Sunday, April 6, 2014

Quality of Place; Downtown Master Plan; and the Amtrak MLF. What a splendid outlook for in-town living.


For years and years, the anemic economic vitality and lack of opportunity in Maine have been rationalized by various non-profits and other anti-prosperity groups with the consolation that we have ‘quality of place’ that more than makes up for these shortcomings. 


You should be familiar with their typical rhetoric by now. Here’s a sample:

"Quality of Place" What does it mean?

What brought you to Maine? Why do you stay? What keeps you coming back year after year? That is Quality of Place. The rocky coastline, the old growth forests, the rolling farmlands, the historic downtowns, the loon calls on still lakes, the 3rd generation family that works the fields, the farms and the fisheries. The quintessential Maine that we all have come to love - the thing that makes Maine...Maine - that is Quality of Place.

Try as we might, we couldn’t find the sounds, vibrations, and aromas of diesel electric train engines in the same literature that talks of ‘loon calls on still lakes.’

You know how it works; rocky shore lines and lots of trees compensate for low incomes and lack of opportunity that would keep your children and grandchildren here near family to build their lives, their families, their futures, and oh by the way, to be your comfort and solace in your old age.

All well and good; let’s not debate the terminology.  Instead, we want to talk to you about Brunswick’s Quality of Place, and how those of you who live in the downtown corridor are about to have yours ‘adjusted’ for the greater community good.  We trust you’re prepared to make the necessary sacrifices so that those with a higher purpose can find their fulfillment.

MLF to station run

Those we particularly want to address reside/work in the areas shown in the google earth image above.  You can see a larger view in your browser by going to this link:,-69.96998,911m/data=!3m1!1e3

Loosely defined, we include the residential/commercial areas on both sides of the existing tracks between Church Road and Stanwood Street, which consists of the Bouchard Drive and adjacent neighborhoods on the south side of the tracks, plus a mix of properties on the north side; the neighborhoods along Hennessy Ave both to the North and South and the Hammond Lumber facility; those along the Cedar Street corridor, including the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program facility, and any other person and/or property that is within the sound, the smell, and the feel of the Amtrak train. 

This includes the Hannaford area, Brooks Farm Supply, Union Street businesses and residences, Maine Street Station businesses and offices, and even The McLellan – our not so new but new town hall.  We might as well include the Inn at Brunswick, the Noble Street neighborhoods, and Page, Potter, and Weymouth Street areas as well.

Maybe even HBS school and the adjacent playground areas.

Before we get to that, though, we want to refer back to the lovely message that Alison Harris, a volunteer at the Maine Street Station “Departure Center” (as we have renamed it), sent to Jane Millett and the town council on March 12, 2014.  We wrote about it here:

and you can find the memo here:

We think these words of Alison’s are particularly germane to our discussion today:

“I’m glad that you have come to recognize the serious imposition on your Cedar Street constituents posed by the Downeaster idling for five hours a day….. as they used to at Brunswick Station until someone shooed them down the line to bother someone else.”

“…eliminating the noise, odor and vibrations endured by your Cedar Street constituents, as well as the airborne pollutants that blow throughout Brunswick while the diesel engines idle.”

“…it just puts the idling engines into some other unfortunate neighborhood’s back yards.”

“…idle out of doors disturbing some neighborhood or another and polluting the environment.”

“Without a layover facility in Brunswick, the Downeaster will be unable to add a third round-trip a day to Boston every day…”

“(When track improvements are made in Yarmouth, I understand that we could have five round-trips every day!)”

Alison makes it abundantly clear that idling trains are bothersome, noisy, smelly, vibrating; pollute the air ‘throughout Brunswick;’ and disturb unfortunate neighborhoods, to paraphrase her words.

18 Quality_of_Place-Dean Meyers-REV.jpg

Now here’s the part that Alison forgot to mention, and where your sacrifice of Quality of Place comes into play.

All those things Alison finds objectionable about those icky-poo idling trains are equally true of running/moving trains as well.  Plus more: the noise, smell, pollution, and vibration levels increase significantly.  Track noise, horns at crossings, ground vibrations as trains roll.  Then there are the at grade street crossings, bringing traffic and pedestrians to a stop.  In the case we’re examining here, these would be Stanwood Street and Union Street.  But no matter; those are quiet, seldom used streets.

