Saturday, July 26, 2014

In case you had plans…..

……that involved the Downeaster this coming week, NNEPRA has been kind enough to post the latest planned train cancellations.  Early enough, we might add, to give you a few days to rework your plans.  You know how these ‘unexpected’ situations can pop-up out of nowhere, so you’ll just have to cope. 

We doubt anyone at the Portland office of NNEPRA is available now to take your calls, so you’re on your own when it comes to knowing what to expect in the coming weeks.


Here are the railroad ‘improvement’ plans for the coming week.

PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for July 30-31 -due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will occur:

Wednesday (7/30/14) trains 681, 683, 684 and 686 will not operate.  All other trains will operate according to schedule.

Thursday (7/31/14) trains 683, 684 and 686 will not operate.  All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.

At the rate things are going, it looks like they’ll be lucky to get the ‘improving’ done before the freezing temperatures return.  We’re guessing that announcing work plans week by week is part of a ‘marketing plan’ to make it appear that these are simply minor inconveniences.

Competent project management teams would have a plan and a schedule to complete ALL necessary repairs and announce the schedule impacts to finish ALL the work.

But if you complete replacement of one tie before looking one tie ahead, you never do get the big picture, do you?  Maybe the zealots at TrainRiders Northeast could get out on the job and have their volunteers inspect the track and it’s foundation a couple of hundred feet ahead of the repair crews, and report what they find to NNEPRA offices.


Oddly enough, the choo-choo kool-aid chuggers over at TRN have gone dark on their communications activity.  Could it be that they’re having trouble coming up with a suitable commentary on the state of their beloved railroad operation?  Is wishing not enough to make things work?

On a related note, a friend tells us this glowing endorsement of the Downeaster appeared on the Nova Star’s Facebook page.  Don’t you just love ‘social media?’

I had a trip from Portland to Yarmouth booked for July 23. Due to circumstances out of my control (Amtrak's fault), the train arrived in Portland 2 1/2 hours after the ferry left port! THANK YOU Nova Star for being so understanding/courteous and allowing us to reschedule the trip for a later date. GREAT customer service on your part! Being forced to now find a hotel to stay at for the night, Holiday Inn stepped up and offered us a 50% discount on a room. AMTRAK however did not make things right for us. We were offered a voucher for another ride, but needless to say we will not ride Amtrak ever again. Again, THANK YOU NOVA STAR-awesome customer service on your end!!!

You just can’t beat government operated transportation services, can you.  Especially when they’re run by highly awarded, widely acclaimed business and railroad professionals.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Troubles in Toonerville?? (Revised)

(ed note:  we just made a change to the third bullet point in the ‘wrap-up’ below the house of cards regarding expected life of hardwood ties.)         

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, your humble correspondent earned his living as an engineer.  As such, we were sentenced to a life of mockery, and to this day, we still apparently have ‘engineer’ stamped on our forehead. 

We thought of it as teasing back then; now it’s probably considered ‘verbal abuse,’ or ‘mental abuse,’ or even worse, ‘bullying.’  At least if we were moved towards legal action and ‘damages.’  One of these days, we expect to see a TV commercial touting lawyers who will help us collect.

One of the classic pieces of bulletin board humor back then was a poorly drawn cartoon with the caption shown in this more contemporary graphic.


All of which serves as our trademark rambling introduction to the subject of the moment.  For which we have a more ‘timely’ citation:

"I knew nothing about the rail business, or how trains worked or the engineering side of it," Quinn says about the day, 11 years ago, she applied for a job with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the Portland-based organization bringing back passenger rail to Maine. "When I started this job I had never ridden a train before."

Now Quinn is a passenger-rail authority herself. As executive director of NNEPRA, Quinn is a widely recognized expert on developing passenger trains in rural markets. Despite coming into this business with zero industry experience, Quinn has made a profound, lasting impact on Maine's transportation infrastructure and economy.|-patricia-quinn-northern-new-england-passenger-rail-authority


Note that the passage above is from 3 years ago.  Since then, Ms. Quinn has won at least 3 awards we know of for being a superior “business leader” or equivalent.  We’re sure she’d be quick to point out that the award was not for her, but for NNEPRA, the organization she heads.


Which, of course, is devoted to providing badly needed passenger rail service in Maine, and especially, in the constipated infrastructure link that connects Brunswick and Portland.  How many friends do you have who tell stories of being dead stopped in traffic on 295, radiator boiling over, dreaming of a train that could save them from it all?  Shirley and Chance, for example.

