporary standards for diesel emissions.  Add to that the fact that in particular, the average train coming into and leaving Brunswick carries no more than a half busload of passengers, and you have an extremely hollow claim.  Today’s motor coaches (Concord, for example) are powered by 325 hp low sulfur diesel engines, while the Amtrak engines are powered by 4,250 hp high sulfur diesel fuel (old style).

Claims that the Downeaster is a net winner on a “per passenger mile” basis, as M. William put it, are readily shown to be wildly inaccurate on any basis, but especially when long idling periods and empty trains are taken into account.

For more informative reading, this document will open your eyes:

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It was compiled and published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and you can find it here:

http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/greentravel_report.pdf

            

So, all in all, it looks like our prediction of a Dog and Pony Show was a pretty good call.  We’ve witnessed hundreds of them over our decades long career and retired life, and we have a “nose” for such things.  And for the bulls that sometimes come along to expand the content.

You should be grateful that Side allows you to escape the sensory delights of such events, and takes it upon himself to do the dirty work for you.  It’s about time you buy us lunch, don’t you think?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A “Hot Mop Up” on tonight’s train noise meeting

        

We forgot to bring our rose-colored glasses to the meeting tonight, so you’ll just have to take the unadulterated summary we’re ready to provide.  No two-stepping, no lipstick, no musical background.

Here it is:

Takeaway:  Suck it up Brunswick and find a way to cope.  You’re hosed.

Details:

1) So called quiet zones are a complex undertaking, and would take years to get approved.  The regulations will quickly make your eyes glaze over, and the acronyms and other govnernment speak will leave you gasping for help from lawyers and consultants.

2) Even if the quiet zones were approved, it wouldn’t end all the train noise.  Train horns blow for two general reasons: to meet operating regulations, and at the discretion of the engineer because of safety challenges, like people on the track, deer crossing, or whatever.

3) Quiet zone approval requires that grade crossings be upgraded and or redesigned.  The cost can me modest up to very high, but since this is fundamenatlly a government undertaking, you should go with high, and that’s for EACH crossing.

4) The total cost of any quiet zone upgrades would be borne by the Town of Brunswick.

5) There will always be other train sounds and horn blowing associated with switching of trains around in the yard and daily testing of the horns inside the building.  Again, horns are blown for a lot more than just grade crossing.

6) Things are only going to get worse; once the $10 million Royal Junction siding is complete, instead of 3 R/T’s per day in and out of Brunswick, there will be 5 R/T’s, and all trains will spend the night in the MLF.  So there will be 5 southbound trains, and 5 northbound trains, with proportionate increase in grade crossings and horn sounds.

7) Once the schedule increases to the 5 R/T’s, if we heard correctly, the earliest departure from Brunswick will be in the 4:00 am hour.  The latest arrival will be in the 1:00 am  hour.  Sorry we don’t have the specific minutes, but the point is that operations will be nearly 24 hours a day.

8) If the proposed summer trips to Rockland become part of the operation, there will be additional train movements, grade crossings, and horn soundings.  If quiet zones were wanted for the added crossings, the cost to the town would increase proportionately.

                     

9) One of the Amtrak folks reminded us how much they contribute to economic development, and how residents all over the Norhteast are clamoring to get Downeaster like service.  He should go sell crazy somewhere else; we’ve already got enough of our own.  He also threw in a plug for all the carbon footprint the train is saving compared to other forms of transportation.  We thought he’d leave a case of Kool-Aid for attendees, but we didn’t see it.

10) NNEPRA’s Patsy Quinn was pretty much silent until it came to touting how closely she stays in touch with her Amtrak contact and our TM.  She never mentions that Amtrak is a sub-contractor to NNEPRA, and as such, she has responsibility for their performance.  It’s easy to surmise that the great big scary outfit from Washington does things the way they want.  NNEPRA owns the MLF, but Amtrak operates it.  We don’t get the sense that NNEPRA feels like they “run a railroad.”  Not much leadership was shown by her, or anyone else, frankly.

11) The failure to use east end MLF access was attributed to needing “interlocks” for the switches, a term that was not explained.  The PanAm rep implied they will be installed before the end of the year.  We’ll follow up to see what these are, and what problem they resolve.

Summary Takeaway:  Everybody promised to “do what they could” to tweak various small things, but the fact is that nothing substantial can be done about any of the problems with noise, or anything else, for that matter.  So as we said, SUCK IT UP, folks!

As to general observations, we were very disappointed in the attendance.  Side expected a full chamber, but we’d be surprised if there were 25 attendees total.

We hereby give Side shout-outs to Councilor Jane Millet, who was quite vocal in expressing concerns she has for town residents and the various problems caused for families.  She even went so far as to say “shame on this town” for allowing things to “get where they are” or something to that effect.  Jane also mentioned that complaints have been received from Topsham residents!

Sarah Brayman chimed in on the same notes, but not to the extent that Jane did.  It seems to us that both are feeling like they “got mugged.”

We’ll follow up with a link to the meeting video, and also post the documents that were presented once we get them.

         

Other than that, you better double up on your calisthenics.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Breaking News: Suspicions confirmed; get your tickets, and pop some popcorn!

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(above is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpG4n0RkAa0, and is worth watching)

Happy first day of snow, fun-seekers!  Just about on time, as we see it, in the week before Thanksgiving.  So we’ve got to mulch the last of the leaves, and convert the trusty old John Deere lawn tractor over to snow-blower mode.

Now that you’re updated on our petty personal problems, let’s get straight to the breaking news.  You should be well aware that Side has been pursuing answers as to why the east end access doors and tracks of the Brunswick MLF don’t seem to be getting used for their intended purpose.  The local newspaper even ran a column of ours on the subject this past Friday. 

You’re also up to date on the fact that the Brunswick Town Council will be holding a workshop with NNEPRA and Federal rail officials tomorrow night (Tuesday, 14 November) at the Town Hall at 7:30 pm, where the term “workshop” means members of the public don’t get to speak, unless called upon by the Council Chair.

Heading “west” Downeaster?  Looks like some more OPM and a lot of squirming and squishing is necessary before it heads “east”!

In our old dog using old tricks pursuit of this story, we received this preview from an unimpeachable source:

“I have been told by both NNEPRA and Pan Am that switch and track upgrades are required in order to be able to use the east end of the MLF.  They have repeatedly said that the work would occur this construction season.”