We have some exciting news for those of you within this lucky vicinity, and it’s found on pages 14 and 15 of the Amtrak MLF Environmental Assessment we discussed in our prior post, which you can find here:

We tried to copy and paste the table on page 14 here, but couldn’t do it.  So we’re pasting the related text.  (Note that ‘Build Alternative’ means building the MLF as proposed along Bouchard Drive.  ‘No Build’ means an MLF would not be constructed (at least in Brunswick.))

(emphasis in the passage below is ours)

In summary, Exhibit 7 compares Amtrak train movements with and without the Build Alternative, while Exhibits 8 and 9 diagram the volume of Amtrak train traffic on segments between Portland and Brunswick Station. Under current service levels, the Build Alternative would not affect total train moves between Portland and Brunswick, though all six trains would operate as scheduled Amtrak Downeaster service for the full length of the Brunswick – Portland – Boston route, maximizing ridership potential. In total, twelve trains would operate over trackage between the Brunswick rail yard and Brunswick Station – a distance of about 0.6 miles – under the Build Alternative. This would include the six Amtrak Downeaster trains and six ancillary train movements. Under the No Build, eight trains would operate over this segment in total.

Be clear on this.  Under current circumstances, you in the cited areas deal with 8 train movements a day through your area, between the proposed MLF site at Brunswick West and the in-town station.  When the MLF is built, that number will increase by 50%, to 12 train movements per day.  That means street crossings and everything else that goes with a train movement.

Under potential future service levels, the total number of train movements between Portland and Brunswick, a distance of 29 miles, would be ten with the Build Alternative, compared to 16 for the No Build, a reduction of six trains daily. The Build Alternative would increase the number of trips between Brunswick Station and the Brunswick rail yard, a distance of 0.6 miles, from four to ten. Hours of operation would be similar under either the No Build or Build Alternative.

And clear on this as well; once scheduled train service increases to 5 round trips per day (!!), the train movements daily through your neighborhoods and at your crossings will increase to 20.  Most of which will take place at all hours of the day, from very early (6 am), to very late (3 am.)

That’s the equivalent of 10 round trips between the Brunswick West site and the in-town station.  Each of those trips has to take place at very low speed.  You have to start the train, open the huge doors of the MLF, pull the train out and head for the station, and then idle there while crew and passengers board and de-board and generally ready themselves for the journey to come. 

After everything is tended to, the train has to move very slowly and cautiously back to the Brunswick  West site, either to continue to Portland, or to wait for shed doors to open so it can enter the facility.

We’re not train operation experts, but what if each round trip, including the stop (idling) at the station, took about 30 minutes?  From the schedule, it appears that the train spends 15-20 minutes at the station alone.  So 30 minutes total doesn’t seem out of line.

30 minutes times 10 is 300 minutes, or 5 hours of running train in the downtown neighborhoods. 

Hmmm; 5 hours.  That number rings a bell; where have we heard that before?  We’ll try to remember.

Well, at least you’ll be able to take solace in the Downtown Master Plan, adopted in January 2011, which in it’s (“our”) Downtown Vision, prioritizes, among other things, “Visual Quality;” “Pedestrian and Vehicular Movement;” and “Neighborhoods.”


And when you read the EA for the umpteenth time, remember that those pollution effects, health risks, and the other items discussed all relate to you in the ‘Quality of Place’ areas we alluded to.

Thanks for grinning and bearing it on behalf of the rest of us.  As thanks, we’re thinking of having signs made up for you, like those that say ‘this is a Neighborhood Watch area.’  Only it will say ‘this is a Quality of Place sacrificing area.’


You may not have been able to articulate “Quality of Place’ before you read this, but we’re guessing you have a much better idea of what it means now.

We only have one more thought before we close.  With the expansion in service, how many more round trips will Brunswick Taxi have to make back and forth to Portland to transport Amtrak crews?  Will the BDC have to give them another grant to buy more vehicles?  Will GoJo have to negotiate a more expansive contract with CTS?  Ka-ching, ka-ching.

Like they say, it’s good to be a King in Brunswick.  Especially if you’re an FU alumni.

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