The challenge, of course, is that Maine has four seasons, including winter, which can be cold, snowy, and even icy at times.  Official records show that it’s been this way for some time, at least as far back as before NNEPRA came into existence.  But apparently, NNEPRA staff did not get the memo on maintaining track beds all year round, especially in wintry conditions, until spring arrived a few months ago.  Funny how a “a widely recognized expert on developing passenger trains in rural markets” could be taken by surprise by such conditions.


So sure enough, ‘unexpected’ problems visited themselves upon the Downeaster route, leading to all sorts of problems and need for remediation.  For the record, we reported on such matters in May, in this post and others that followed.  Including these words in a post on May 6:

Which makes us ever so grateful for this reminder published today in the BDN.  It looks for all the world like trains have their own equivalent of ‘potholes.’

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Federal Railroad Administration has placed “slow orders” on around 27 miles of Pan Am Railways track — running from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border to Maine — in about 25 different spots.

“The fact that some are in areas of track where the train [normally] goes 70 mph, it’s really impacting the time,” Quinn said. “It’s hard to tell how long [repairs] are going to take.”

We note that she didn’t mention the ‘alternative routes’ train passengers should take.  Oh wait….because there aren’t any.

So we thought readers might enjoy this update on Ms. Quinn’s profound, lasting, and recognized expertise in matters of passenger rail system management since that time, all taken from the NNEPRA web site:

PRIORITY ALERT: Track maintenance causing train delays

Due to continuing track maintenance being performed on the railroad, most Downeaster trains are experiencing delays of approximately 10-35 minutes. 

PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for week of July 7 - 11 due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will occur this week:

Thursday and Friday trains 681, 683, 684, and 686 will not operate. All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.

PRIORITY ALERT: Track maintenance causing train delays

Due to continuing track maintenance being performed on the railroad, most Downeaster trains are experiencing delays of approximately 10-35 minutes.

To check train status of your train please call 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train Status" or visit and look-up your train on the righthand column under the train status tab.

PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for July 14 - 16 due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will ocur (sic) this week:

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday trains 681, 683, 684, and 686 will not operate. All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.

PRIORITY ALERT: Service Interruptions for July 21-24 -due to track maintenance work

Due to necessary track maintenance work the following will ocur this week:

Tuesday trains 683 and 684 will not operate.  All other trains will operate according to schedule.

Wednesday trains 681, 683, 684, and 686 will not operate. All other trains will operate according to schedule.

Thursday trains 683, 684 and 686 will not operate.  All other trains will operate according to schedule.

No alternate transportation will be available for these cancelled trains.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the railroad.


Long story short, we remember early on hearing that it would be ‘weeks’ with ‘some delays’ blamed on weather damage.  This has morphed into 12 weeks (or more) of delays plus numerous cancellations; and with each week’s new “PRIORITY ALERT,” no estimate is given of when the repairs will be complete.


We’ll wrap up our report with some key facts that bear on this story.

  • While the ‘PRIORITY ALERTs’ repeatedly use the words ‘as we work to improve the railroad,’ it’s obvious that the work is being done to REPAIR the railroad.  A need to ‘improve’ the railroad would mean track upgrade was not done correctly before Downeaster service began.  Which would lead to a ‘for shame’ declaration.
  • Federal Railroad Administration regulations require that tracks used for passenger rail service be inspected a minimum of twice a week.  We take that to mean all year round, winter included.  Passenger use requires a higher standard for track condition than does freight train use.
  • Railroad ties normally have a 15 year expected service life.  We’ve just been corrected by a railroad professional, who says: “depending on climate and traffic volume, hardwood ties should last 25-40 years.” Ties that were in perfectly fine condition at winter’s onset would not reasonably be expected to require replacement just months later when things thawed out.
  • Twice weekly inspections should allow for minor corrective maintenance on a regular basis; months of major repairs seem symptomatic of lax inspection routines and reporting.
  • NNEPRA has reportedly been paying Pan Am Railways on the order of $1 million per year since Downeaster service began to inspect and maintain track to the required Class 3 (60 mph max) and Class 4 (80 mph max) FRA standards.

In our view of things, this means NNEPRA, directed by its highly awarded and ‘widely recognized’ passenger rail authority, has the obligation to oversee and manage track conditions through it’s subcontract to Pan Am, and to be accountable for meeting all applicable federal standards.

Failure to do so, as exemplified by the ongoing repairs and cancellations, is a clear indication of flawed maintenance practices, poor management of subcontracts, and lack of related expertise.

Regardless of the multiple awards and gushing praise in various media reports, not to mention lavish acclamation from TrainRiders Northeast.  But then, some people will do anything for a free cake.