We’re told the subject will be addressed at the meeting tomorrow night.  Which is why we’re suggesting you might want to purchase reserved seats, and make sure you’re all stocked up on pop-corn.  We expect some mesmerizing theatrics as elected and appointed town officials, and state and federal bureaucrats, perform a variety of dance rountines, including fancy foot work, the old soft shoe, and the twisting two-step.   There might even be some group line-dancing, but we expect Stetsons and leather vests will not be seen in this crowd.

           

Along with that, we could see lots of nervous throat clearing, finger-pointing duels, mumbling, double-speak, and much inability to recall.  This may be the most entertaining council gathering in some years, featuring performers with well-practiced routines, from well beyond our little village’s borders.

Then there’s the old reliable: the meeting is scheduled to run no more than 2 hours, so there “may not be time enough to dig into these complicated issues, and how we might pursue their resolution.”

Our intent here is to make sure you are well prepared for this event.

Just below is the MLF site while under construction, taken from Google Earth, with north up.  Notice that east end access area is contrained by a constructed pond, and then the property boundary and properties belonging to others.  Note as well that the east end access area to the shed is significantly closer to Bouchard Drive than is the west end access area.

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Now a scene snipped from this YouTube video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ig5xI_R-sDA  It looks east, towards the Brunswick Station, from the east end of the building.

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As you can see, the ladder tracks and switches are pretty much hemmed in by the pond and the end of the property.  This is above our pay grade, but our impression is there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for realigning the tracks and switches.  We’re suspicious that the bends and radiuses as they exist create problems for Downeaster movement, and if this is the case, the first solution that comes to mind is stretching things out so the bends and curves are less severe.  But there doesn’t seem to be much room for that.

Here’s another Google Earth construction period shot with the east end a bit larger.

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Now a shot from the YouTube video previously cited, taken looking west over the building east end:

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Now some informative snips from that same YouTube video, in which we’ve captured audio captions for the scenes shown.  Closed caption technology is not perfect, so you’ll have to make allowances.  You can watch the whole video live….it will only cost you a little more than two minutes.  The speaker, in each case, is Jim Russell, the Special Projects Manager for NNEPRA, who was in charge of building design and construction for the state authority.  In this first one, he says that the building is “as soundproof as engineering could make it.”

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To that, he adds that “we’re having testing here operationally and it’s proving out to be just what was expected.”

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This video was posted about a year ago, so it’s pretty fresh, and you’ll want to remember the major quotes, so you can compare them to the live audio you hear tomorrow night at the meeting.  Watching the video will also expose you to the bells clanging when the Downeaster moves into the facility.  We had not heard them before; we’ve only been exposed to the whistle, and up close it’s pretty overpowering.

Moving onto another track (yuk, yuk!), we want to remind you of this exerpt from a post just a few weeks ago, in which we show a chart from a NNEPRA presentation to our town council in April, 2015.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ride your pony, Downeaster lovers! And don’t forget to bring some dog treats!

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Note that it says “there are NO PLANS to expand Amtrak Downeaster service beyond its Brunswick-Boston route.”  Contrast that with this recent video from NNEPRA’s annual Board Meeting, in which the chart shown appears.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6V_O1jM-fA

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Be sure to watch the video before the meeting if you can, because it contains a comment from John Melrose, the Chair of NNEPRA’s Board of Directors, in which he says “this expansion has been in the works for some time” or words to that effect.

Compare those words to the “NO PLANS” words Patsy Quinn uttered to our Councilors two years ago, and you should be well calibrated to set your BS detector sensitivity level for tomorrow night’s meeting.

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Please trust us on this; we’re not like all the others.  And besides, this isn’t our first trip around the standby generator.  And you’ve never seen us in tap shoes, have you?

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Side has another “moment”…

    

Well, wouldn’t you just know it.  We went out to replenish the firewood supply for our fireplace insert, and at the same time, replenish the front porch supply on standby.  It’s pretty brisk outside, especially in the waning daylight hour, or if you prefer, chilly.

But as soon as you start exerting a little effort, you warm right up, and your mind wanders to other subjects.  In this case, our post earlier today about Boutique hotel plans in Portland vs. school construction plans in Brunswick.

The simple explanation for the disparity we raised is this.  The hotel developer and operator aren’t going to move forward on the plan unless they have a viable business case. They have to demonstrate they can earn a return on the investment, and no lender is going to approve financing unless they do.  This is the implicit discipline, or the “invisible hand” if you wish, of the capitalist economic system.

Government school construction, in contrast, has no need to make such a case.  It has no need to seek private financing, because the government will sell bonds on the public market to cover the expense, and it’s pretty certain that no bond buyer will insist that there is an airtight business case.  Because this is not a business.

All bond buyers care about is the interest rate you and me and the guy behind the tree will pay for the use of their money.

          

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McKeen w/o Stanwood Records 2,748,450 vehicle operations in 2016

Here’s a little factoid all readers should be able to relate to.  AADT stands for Average Annual Daily Traffic.

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Which, at an average of 1.6 persons per vehicle, says that McKeen Street carried just short of 4.4 million passengers in 2016!  That’s pretty damn amazing for a dinky little connector street just slightly over 1.5 miles in length, in an insignificant little town like Brunswick, Maine.

Why, you might wonder, are we bringing this little piece of trivia before you when we could be watching football from our recliner?

Why?  Because we want to use it to make a point.  Even if some might think our point is pointless.

The point is that if you want utilization numbers to look impressive, expand the time period to a year at least.

NNEPRA has been mining this fool’s gold ever since the Downeaster began its passenger service.  Their annual ridership numbers these days are in the 540,000 range, which when compared to your fingers, toes, teeth, or the score in that game you’re watching, is a pretty impressive number.

And most observers, especially the foamers, will simply leave it at that.  WOW!  More than half a million riders on our little train!  Peole want more, more, more!  No matter how much it costs!

Others, like us, tend to break down the figures.  First, 540,000 is an average of 1480 a day.  Just about everyone who rides the train takes a round trip, so in reality, the average is 740 riders per day.  In round numbers, about half those riders travel between points south of Maine, or about 370 of them, and they do it on five round trips, or about 75 per train.  On trains that can carry 300 or more.

The total span of the Downeaster route is 140 miles, compared to the 1.5 miles of McKeen Street.  The 370 or so who ride to and from Maine points have access to 5 round trips from Portland South, of which three extend travel as far north as Brunswick.  NNEPRA no longer reports on “city pair” ridership, but the last time we saw meaningful figures, the average train into and out of Brunswick carried less than 20 passengers.  Well short, we might add, of the glowing projections by the Transit Oriented Development consultants employed by NNEPRA and MDOT to sell the idea of bringing passenger rail back to Maine.

