Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Liking trains…..and doing it right

We’re clearly in the run-up to a sizable local foo-frah over the question of locating an Amtrak MLF in Brunswick West, and the process associated with doing so.  We’ve posted the Governor’s recent letter to the Federal Railroad Authority, and commented in numerous other posts.

Recently we’ve also observed the presence of schadenfreude: taking delight in the misfortune of others.  And a related attitude, which is ‘you should have known better; buying a place near railroad tracks guaranteed this would happen.’

Poppycock.  We remind you of the lobster boat vs. LNG tanker analogy we posted.


Demonization beyond ‘you should have known better’ is now rampant.  TrainRiders Northeast and their acolytes, devotees of NNEPRA and the Church of Saint Amtrak, are labeling those who want a more thorough environmental study process as ‘train haters.’

As we see it, this discredits their sincerity, and diminishes their opposition to the stance of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition (BWNC.)

If the BWNC are, in the words of their opposition ‘train haters,’ should it be acceptable for BWNC members to call their opponents ‘neighbor  haters?’   How about if the discussion this coming Monday begins by a cadre of folks getting up and saying just that – that Brunswick West MLF proponents ‘hate their neighbors?’  Or their fellow town residents?

Who would stand for that?  Would the council chair allow the debate to proceed with such language?  We hope not.  But if the debate proceeds with accusations of ‘hating trains,’ it will be just the same as if he did.

So let’s get to the heart of the matter.  As we’ve said before, we can’t recall a single public statement from anyone saying they ‘hate trains,’ or demanding that the trains be ordered to cease and desist from their travel through town.

In fact, just the opposite could be said.  The BWNC likes trains, including all forms, and want them to be leveraged for a far greater good than just an unproven boost to local, tourist based economic activity.  They want taxpayer investments to pay off with a multiplier effect in area and regional economic development.  They want to “Do It RIght.” 

Do those that oppose them also oppose these advances?  If so, why?

NNEPRA and Amtrak have no interest beyond carrying passengers back and forth between Brunswick and Portland, and by extension, points south of Portland, where the bulk of ridership takes place.  Brunswick and Freeport are ‘boutique stations;’  they don’t have the draw to generate substantial and sustainable revenue for the Downeaster.  It’s our understanding that the ‘money stops’ are in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

In view of this background, we want to do our best to clear the air on what’s going on.  First and foremost, the current public discussion is not about whether the Downeaster continues to run.  The discussion regards the process used to validate the plan currently proposed to build the MLF at Brunswick West.

Here’s where the confusion lies, and you need to study the details so you can understand, instead of buying into the demonization, schadenfreude, and just deserts rhetoric.

The controlling authority is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); this is what the specified process looks like:


The situation at the moment finds our circumstances in Box 6.  An Environmental Assessment has been completed, and submitted to the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) with documented public comments.

The FRA is currently at the decision juncture just below Box 6, or as we think of it, the ‘fork in the road.’  They are evaluating whether to choose Box 7, and issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), or to choose Boxes 8/9, which is a decision to call for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The letter submitted to the FRA by the Governor, and the letter the BWNC requests the Town Council send to the FRA, simply request that the option calling for a more thorough evaluation of environmental consequences be chosen.

Note that each path in the flow chart ends up at the same final step: “Implementation with Monitoring as Provided in the Decision.”  And that each choice adheres to NEPA Regulations.  There is no box labeled ‘stop the trains,’ or ‘cancel the proposal.’

This is about being thorough, responsible, and transparent.  One could ask what those who oppose such obvious virtues are worried about. 

Let us be blunt; claims of ‘hating the trains’ are wildly misguided, inappropriate, and frankly, appear driven by a desire to inflame.

Now let’s take a look at the ‘dialogue’ already appearing in the media.  Just today, a letter appeared that opens this way:

I am a new Host for the DownEaster. I have been a supporter of rail for as long as I can remember. I believe the comeback of rail is essential to our country's economy and the wellbeing of its citizens.

This language leaves us concerned about the writer’s objectivity and understanding of economics, and its effect on ‘wellbeing.’  Apparently he missed the news that passenger rail disappeared because of the laws of economics, regardless of ‘support.’  And best we know, the laws of economics have not been rewritten recently.

The writer ends with a summary that reflects ‘soft’ schadenfreude combined with ‘you had it coming.’

So the inhabitants of this neighborhood should understand that "when one hangs around a barbershop, eventually one may get a haircut.". When one makes his bed, he needs to sleep in it.

How neighborly.  We refer you to our prior posts comparing passing lobster boats to mooring super-tankers.  We don’t think the writer lives on the waterfront, but we bet he knows several folks that do.

Would he express the same sentiments to them?  We hope not, because we don’t think that would be very charitable, or enlightened.

He could just as easily have said “when one hangs around a dentist, eventually one may get a root canal.”  But we digress; forgive us our transgression.


And ask that those you know on either side of this issue stick to the relevant factors, while avoiding claims and accusations that will not further public understanding or lead to rational decisions.


Let’s keep things on the rails, you could say.  And our wheels on our axles.

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