Given the circumstances just described and illuminated, we believe expecting NNEPRA, under Ms. Quinn’s leadership, to do an effective and professional job of managing a $20 million major industrial construction project may be a bridge too far.


As a final thought, should Ms. Quinn some day tire of the ‘same old, same old’ at NNEPRA, perhaps she’d like to apply her widely acclaimed and awarded management skills to other needy areas of public transportation infrastructure.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Side issues FIASCO on FONSI: Not so fast, NNEPRA!!


Not too long ago, there was magic in the air as the mythical ship of MLF construction in the Brunswick West neighborhood (Bouchard Drive area) received a seeming ‘full-speed ahead’ decision.  This from the Federal Railroad Administration in the form of a “Finding of  No Significant Impact” (FONSI), as reported in this post.

The heroes behind this victory, Wayne and Patsy, shown stylistically above in earlier days, saw nothing but open waters and clear sailing ahead. And so, as you’ll see in a moment, the effort to select color schemes for their dreamed about building got underway.  (A later image can be found here:


Our leads in the story are intent on assuring that the palette of their titanic industrial facility, if nothing else, is in perfect harmony with the natural tones of the surrounding area.  We’re touched by their sensitivity.

We post relevant citations of the FONSI event here for your convenience.  Emphasis, in all cases, is ours.

First, from NNEPRA itself:

In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), NNEPRA provided Environmental Assessment documentation in support of the project.  The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on June 17, 2014. 

NNEPRA is accepting input through July 22, 2014 regarding the exterior color of the building.  The building has been specified to be two-tone, with a top and bottom color.  The manufacturer has provided 11 color options to choose from.  Click here to view those options, and a few potential renderings.  You may provide your input regarding color preferences by completing this survey.  The input received from the public will be provided to members of the Brunswick Layover Advisory Group for discussion at their meeting on July 24, 2014.

Then from their affiliate, TrainRiders Northeast:

The Federal Railroad Agency, which has jurisdiction over U.S. railroad activities, issued its long-awaited review of the Brunswick Layover Facility's Environmental Assessment provided to the agency by NNEPRA. The FRA issued a FONSI (A Finding of No Significant Impact) which clears the way for construction to begin on the BLF. It will house three train sets just 0.6 miles from the Brunswick Station.

This passage is from the FRA release of the FONSI decision itself:

An Environmental Assessment (EA) identifying the potential effects on physical, biological and human resources that could occur as a result of the proposed action was prepared in September 2013 and circulated for comments. A public hearing was held on September 26, 2013.  A total of 53 comment letters or emails were submitted to NNEPRA from 44 individuals throughout the comment period expressing opposition and support of the layover facility.  On June 13, 2014, the FRA Administrator signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The FONSI addresses the public comments and includes measures to minimize impacts that NNEPRA will implement with the Project. The September 2013 EA and the June 2014 FONSI are available for review using the links below as well as on the NNEPRA website

Clearly, the choo-choo community at large, including their supporters, took the position that the Brunswick West MLF is a ‘done deal,’ and that the trucks could start rolling.  To which we say,

Not so fast, NNEPRA; back up those trucks!

Why?  Well, we’re embarrassed to say, we didn’t do our usual due diligence on the materials associated with the FRA decision.  Fortunately, an acquaintance, who we suspect could be a founding member of Bus Riders Northeast, gave us a tip.  After a bit of follow up,  Other Side is issuing a Finding of AWOL Stewardship re: Contingent Obligations against the FONSI for NNEPRA’s proposed MLF project.

Or, in abbreviated form, a FIASCO.  Our reading of the FONSI says it contains news for NNEPRA: you are not released to start building the MLF; you are instead constrained, by edict of a Federal Administrator (FRA), to address crucial contingencies before proceeding in any physical way.  To make our point, we offer these two passages from pages 16 and 17 of the finding itself.  You can read the document here:  Emphasis again is ours.

This first item, in it’s opening and unambiguous words, obligates NNEPRA to comply with ALL requirements imposed by federal, state, and local governments.

VII. Commitments and Minimization Measures:

NNEPRA will be required to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local permitting requirements during the implementation of the Project, which will include:

  • Public Law 95‐217, Clean Water Act of 1977, 33 USC § 1251‐1376
  • Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, 16 USC § 470
  • Section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (CWA), 33 USC § 1344
  • Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended, 42 USC § 4601 et seq.
  • Executive Order 11990, Protection of Wetlands, 42 FR 26961, signed May 24, 1977

This second item, in the highlighted passage, makes it clear to us that the FONSI is CONDITIONED upon meeting the commitments just above.