So in reality, that half-million plus number shrinks to less than half a bus full when you reduce it to  individual train ridership in Brunswick.

We went through this boring little exercise to provide context for some recent news.  This item appeared in media outlets all over the place this week, given that AP is a major source of “raw” news for scads of journals, both print and otherwise.  Even our local newspapers carried it as an AP feed.

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Wow!  Record annual airport operations!  No wonder our shopping centers are busting at the seams, and development is underway everywhere you look!  1,795 flight operations over the year!  Or just under an average of 5 flight operations per day!

Once again, assuming that just about every aircraft is making a round trip, either from Brunswick and back, or to Brunswick and back, we can figure that on average, about 2.5 aircraft make use of the airport on an average day.

We have no idea what the traffic makeup is like.  How many area residents fly elsewhere for their job and come back the same day, or how many who live elsewhere do the same thing in reverse.  Anyone who fits this mold, even if less than 5 days a week, is obviously, by themselves, a major component of the airport traffic.

MRRA likes to tout the airport’s economic benefit to the area, but we’re not too sure.  Dual, 8,000 foot runways and all that, but we recall looking up the airport’s pilot data and seeing that use is limited to one of those runways, which only makes sense.

In this post of some months ago:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/08/yes-brunswick-just-like-we-told.html

we pointed out the airport has received nearly $13 million in grants from various sources, and that we had talked to a staffer about the number of flight ops in an average day, to which the answer was three or so.  Actual logged figures averaging under 5 a day is not far off from that quickie estimate.

Let’s put it this way, we don’t think the town has received any formal complaints about the furious pace of air operations at the former base, and the noise and air pollution it causes locally.

But we sure as hell take issue with the amount of “free money” being shoveled our way to show just how much the Federal Government cares about us, and just how well they manage the limited resources available to them.  </sarcasm>

We went after some hard data on the latest grant, which exceeds $2 million.  We’ll pass it along before too long; let’s just say it doesn’t “paint” a pretty picture.

We like to keep you in suspense so you’ll come back from time to time, even though in all likelihood you have some idea of what the facts will show.

School construction costs: we’re just sayin’……..

Humor us while we engage in a little intellectual curiosity.

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While enjoying lunch in town yesterday, we ran across a story on the PPH business page, which at this point, is the hind quarters of the sports section.

http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/09/boutique-hotel-with-148-rooms-planned-for-thompsons-point/

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It’s obvious to most, we would think, that “Boutique-style” is the polar opposite of “Budget-style,” and suggests the hotel will feature high-end accomodations, appointments, amenities, and prices to match.

The hotel will have 148 rooms; a full service restaurant and bar; valet parking; a pool; and whatever else tourists looking for a “boutique” experience expect.  We imagine high end designer shampoos, soaps, conditioners, and lotions in every room, ready to stock your guest room at home.

148 rooms.  We’re not an architect, but we believe this means the hotel will include something like 160 well appointed bathrooms, of which 148 will include a full tub and shower.  And something like 160 individually controllable HVAC systems.

Five stories, with multiple elevators and stair wells, a complex sprinkler and fire alarm system, phone, internet, and television service to all 148 rooms, and enough furniture, mattresses, and towels and linens to blow your mind.  Add to that an industrial grade kitchen; an industrial grade laundry; and all the housekeeping and house engineering systems needed to keep such a place humming along, and you’ve got quite a massive construction effort and operating enterprise.

Not to mention the need for extremely durable construction and appointments.  Hotels take a beating every day of the year in every regard.  If you’ve ever worked at one, like we have, you know that without constant attention to maintenance, they go downhill faster than you could ever imagine, and a death spiral can be just months away.

Here’s what we found interesting in this article.  The estimated cost for this project is $18 million.

Here in Brunswick, two story elementary school buildings seem to cost in the range of $25 million or so.  Think about that; and while you’re doing so, read the specs and details we’ve described above.

Far as we’re concerned, we think this project is of substantially greater magnitude and complexity than HBS school, or the new one we’re about to undertake to replace one we got tired of; too tired to keep in servicable shape.

No doubt Brunswick’s favorite School Salesman, Lyndon Keck of PDT Architects, could explain in 30 minutes why the comparison is not in the least valid.  Those 160 bathrooms and 160 separate HVAC systems mean nothing, because when it comes to our schools, we’re talking about “our children,” and you simply can’t count the cost when it comes to providing classrooms for “our future.”

The real issue, from our point of view, is why won’t someone ask the question?  Say someone on the school board, which in theory is the elected oversight body for our hired govermment employees who operate the schools.

We think we know the answer, and it harkens back to our recent post on the Freedom of Asking Act, including the graphics we used to express non-verbal sentiments.

            

Not to mention one of our long-lost reporting staff.  

You know, a sadly funny thought just occurred to us, and maybe to you as well.  Could it be that we’re building “Boutique-style schools?”

Friday, November 10, 2017

Freedom of Access, or Freedom of Asking?

   

If you follow politics and governmental behavior at all,  you’re probably familiar with something called the Freedom of Information Act, a federal law that allows private parties to ask for information of all sorts from federal agencies.  The law has enough “loopholes” in it to make sure the government agency is able to refuse or delay responding to such requests in a way that renders them essentially useless.  Or to require legal action in the way of lawsuits that demand a response in compliance with the law.

While the “good intention” of the law was to put the public in a priority position for seeing what their government is up to, the simple fact is that the government can tie you up in knots if it wants to, and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.  Especially if you don’t have endless cash to spend on attorneys to press your request in court.

Here in Maine, we have something that is similarly intentioned, called the Freedom of Access Act.

http://www.maine.gov/foaa/

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We’ve made attempts to take advantage of this act over the years.  Most recently, we’ve requested a number of different documents from the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), an entity of Maine State Government subject to the act.

With each successive request, NNEPRA’s responsiveness has, shall we say, become less and less enthusiastic.  Furthermore, we’ve expended well over $100 for their services in finding the documents we’ve asked for, and reproducing them.

In this day and age of computerization, this is a bit bizarre.  Nearly every meaningful business document is generated digitally on a computer, and maintained and archived on computers.  Precious little is still created and maintained solely on paper, and stored in physical file cabinets.

