Thursday, September 26, 2013

Riding the Kool-Aid Train, compliments of NNEPRA

We had a remarkably ‘sensuous’ experience tonight, and we feel compelled to share it with you.

It stems from a meeting we attended at Brunswick town council chambers in the Maine Street Station building.  The meeting was ostensibly a ‘public hearing’ to allow any and all to comment on the “EA” (Environmental Assessment) promulgated by NNEPRA.


Specifically, on the issue of where the proposed Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility should be located.  And whether a far more rigorous EIS (Environmental Impact Study) is warranted before committing to construction at the ‘Brunswick West’ location, which is adjacent to the Bouchard Drive neighborhood.

But before we get to our full report, we want to post two ‘64 dollar questions:’


1)  Can anyone make the case that the disappearance of passenger train service from the landscape many years ago due to economic unsustainability was unwarranted and is worthy of being reversed?


2) Can anyone argue that passenger trains, especially as represented by the Amtrak Downeaster, can provide flexibility and economy of  service that exceeds that offered by bus service like that operated by Concord Trailways?

While you think about those points. let’s get back to our coverage of the meeting.

Council chambers were essentially filled to capacity, whatever that is.  And the experience of testifying at the meeting was at least as satisfying as testifying before the Brunswick town council.  NNEPRA consultants asserted that all questions and comments raised by the public would be responded to in writing.

That said, speaking before the assembled officials was equivalent to talking to a storm drain.  Or the storm drain’s consultants.

Before we go much further on our report, we’ll summarize some of the highlights.

  • Senator Stan Gerzosfky, much to his credit, took great pains to ‘walk back’ from earlier statements he had made about ‘the process.’  He didn’t vote for us, and we didn’t vote for him.  We weren’t on the ballot, but no matter.  As we see it, Senator Stan was a champion of his constituents tonight.  So, good for him. And we told him so.
  • We noticed Mr. Sartoris, Councilor Perreault, Councilor Brayman, and former chair Daughtry caucusing in the back of the room.  We have no idea what they were cooking up, but we doubt it will be something we’ll be happy about.
  • Curious as it may seem, about an hour into the meeting, a diesel engine parked itself right outside the meeting room, located in Maine Street Station.  Within mere minutes, any honest attendee at the meeting will tell you they felt the vibrations, heard the noise, and sensed the diesel fumes both nasally and orally.

That’s what we mean by a ‘sensuous experience,’ even though you thought we’d be riffing on ‘50 shades of Brunswick.’  The sensations were immediate and profound.  Hours later, we’re still smelling and tasting the fumes.

We decided to check in at the nearby restaurants when the meeting was over, shortly after 7pm.  We asked the bartender at Scarlet Begonia’s whether she noticed the fumes, and she said ‘not really.’  She was standing about 6 feet from a ventilation hood that could suck the paint off most locomotives, but so what.

So we moved next door to Byrnes Irish Pub and asked the same question.  Before the bartender could give us a detailed answer, two people at the bar said yes, they could notice the fumes.

We’ll leave it to you to decide whether diesel fumes, noise, and vibrations add to the unique experience of in town Brunswick dining.

Back to the meeting.  Train Riders Northeast ( was represented by two distinguished looking gentlemen.  Both spoke; one was Wayne Davis, Chair of the Board of Directors of the group.  The organization, by the way, is reportedly a 501(c)3 non-profit, meaning they are tax exempt, and not allowed to engage in lobbying efforts of a political sort.

Here are some words from their web site:

TRN believes that only a strong membership association can convince local and federal governments to take a fresh look at passenger trains.

We work with elected officials at the local, state and federal levels of government, consumers, rail companies and unions for a coordinated approach to achieving shared goals.

(Ed note: emphasis above is ours)

We’ll let you decide whether those activities amount to lobbying.  That aside, we don’t know where TRN is coming from.  As we hinted above, we don’t see any social or economic rationale for passenger train service of the sort being discussed here.

Davis asserted that the Downeaster ‘is an amazing train.’  We don’t know what the hell that is supposed to mean, because as best we can tell, it is composed of passenger cars and locomotives just like lots of other Amtrak trains.

Call us cynical, but in our view, TRN is a bunch of grown ups who were deprived of expansive model train layouts in their  youth, and have decided that taxpayers should provide them with full-scale, life-sized train systems to make up for the deprivations of their youth.


If they disagree, let them make the economic case for passenger trains by responding to the questions we posed earlier.

Now to the relevant arguments about MLF location.

Reports are that Parsons-Brinkerhoff, the consultants hired by NNEPRA to study alternatives for locating the MLF, came up with four reasons why the Bouchard neighborhood (Brunswick West) location was the preferred choice:

  • cost effectiveness
  • historic usage
  • availability of the property
  • proximity to Maine Street Station

Let’s address these points.

Cost effectiveness:

If anyone cared about cost and/or cost effectiveness, we wouldn’t have Amtrak to begin with.  Only government and their consultants can conclude that throwing money down a rat hole forever is ‘cost effective.’

We spent $35 million we didn’t have to improve the tracks between Brunswick and Portland; we’re about to spend $15 million more that we don’t have to build an MLF.

If we cared about cost and cost effectiveness, we’d throw Amtrak and passenger trains in general in the ash-pile of history where they belong, instead of trying to resurrect them from their grave.  As it is, taxpayers are forced to subsidize the service in perpetuity, effectively giving a cash gift to everyone who rides the train.

NNEPRA would never have been created, at least as a passenger rail agency, which makes them a solution looking for a problem, leveraging other people’s money.  At the very least, or worst, they would be examining all forms of transit.  And their claim that the Downeaster is a major reducer in traffic burdens on 295 is a joke, and a bad one at that.

Historic Usage:

If prior/historic usage was important to this town, we’d still have a Municipal Building on downtown Maine Street.  This is one of those selectively applied priorities; great when it serves the larger agenda, irrelevant when it doesn’t.

And the People Plus Center would still be on Maine Street, instead of having been torn down so an out of town developer/FOB could build an inn with the benefit of tax incentives to compete with other inns in town.

Availability of the Property:

This is another canard.   The Crooker Property (‘Brunswick East’) is surely available; if not, let someone prove it.

More so, the possibility of locating the MLF on ‘Brunswick Landing’ as part of a larger multi-modal facility is clearly doable and in the larger public interest.  And leaves established in-town neighborhoods as they are.

Proximity to Maine Street Station:

Oh, please; are they serious?  What difference does it make if the MLF is a half mile, a mile, two miles, of ten miles from the station?  If being close was so important, why not put it in the Park & Ride location on Cedar Street, just west of Union Street?

When we mentioned this at the meeting tonight, a lady in attendance tapped us on the shoulder, and said ‘I live on Cedar Street, and I don’t want it there!’

What a surprise!  Who’d have guessed.


We’re pretty much spent on the subject for tonight, so we’re going to push the ‘publish’ button.  And we’ll file this report in the relatively new ‘goat rope’ folder we created just recently.

As we settle in for a fall night’s sleep, we’ll ponder whether there is any way to parlay the Amtrak debacle into a daily double winner with the Kestral boon to our local economy.

Hell, we’re gambling with other people’s money, so what have we got to lose?

Except our integrity and a few other incidentals, that is.

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