VIII. Conclusion:

FRA finds that the Brunswick Layover Facility Project, as presented and assessed in the attached EA, satisfies the requirements of NEPA (42 USC § 4321 et seq.), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR parts 1500‐1508), FRA’s Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts (64 FR 28545, May 26, 1999), and FRA’s Update to NEPA Implementing Procedures (78 FR 2713, January 14, 2013), and the Project will have no foreseeable significant impact on the quality of the human or natural environment provided it is implemented in accordance with the commitments identified in this FONSI.

As the Project sponsor, NNEPRA is responsible for ensuring all environmental commitments identified in this FONSI are fully implemented. The EA provides sufficient evidence and analysis for FRA to determine that an environmental impact statement is not required for the Project as presented.


Your correspondent is not a counselor at law, as you know all too well.  Even so, we don’t see much wiggle room in this finding and related commitment issuing from the FRA Administrator.

As the recent Cumberland County Superior Court decision made all too clear, NNEPRA did not comply with State permitting requirements regarding Stormwater Management.  And we have reason to believe there are a significant number of other permitting requirements at the state level that must be addressed before construction at the proposed site can begin.  (Though we suppose there is no need to delay color selection.)

And we know for a fact that the building plan is not in compliance with Brunswick Zoning Ordinances.  

So it seems we should rest our case.  This FIASCO is cleared for publication.


We trust the principles in this story will take due note, cease any plans to get the trucks rolling, and get all hands on deck to follow up on that commitment to fully comply with state and local permitting requirements.

End Notes:

1) Warped mind that we are, we had hoped to issue a SNAFU proclamation against the FONSI, but we couldn’t come up with acceptable words for the acronym.  The best we could do was this:

SNAFU: Situation Normal; Absent Fiduciary Understanding

2) It also goes without saying that we have entered our summer posting slowdown, whether we realized it or not.  We’ve been busy on other ‘pursuits,’ and now the usual family visits, etc, are coming.  So we ask your indulgence as we put our priorities in other areas, except when something crosses our desk that simply must be addressed on a timely basis.

We think the subject of this post meets that standard.

Happy Summer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Breaking story being tracked….

Over the five years we’ve been in the ‘media outlet’ business, we’ve developed a finely honed nose for emerging news, and in some cases, we’ve been the first to report on them.  Some stories have led to Florida University roots, some have led elsewhere.

As part of growing our ‘corporate’ ability to bring the “Other Side” of the news to you, we’ve been fortunate to employ a number of ‘field correspondents’ who give us leads for the sheer enjoyment of doing so.  They find satisfaction knowing they contribute to a more informed public, a common good in the broadest sense.

In that vein, word comes to us today, from a source we are not at liberty to disclose, that a new player is about to join the ‘public transit’ discourse.  We’re told that an organization calling itself Bus Riders Northeast, at least for now, is forming, and that it will advocate for buses as a reliable, flexible, sustainable, environmentally sensitive, cost effective means of public transit.  And an extremely attractive alternative to rail transit.

We have few details at the moment, but we’re determined to ‘check the traps’ to further develop this story.  Our source for this report tells us that the group formed because they’re tired of the propaganda promulgated by TrainRiders Northeast, which advocates for the Amtrak Downeaster, and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority responsible for funding and managing that service.

We’ll keep you posted as this story unfolds.  We expect heightened interest in the subject of subsidized public transit modalities as a result, and that seems to us a good thing.

                                 Greg Edited-184 

                        New MCI zoom Bus

Who knows, though, where the tracks of this story will take us?

All aboard!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reprise: Oysters, immigration, political language abuse, and broken things.

As we drove back from Portland today, listening to the news reports about what’s going to take place tonight when the President addresses the nation in a ‘prime-time’ address, we told ourselves we need to draft a post about the despicable abuse of plain English so prevalent in today’s political discourse.


And then, almost like the movie Ground Hog Day, one of our all time favorites, we remembered that we had voiced our thoughts on the subject before.  So we searched our archives, and we found a post from earlier this year.

So rather than start all over again, we’re going to replay this prior post, because as far as we’re concerned, it’s ‘spot on’ for today…almost as if we had written it knowing this day would come.

So here you are…from Other Side archives:

Oysters, immigration, political language abuse, and broken things.

We don’t know about you, but some things really fry our oysters.  And certain things fry them more than others

We refer here to the discussion of our national immigration system that has been going on for some years now.  Not so much for which side of the argument you might come down on, but because of what it reveals in the way of unashamed, unabashed, blatant abuse of plain English for political and demagogic purposes.