At the moment, that is simply background.  Our point in this post is to tell you about our latest request, and the response so far.  Specifically, the request has to do with the Downeaster’s Brunswick Layover Facility operations, as described in this post:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/11/could-brunswick-layover-facility-have.html

and our subject op-ed that ran in today’s local newspaper.

On October 14th, we sent this message to NNEPRA’s designated contact person for FOAA requests:

Ms. Douglass:

Please confirm whether or not the east end access doors and adjacent ladder tracks at the Brunswick MLF are being used routinely, as standard operating procedure, for all Downeaster train movements between the facility and the Brunswick in-town station.  To be clear, that means trains heading in either direction.

If this is not the case, please explain why.

Thanks,

Pem Schaeffer

Brunswick

We received not a word of response to this request.  Not an acknowledgement of receipt, or an estimate of when we could expect a response.  And how much it might cost us.

After two weeks without a word, we submitted this follow-up message, copying cognizant officials.  John Melrose is the Chairman of NNEPRA’s Board of Directors.

To: Marina Douglass

CC: Patricia Quinn, Commissioner David Bernhardt, John Melrose

Oct 29 at 9:39 PM

Ms. Douglass

I submitted the above request to you two weeks ago, and have yet to receive a response of any sort.

I did not ask for any documents to be searched for, compiled, or reproduced.  I simply asked straightforward questions about routine train operations.

Please advise when I can expect answers to these questions.

Thank you,

Pem Schaeffer

Brunswick

Two weeks later, the situation is the same, or maybe not.  It’s now been four weeks without a single word in response.

 

At this point, then, we’re viewing the state law as the Freedom to Ask Act.  It hardly makes sense to consider it a Freedom of Access Act, at least as far as NNEPRA is concerned. 

We didn’t ask for any documents or mountains of historical data.  We asked, as we see it, a straightforward question calling for a straightforward response.  A response that any number of NNEPRA staffers should have been able to provide in a one page memo in no more than a week.

Perhaps one of our readers can offer an explanation as to why their response has not been forthcoming.  We have our own suspicions, of course.

                      

And we’re filing it in the same folder as why no-one holds them accountable for spending nearly $10 million on a rail siding that doesn’t do anything that an existing siding a few miles away can already do. 

We can think of other suitable gestures with one’s digits that most would understand, but we’re trying to run a clean show here.

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$10 million here, $10 million there; pretty soon someone should start complaining….or asking WTF is going on??

More than once we’ve posted about the utter wastefullness of spending millions of dollars on a siding just a few miles above an existing siding.  With the same results as just about every one of our posts. 

Still, we enjoy banging our head against whatever wall is handy.  We did so less than two weeks ago in this post:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/10/ride-your-pony-downeaster-lovers-and.html

in which we included this graphic to give you the context on our issue in this post:

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We’re happy to report that the cost of the proposed siding has increased from $9 million to $9.4 million, as reported in this project update:

Royal Junction Siding

Status Update:

Earthwork has begun on the Royal Siding Project.  Construction crews have begun clearing brush and preparing the ground for construction of the new track.  All work is being completed within the railroad right of way.

Track installation and grade crossing work will commence in the spring of 2018.  The project is expected to be complete late in 2018.

Project Overview

Royal Junction Siding will provide additional track capacity necessary to enable more frequent and efficient daily operation of Downeaster trains and freight trains between Brunswick and Boston.  This passing siding removes a key bottleneck for the Downeaster that will create more options for the travelling public while improving the financial and operational efficiency of the service.

Royal Junction Siding with be constructed within the mainline railroad corridor owned by Pan Am Railways.  It will begin just east of CPF-185 (Royal Junction) and extend 21,700 feet west to a point approximately 1,000 feet east of MP- 189.   Generally, this second track will be installed between Field Road in Falmouth and extend just past Greely Road in Cumberland.

The key operational benefit of the capacity gained from constructing the passing siding is that it increases the potential for trains operating on this existing stretch of single track to pass in opposite directions, as well as allow a faster passenger train to overtake a slower freight headed in the same direction.  This change improves the overall capacity of the track and allows for an increase in the frequency of Downeaster service connecting the communities of Freeport and Brunswick to the other Downeaster stations including Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Saco/Biddeford, Wells, Maine; Dover, Durham, and Exeter, New Hampshire; Haverhill, Woburn and Boston, Massachusetts.

The Amtrak Downeaster currently makes ten one-way revenue-generating trips each day between Portland and Boston, yet only six of those trips currently extend to Freeport and Brunswick. The number of trips is limited because most of the connecting railroad is only single track, constraining the back and forth movement of trains along that segment. 

The existing limited frequency of Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick restricts the potential Downeaster ridership and revenue growth along the I-295 corridor, one of the busiest traffic corridors in the State of Maine. The limited schedule also constrains tourism and other transit-oriented economic development initiatives in the communities of Freeport and Brunswick and creates operational and financial inefficiencies in the Downeaster service.

Royal Junction Siding will provide the capacity necessary to enable Amtrak to operate all Downeaster trains between Brunswick and Boston, providing more transit options in the region, and improving the efficiency of the Downeaster operation.  The additional frequencies between Brunswick and Portland will be operated as an extension of the existing core Downeaster service, increasing the efficiency of the Amtrak crews and equipment already in place.

Project Elements

The Royal Junction Siding Project includes the construction of an approximately four-mile second track adjacent to the Pan Am Freight Mainline.  The Siding will begin approximately 1,000 feet east of Field Road in Falmouth, cross Woodville Road and Muirfield Road in Falmouth, as well as Longwoods  Road (aka Rte 9), Tuttle Road and Greely Road in Cumberland.  It will terminate just east of Royal Junction, located northeast of Greely Road.   In railroad terms, this “passing siding” will be begin just east of CPF-185 (Royal Junction) and extend 21,700 feet west to a point approximately 1,000 feet east of MP- 189.   All construction work will be performed within Pan Am Railways existing railroad right-of-way with no additional environmental impacts anticipated. A Categorical Exclusion (CE) worksheet has been prepared and has been submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for concurrence.

Royal Junction Siding will be constructed as a double block passing siding to allow "at-speed" meets of two trains traveling in opposite directions.  This will allow both passenger and freight trains to move through Royal Junction concurrently, and without conflict.  In addition to new track, the new siding will require communication and signal upgrades such as a new mainline control point (CP-Cemetery), modification of an existing control point (CPF -185), new mainline automatic signals and three grade crossing AHCP conversions for double track.   The Communication and Signal upgrades required of these types of infrastructure improvements will be designed and installed by Pan Am.

Project Budget & Schedule

The total Project budget is $9,370,084.  Eighty percent (80%) of the project is being financed using federal funding sources, with the State of Maine contributing the remaining twenty percent (20%) match.

No doubt by the time it’s complete, it will reach the $10 million mark.  But hey…what’s a half a million among friends?

The worsts part of this all is that a siding already exists that could serve the purpose of allowing trains heading in opposite directions to pass each other.  But that would be too easy, especially if you’re the government, both federal and state, looking to spend as much taxpayer money as possible.  Or, as they like to say, “invest it.”

The diagram above was generated by a lifelong railroad manager  He thinks with far greater clarity than bureaucrats looking to build empires, and perhaps engage in a quid pro quo with those who agree to allow passenger trains to run on their privately owned rail system.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as they liked to say on the old Seinfeld show.

But can’t someone, in federal government, or in state government, or on the Joint Transportation Committee, or in the Department of Transportation, stand up and say “wait a minute!”

“We need you to tell us one more time why you can’t do what you need to do with the existing passing siding, and why you have to spend $9.4 million in money we don’t have to create a new siding?”

Why is it so damn hard to see things in this light?  And to demand accountability?  And to require a peer review of the proposed project?

In the absence of which, we can’t help but suspect there is hanky-panky afoot.  Is it too much to expect that our “public servants” convince us otherwise before spending such huge sums on a passenger rail service that is an abject financial disaster?

Apparently it is, unless we see something happen real soon.  But don’t worry, we won’t hold your breath.

Downeasters are noisy and smelly, but ONLY if they run.

The Brunswick area was especially hard hit by the storm last week, with widespread, long-lasting power outages.  Side offices were without power for nearly 6 full days, and had no internet or phone services for most of that period.  Fortunately, nealy $500 worth of propane kept our standby whole house generator humming along nicely during that entire period

The Downeaster, on the other hand, did not fare as well as we did.  Here’s a report from the NNEPRA web site:  http://www.nnepra.com/press/october-2017-storm

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One of the network channels carried some info a day or two after the storm hit:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/latest-hampshire-schools-power-50862051

Then we found this update on the NNEPRA web page on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 5pm.

Alert

Friday, November 3, 2017 - Modified Service Plan

Due to continuing power outages on the northern end of the Downeaster route, please anticipate minor delays.

The following service modifications have been made for Friday, November 3 :

Morning southbound trains 680 and 682 will operate between Wells station and Boston North station serving all intermediate stations.

Passengers travelling from Brunswick, Freeport, Portland and Saco  will be provided service via motor coach to Wells.

Morning northbound train 681 will operate between Boston North station and Wells station serving all intermediate stations.

Passengers travelling to Portland and Saco  will be provided service via motor coach from Wells.

Afternoon trains (683, 684, 685, 686, 687, 688 & 689) will operate- we will evaluate the need continue a similar bussing/modified service plan in the morning.

Alert

Thursday November 2 Service- 9:45am Update

Due to continuing power outages on the northern end of the Downeaster route, please anticipate delays. The following service modifications have been made for Thursday, November 2 :

Train service will operate between Wells station and Boston North station serving all intermediate stations.

Passengers travelling to/from Brunswick, Freeport, Portland and Saco  will be provided service via motor coach to/from Wells.

No service from Saco to Portland or Portland to Saco.

Train 688 and 689 are cancelled.

Alert

Track work being performed by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), will affect Downeaster service as described below:

Saturday and Sunday November 4 and 5

Downeaster trains will operate to and from Haverhill on November 4 and 5. Customers will be provided bus service between Haverhill and Boston North Station only. Service will not be provided to or from Woburn.

  • Southbound Service: Southbound trains will operate normally between Brunswick and Haverhill. At Haverhill, customers will transfer to a bus that will operate nonstop to Boston North Station.

  • Northbound Service: Northbound trains will be replaced with buses operating nonstop from Boston North Station to Haverhill. At Haverhill, customers will transfer to Downeaster trains, serving all remaining stations on the route.

As you can see, passenger rail is not your best choice in stormy conditions, or, we might project, when the coming months visit upon us another “unexpectedly cold and harsh winter,” as NNEPRA is likely to rationalize more delays, terminations, and tie-replacement operations in the spring.

Note in the above that “rubber-tired” bus service was operating normally, and able to pitch in to mitigate the disabled Downeaster service.  Our guess is that Concord Coach and the Metro Breez service operated normally during the storm.  Which reminds us of how singular in purpose railroad tracks are, and how vulnerable the rights of way are to the vicissitudes of weather.  There is no detour, there is no alternate lane, there is no backup.  Passenger rail is a classic example of a single point failure system design.  Mess up a half mile of a 140 mile train route, and the train can not make it through.  It’s that simple.

Turns out we have a close friend involved in operation of the Maine Turnpike.  He tells us it operated just fine duing the storm, without skipping a beat.  Not to mention that it is financially self-supporting; it has no operating deficits, and requires no subsidies.

Not that such details matter if you’re a foamer.

          DSCN0781

We’re guessing your own motor vehicle and streets operated nearly problem free, unless you were unlucky enough to have a felled tree or telephone pole blocking your way.  We recognize some of you probably had this happen, as did we.

The simple fact is that the passenger rail system is the most vulnerable of our surface transportation alternatives, bar none.  While at the same time running at a 50% deficit so that a very small segment of the population can pleasure themselves at the expense of the entire population.

Which is why this is such a great country, right?

Could the Brunswick Layover Facility Have Operating Problems?

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A column of ours appears in today’s edition of the local newspaper, as shown above.  The link to the full column is this: http://www.timesrecord.com/news/2017-11-10/Opinion/Downeaster_Has_a_Problem_Moving_East.html

Knowing that most of our readership doesn’t read the paper, or have access to its digital pages, we’re posting the original here for your convenience:

===============================================================

(note that meeting start time has since been changed to 7:30 pm)

Times Record: Downeaster has a problem moving east

Complaints of excessive noise from Amtrak Downeaster train movements in Brunswick have become a significant public issue. A formal complaint has been filed with the town, along with numerous complaints by email. Accordingly, the Town Council has scheduled a Workshop for Tuesday, November 14th, at 7 pm.. Officials from NNEPRA and federal rail agencies will brief the council on technicalities associated with train noises, and possible remedies to lessen noise pollution.