Let us give you an example or two of the bumper sticker level of discourse on this subject:

“Our immigration system is broken!”

What they really mean when they say this is ‘we aren’t enforcing the laws that have been on the books for years, because we don’t really want to, and we’re suffering the consequences of not enforcing them.  They’re just too hard to enforce, so cut us some slack.’

Our ‘immigration system,’ simply speaking, consists of federal agencies and personnel overwhelmingly, with state agencies in a secondary role here and there, and who knows how many thousands of pages of federal law and regulations.  So when one says ‘the system is broken,’ think of that as a euphemism for ‘government is broken.’

We don’t enforce the border, we don’t enforce all sorts of immigration law, including that applying to thousands of employers who flout the law, often with a wink and a nod.


And then there’s the seeming stupidity of monitoring our borders, which in two cases we have personal experience with, operate by checking vehicles transiting major interstate highways 50-100 miles North of the US-Mexican border.

Temecula, CA I-15 - Border Patrol Checkpoint; Mile Marker 54 - Checks traffic going north on I-15. It is also right at the end of San Diego county going into Riverside county.

San Clemente, CA I-5 - Border Patrol Checkpoint; Mile Marker 67 -  I-5 San Clemente, California 92674 (760) 430-7029 The San Clemente Border Patrol Station maintains a full-time traffic checkpoint on the northbound lanes of I-5.

Both of these locations are so distant from the border that it seems bizarre when you approach them.  We imagine there are all sorts of bureaucratic justifications for the cost and effectiveness of such check points, but in the internet/social media age, anyone who gets nailed at these check points clearly qualifies for ‘stupid is as stupid does’ status, as Forrest Gump liked to say.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform!”

Translation: ‘since we’re doing a despicable and irresponsible job of enforcing the laws that have been on the books for years, let’s throw them aside and create a whole new set to brag about, campaign on, and hold press conferences to announce.’


‘And we’ll call it comprehensive immigration reform!!!!’

‘Just think how we can come before the public and tell them we found common ground, and how proud we are to stand before them today to announce a new 3,000 page bill that fixes our broken immigration system!’


There’s only one problem as we see it.  Passing a whole new set of laws that won’t be enforced to fix the problems stemming from non-enforcement of the previously enacted set of laws is not ‘reform.’

It’s cheap, lazy, and opportunistic politicking and pandering.

Which leads us to offer this ‘bumper sticker’ level commentary of our own:

Our government system is broken.

We need comprehensive government reform.

You can take this however you wish, and on whatever terms you prefer.  Our ideas range from the colorful – ‘turn the government inside out and scrub it down with a wire brush’ – to the more practical – immediately reduce federal employee head count by 20%, and eliminate at least 3 cabinet level departments.


On a different note, as we were pondering this post, we had a related thought.  The federal government has been operating at a deficit level in the range of $1 trillion per year for some time.  Yet you never hear of any agency or department ‘overrunning’ their budget, and being held accountable for turning their enterprise around and living within their means.  No news about how the State Department, or the Department of Education, or Homeland Security is running a deficit of 10 or 15% a year against their proposed budgets.

Instead, the federal deficit is reported at the top line level: the difference between federal revenues and federal expenditures, with no allocation of deficit responsibility to specific departments or government operations.  No wonder no-one worries about managing the deficit; it’s not ascribed to any leader or any agency, so no-one is responsible or accountable.  The deficit just ‘is.’

Maybe we should demand (good luck with that!) a more definitive and accountable system of budgetary responsibility.  The executive branch of the federal government has 15 major departments.  On a pro-rated basis, when we have an annual $1 trillion deficit, that means each department has about a $67 Billion operating deficit.

Shouldn’t each fiscal year begin by asking each Department, or more specifically, the Cabinet Secretary who heads it, what they will do to eliminate their contribution to the national deficit?  Shouldn’t each be responsible for managing to get their operations back on a break-even basis?

We don’t know why this suddenly occurred to us today, and why it took so long to realize just how fundamentally broken the reporting on the nation’s fiscal management system is.

But once agaiin we conclude what we said just above:

Our government system is broken.

We need comprehensive government reform.

And we mean this in the real, common sense understanding of the English language.  Not the double-speak that passes for ‘we hear you loud and clear’ bluster and bloviation from the ruling class of our era.

That’s about it for today.


So pass the horse-radish, will you Gladys?  And hand us another Guinness.  Tell the chef to stop frying our oysters.  We much prefer them fresh, naked, and tasting of the sea.

Covering them in batter and crumbs ruins the whole idea of doing what comes naturally.