The $15 million Brunswick Layover Facility (BLF) was built by NNEPRA to simplify train operations, increase daily round trips, and minimize unnecessary train movements. The BLF has three doors at the East end and three doors at the West end, along with “ladder tracks” to use these doors for entry and departure.

The idea was that if a train being laid over had to move to Maine St. Station, it would exit the east end and head directly to the station. If an incoming train from points south pulled into the Station, and was scheduled to layover, it would backup and enter the east end doors. This would minimize the grade crossings for such movements, and hence noise and diesel fumes generated by movements.

Empirical evidence at this point suggests that east end access doors and tracks are not being used. Instead, a train stored in the BLF moving to the Station exits West end doors, heads west across Church Road so a switch can be thrown, and then back across Church Road and on to the station. Similarly, when a train at the Station heads to the BLF, it passes east end access, makes two crossings at Church Road, and then enters the facility west end.

Each movement therefore creates two additional grade crossings, with attendant whistles, traffic interruptions, and diesel pollution. This can happen multiple times per day, adding significantly to aggregate noise and pollution.

One approach the upcoming Workshop will consider is “Quiet Crossings,” as Freeport currently has. Qualifying for such crossings is complex, and if approved, requires considerable expense to upgrade each crossing. This expense will likely fall completely upon Brunswick, since it will have been instigated by town decree, not by federal regulations governing train operations.

Several weeks ago I submitted a formal request to NNEPRA asking whether east end access doors and tracks at the BLF were routinely being used for applicable train movements. I got no answer, nor even a reply I wrote again, and have yet to hear back on that inquiry. I can't help but wonder whether there are significant design and/or construction issues with the BLF that NNEPRA doesn't wish to acknowledge. Public comment is not allowed at the Workshop, so NNEPRA's leadership will not have to publicly explain things.

Noise pollution associated with Brunswick crossings will become more troubling when the Downeaster adds summer trips to Rockland as recently announced. This will add grade crossings at Maine Street, Park Row, Jordan Avenue, Dragon Cement, Merrymeeting Plaza, Cooks Corner, Old Bath Road, BIW Harding Facility access, and New Meadows Motel access. While the private crossings may not be affected, the six public crossings in town presumably will. Depending on schedules, additional movements in and out of the BLF area, with associated crossings and diesel pollution, may also be involved.

When I met with a then NNEPRA Board Member with actual railroading experience some years ago to discuss BLF location, he said the BLF could not be built at the “Crooker Site” in the Cooks Corner area. The reason? Because the grade crossings east of Brunswick Station would each require upgrading to Downeaster Standards. There are six of those just in Brunswick, with who knows how many north of town limits. He said it would cost “millions of dollars” to do so.

Given the natural way of all things governmental, and especially all things federal, whatever numbers are tossed around this coming Tuesday should be taken with several grains of diesel dust. While the expense to move the BLF a few miles east and out of a residential area was prohibitive, suddenly we'll hear that taking excursions up the coast for a few months will be “well worth the cost.”

Whatever it may be. And how much of it will fall upon you, me, and that guy behind the tree.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Brunswick Alert: Meeting Time Changed.

The Workshop on train noise scheduled for Tuesday, November 14th, has a new start time: 7:30 pm, instead of 7:00 pm.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Train Noise Workshop Rescheduled

The Town Council Workshop scheduled for Monday, October 30th, about which we wrote in this post: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/10/ride-your-pony-downeaster-lovers-and.html, was postponed because of the storm that swept through our area, knocking trees down and power out nearly everywhere.

You will remember that the subject is addressing noise issues associated with the Downeaster and the Layover Facility NNEPRA built between Church Road and Stanwood Street.  See the link above for the agenda and an expected list of participants.

The workshop has now been rescheduled to Tuesday, November 14th, at 7pm in council chambers at the Town Hall.

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We expect to have a commentary that is at least tangentially related to the Workshop in this coming Friday’s edition of The Ostrich.  Please watch for it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

How about a few laughs?

  

After what we’ve been through in the way of traumatic consequences of the recent storm, we think it’s time for everyone to get a few yuks.  Most of us can only be serious and stressed out for so long.  Thank goodness we have Bowdoin College, and your ever watchful correspondent, to bring you a little levity.

                

As usual, we picked up the latest edition of the Bowdoin Orient when we enjoyed our lunch at the Big Top Deli yesterday.  Our state of mind lightened up measurably when we turned to page two and read the “Security Report.”  Herewith the items that gave us the greatest amusement:

  • A student reported a squirrel acting odd near the south door to Winthrop Hall.  (From what we’ve read over the years, it would make more sense to have a squirrel report that a student was acting odd near any door of any campus building.)

                    

  • An officer checked on the condition of a student who reported an adverse reaction to marijuana edibles.  (Apparently, cause and effect are not part of the rigorous curriculum offered at Bowdoin.)

       

We can only wonder whether the odd squirrel behavior and the marijuana edibles are connected.  Shirley the Bowdoin Security Office is looking into this possible connection.

And here’s one more:

  • An intoxicated student (ya think??) walking past a security officer yelled “f**k security!”  The student offered to write a sincere letter of apology.  (Good thing it’s a “sincere” letter, or it might have seemed a hollow gesture.)

Don’t lose sight of the fact that twenty years from now, these very students could well be billionaire hedge fund managers, or be managing the 401(k) assets of your progeny.  What a comforting thought.

Changing subjects a bit, the paper included a feature article on what we used to call a “senior” in an item titled “Portrait of an artist.”  The subject student identifies as a writer of creative non-fiction, a skill she has advanced in her time at Bowdoin.

Harking back to the earlier post in which we highlighted “intersectionality,” we find the caption for her photo particularly timely:

CREATIVE NONFICTION: Through writing, Carly Berlin ’18 grapples with the intersections of her identity as a southerner in New England with a Jewish upbringing and a rich family history.”

Now we’re forced to contemplate whether our introduction of the subject in that prior post might leave you grappling; we certainly hope not.  But if you are, that diagram we included should help you untangle yourself.

The main reason we pass along this item is because we found the interview included several repeated words and or phrases that struck us as verbal tics entirely inappropriate to one who considers herself a writer, and hopes to work in the field.  Especially one completing her fourth year at a paragon of elite liberal arts education.

Just for fun, why don’t you take a quick read to see if you  notice what we did.  You can find it here:

https://bowdoinorient.com/2017/11/03/portrait-of-an-artist-carly-berlin-18-on-writing/

I think, like, that our reaction may have something to do with, like, our odd way of seeing things. 

We’re curious to know, like, what you think.

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Time for a little vocabulary work…

 

One of the consequences of the Social Justice Warrior environment we live in is a simultaneous revision AND expansion of the classical “English” vocabulary most of us grew up with.  Keeping track of the various new terms and their implications can leave one feeling, well, verklempt.

The item we’re about to pass along is something of an embarrassment to us, since it reports on events taking place at our Alma Mater.  To be clear, we graduated from Rutgers more than 50  years ago, and it was a much different place when we were there.  It was established in 1766, before our country’s founding, and nearly 30 years before Bowdoin College came into being.  When we attended, the student body numbered 3,000, and the campus ambience was reminiscent of the Bowdoin you know today, complete with a quintessential “quad,” and original buildings of architectural distinction.

Sadly, that Rutgers is no more, and it hasn’t been the Rutgers we knew for decades.

So anyway, here’s the item we’re passing along to help you develop your vocabulary, and your understanding of the cultural narratives coming out of academia in this age.

http://quillette.com/2017/10/29/get-bus-get-shouting-free-speech-rutgers/

It’s a pretty long read, but in our view, is illuminating, especially if you aren’t WOKE to campus shenanigans these days.  Vocabulary, what passes for reasoning, and any number of other vageries are discussed.  But if you don’t feel up to trudging throught it all, make sure you at least get your arms around the concept of intersectionality, which is the au courant buzz-word in social justice rhetoric at the moment.

The article includes this illustration, which we present separately here in hopes you can read it a bit more easily.

Intersecting Axes

We hope you can determine how many of the various “intersecting axes” it takes to indentify YOUR unique place in the galaxy of oppression, and once you do, please write back to us so we can publish what will surely become the replacement for your old fashioned genealogy.  No more “23 and me.”  You just need to fess up to all the parameters that make you an enemy of social justice, in a way you simply cannot overcome.

Don’t you wish your parents had spent $60,000 a year to send you to college to become this enlightened?

And aren’t you glad that the students of today, who are marinating in this mumbo-jumbo, are “our future?”

Is this a great country or what?

Hallelujah! We’re back on prime power!

 

After several days of this, we’re a little reluctant to jump the gun on things, but it appears at this very moment that our power has been restored.

We can still hear portable generators running in the neighborhood, but our standby unit has shut down.  Yet we have normal power to all household items.

Thanks to all those that worked hard to see that our infrastructure was restored to “normal” service levels, whatever that might mean in this situation. 

We learn from this experience that it doesn’t take a hurricane or a massive winter storm to unscrew all those things we take for granted in the way of electricity, and the various forms of communications we depend on, whether we realize it or not.

Thanks again, those who have restored a sense of normalcy to our lives.

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Latest update dashes hopes….

Just had this forwarded by a Town Councilor.  It dashes any hopes we had for power being restored “soon.”  For those with standby generators,  you better make arrangements for propane refills ASAP.

Here is the latest update from Chief Brillant.  Still many without power and a lot of work to do.

John S. Eldridge

Town Manager

Town of Brunswick

www.brunswickme.org/departments/town-manager

==================================================

From: Ken Brillant
Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2017 1:57 PM
To: John Eldridge
Cc: John Foster; 'Richard Rizzo'; Captain Mark Waltz
Subject: Update

JE,

Just spoke with CMP and they are making progress but it is slow.  In the Brunswick service area there are over 400 poles broken and needing to be replaced, many of these require drilling into ledge, very time consuming.  As my contact at CMP stated most of Harpswell is still without power.  He stated that his latest report shows poles set in the Davis street Chamberlain Ave area, so now they need a line crew.  I believe he also stated that they were working on Hemlock, poles and lines here. They are also working their way out Church to Casco, Bunganuc and Woodside.  There are broken poles to replace and lines to hang.

As we were told yesterday, Brunswick service area and Belfast area two of the hardest hit.  They have flooded both areas starting last night with many crews and are working hard to get power back up.

We did get them to focus on power for our radio communication site on Tower Drive, there was a big mess on that line and we now have power at the site.

I did tell him about Colonial Drive and what appears to be a small branch keeping the circuit open and he said he will pass it on to the night crew when they come in

Ken Brillant

Fire Chief

Power to the people??

Call it the luck of the draw.  Chez Side is on a rather short rural lane in Brunswick with a total of approximately 10 houses.

As of 1:00 pm today (Saturday, 4 November) we are still without power.  We built our place in 1997, and moved in two months before the Ice Storm of ‘98, when we were the only place here.  This outage now surpasses what we endured then.

We were without internet until two days ago, and without phone service until yesterday.

We’ll see what happens.  But we are aware of two major problems in our general vicinity: a broken telephone pole with wires akimbo, and huge trees hanging on the lines on Bunganuc Road.  Not to mention a small tree laying on the lines at the end of our street.  No crews seen at any of these locations less than two hours ago.

All we can say at this point is that we’re glad we bought a new “appliance” three years ago.

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And that we have a nearby, easy to work with energy supplier to keep it well fed:

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ride your pony, Downeaster lovers! And don’t forget to bring some dog treats!

             

We don’t know if you’re aware, but Brunswick’s Town Council will hold a Workshop in council chambers at the McLellan tomorrow evening (Monday, October 30th) at 7 pm.  A “workshop” means town officials and their invited participants can speak, and we can’t.  The public’s job is to sit, behave, and listen, unless spoken to by officials with a request to answer a question or clarify a point under discussion.

The subject of the workshop is the collected noise complaints received regarding operation of NNEPRA’s Amtrak Downeaster.  This includes the use of horns and bells for road crossings and other operations, other miscellaneous noises associated with operation of the recently constructed MLF, and train movements within Brunswick town limits.

We posted a formal complaint regarding violations of Town noise ordnances in this recent item:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/10/brunswick-town-government-to-address.html

While this workshop ostensibly relates to that compaint, it will not, as we understand it, formally respond to that complaint or how it will be adjudicated.  It turns out that numerous other complaints have been submitted to the town via emails and such.

Here’s the agenda as posted on the town web site:

Brunswick Town Council
Workshop with Rail Officials
Town Council Chambers, Brunswick Town Hall
Monday, October 30, 2017, 7:00-9:00 PM

AGENDA

Noise from Train Operations

Objectives:

  • Identify existing safety regulations and practices that involve use of train horns, bells andwhistles at railroad crossings and within the Brunswick rail yard and on the adjacent wye
  • Identify measures to reduce their use: quiet zones at crossings and other means
  • Identify measures to reduce noise from other train operations
  • Define next steps with timeline

7:00   Welcome and introductions

7:05   Presentation of constituent concerns by the Town Manager

7:15   Presentation on safety regulations and operations by Rail Officials followed by clarification questions from Councilors.

  • 1.  At railroad crossings
  • 2.  In the rail yard and on the adjacent wye
  • Clarifying questions from Councilors

7:45   Discussion of measures implemented in other communities to reduce train noise and potential for replicating in Brunswick, as well as potential measures that would be unique to Brunswick

8:40   Define next steps

  • 1.  Continuing activities by parties at the workshop
  • 2.  Timeline for implementation and/or reports

9:00   Adjourn

Identified participants in the carefully designed agenda include the following:

Town Council Workshop with Rail Officials
List of Expected Participants

Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA

M. William Hollister, Amtrak

Cyndi Scarano, Pan Am

Ryan Ratledge, Central Maine & Quebec Railway

Norma Jean Griffiths, Federal Railroad Administration

Jim Healey, Federal Railroad Administration

Nate Moulton, Maine Department of Transportation

Brian Reeves, Maine Department of Transportation

Randy Dunton, Gorrill-Palmer

John Eldridge Town Manager

Charles Frizzle, Facilitator

David Watson, Councilor, District 1
Steve Walker, Councilor, District 2
Suzan Wilson, Councilor, District 3
John Perreault, Councilor, District 4
Dan Harris, Councilor, District 5
Jane Millett, Councilor, District 6
Sarah Brayman, Councilor, District 7
Alison Harris, Council Chair, At Large
Kathy E. Wilson, Councilor At Large

As we see it, the gathering has all the ingredients necessary for success in the bureaucratic sense of that term.  A facilitator, which in our experience, ensures lots of diversions and counseling to play well with others; yellow stickies all over the place; and walls covered with flip chart paper covered with magic marker scribbles.  Along with self-esteem building compliments.  “Great idea, Mergatroid!”

Plus, we’ve got initialized first name and three name Federal bureaucrats.  Clearly this is a gathering of high stature where appropriate protocols and dignified behavior will be expected of all participants, and most importantly, public attendees.  Let it be remembered that participants don’t work for us.  Or do they???

The Agenda Packet, in addition to the info above, includes a list of more than 70 questions “on noise and operations.”  The list is too long to bore you with here, and will presumably be provided on a handout as you enter the meeting.  It’s clear that a two hour meeting will not be able to address such a lengthy list, so other than putting them in the official record, we’re not sure what the listing of the questions will lead to.  You can find the entire packet here:

http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Train-Workshop-FULL.pdf

Now let’s talk about related issues.

First, should the eventual outcome of these deliberations result in the creation of Quiet Crossings, or a change to MLF design and operations, or both, rest assured that the costs will be borne by town taxpayers, state taxpayers, and most likely both.  If NNEPRA or any of the other involved players in Downeaster operations are found at fault, it’s virtually inconceivable to expect they alone will have to cough up the shekels to fix things.  They don’t have any shekels unless they take them from us.

Second, be advised that NNEPRA is now considering expanding Downeaster operations for summer season weekend trips up the coast to Rockland.  This sounds very much like the excursions that were run for several years by the Maine Eastern Railroad (MERR,) until they could no longer operate the service on a viable business basis.

But here’s the magic in this situation.  MERR is a private enterprise, and can only operate if the business case is viable.  NNEPRA is a government enterprise, both state and federal, and economic viability of the business case is irrelevant.  NNEPRA currently runs an annual deficit in the $8 million range, so what’s another losing extension of service, especially if it results in bragging rights about the wonders of passenger rail?  Amtrak annual deficits?  One can only imagine the magnitude.

Clearly, the proposed expansion would markedly increase train movments within Brunswick and neighboring towns to the North.  Not to mention bringing into play a number of road crossings, including Maine Street, Jordan Avenue, Cooks Corner, and Old Bath Road, among others, that are not currently subject to Amtrak Downeaster crossings.  Curiously, when we inquired of a then NNEPRA Director why the MLF could not be constructed at the “Crooker Site” in East Brunswick, he explained that the enormous cost of upgrading these crossings to appropriate standards would be prohibitive.

Funny how that works.  If it would be a benefit to town citizens, it’s unaffordable.  If it would be a benefit to NNEPRA, it’s no problem; just a minor detail.

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Far be it from us to remind you that in an April, 2015 pitch to our town council, the NNEPRA ED, Ms. Patsy Quinn, stated that there were no plans to expand Downeaster service beyond Brunswick.  In her defense of course, she didn’t say there would NEVER BE A PLAN; only that in April 2015 there was NO PLAN.

Far be it from us to remind you as well that in an Affidavit of July, 2015, the same Ms.  Patsy Quinn affirmed that (BLF is Brunswick Layover Facility):

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So, if by chance you are hearing Downeaster trains moving early in the morning or late at night in Brunswick, you must be imagining things.  And all those complaints submitted to the town and included in the materials for the Workshop must represent the ill-considered thoughts of those who don’t recognize “the benefits associated with increased Downeaster service frequency” enabled by BLF construction.

You can trust NNEPRA and Ms. Quinn on these claims, because she isn’t like all the other government bureacrats who issue promises here, there, and everywhere to tamp down whatever objections are raised by unenlightened citizens.  Public servants are noted for their honesty, don’t you know.

Last and not least, we feel an obligation to remind you that NNEPRA is in the process of spending roughly $10 million of your money to build a Royal Siding in the Yarmouth area that has been proven unnecessary by a knowledgeable and very experienced train operations veteran.

You can find the details here:

http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2016/08/10-million-here-60-million-there-pretty.html

 

Be advised that to the best of our knowledge, no TIGER grant was ever approved for the project.  Funds have instead been gathered from a variety of OPM (Other Peoples’ Money) sources, which means you and everyone else are paying out of your pockets to fund a new pork-barrel project that doesn’t do anything the existing siding a few miles south can do.

Such is the magic of government projects.  No second opinions, no oversight, no accountability, and no questioning or objections by sitting NNEPRA Board Members, who you would think, have their job to look after our interests. 

Yah, sure!  You’d think so, but the record proves you wrong.