Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Just what is a ‘Maintenance and Layover Facility?’

  Virginia Rail Express MLF photo   

There’s been much discussion on Side and elsewhere about the proposal by NNEPRA to build a Maintenance and Layover Facility for the Downeaster in the Brunswick West neighborhood location.  Recently, the discourse on the subject has been subsumed by the series of events associated with NNEPRA’s resubmittal of a Stormwater Permit Application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

NNEPRA, among other claims from their leader Patricia Quinn, backed up by their head lobbyist, Wayne Davis of TrainRiders Northeast, has maintained that Downeaster service, north of Portland to Freeport and Brunswick, cannot possibly survive without the construction of the proposed 60,000 sf maintenance facility.  More-so, that increasing service to five round trips per day from Brunswick to Boston, in response to ‘overwhelming demand’, is impossible without the huge $16 million industrial facility.

Enter Chance, our serendipitous correspondent.  Chance led us to the details of a related facility for a highly traveled train service in the Northeast.  And we’re happy he did, because they alter and illuminate our understanding of such things, as Uncle Walter Cronkite used to say. 

We’re composing this post because we’re convinced you’ll be better informed as well.  We spent a goodly part of our career traveling to the greater Washington DC area, where untold numbers of federal office buildings, outlying campuses, and research facilities are sprinkled around the region on a scale that is hard to fathom.  The influence these job centers have had on distant suburb development is nearly beyond comprehension.

As a result, mass transit has evolved to ship the daily horde of government employees, and the second and third echelon service providers who service them, from their homes to the office locations and back.

North of the district, the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) service is the dominant transporter.  South of the district, Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is the leading provider.  The photo at the top of this post shows a Maintenance and Layover Facility that VRE opened in 2009 to accommodate the needs of its rail equipment.  You can read news coverage of the facility here: http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2009/012009/01242009/440901/index_html?page=1

To give some scale to things, we have it on good authority that VRE runs 6 (six) round trips a day from the Fredericksburg, VA area to Union Station in the District, a distance of some 60 miles give or take.  According to our information, each train set includes 6 to 8 passenger cars, plus a locomotive.  Each passenger car can carry a maximum of 230 passengers, so each train has a capacity of well over 1,000, and at the max, 1,800.  Look carefully, and you’ll see that each passenger coach is two level.

This is serious train ridership, friends.  Each train running from Portland to Brunswick/Freeport has a capacity in the 300 range, and the average daily utilization is 140 riders total in both directions.  The Downeaster overall has a daily ridership of about 1500 in both directions along its total route.

Virginia Rail Express MLF photo

Now  let’s compare the Maintenance and Layover Facility requirements for each.  We repeat the aerial shot of the VRE facility above.  The two buildings that accommodate trains are one track/train set wide.   Compare this to the proposal for Brunswick, which is three train sets wide.


Below is an image of the Brunswick Downeaster MLF in neighborhood context.  We realize it’s a bit of an eye test, but it’s well known that the building itself is 600 ft end to end.

BW site vs Impacted Areas

The VRE passenger cars are 85 ft long, so we judge from the photo of the Virginia facility that the larger building is 200 ft long maximum, and the smaller one is 100 ft long maximum.  Compare this to the 600 ft length of the proposed Brunswick facility.

Note as well that the VRE MLF is located in a non-residential area, yet close to a main double track rail system.  Here’s an interior view of the main VRE facility; pretty basic stuff from the looks of it.


One can’t help but ask why a train system that carries 1,500 passengers average per day needs an MLF on the order of 6 times larger than a train system that carries 15,000 a day, or ten times more! 

Hmmmm; maybe there are more expansive plans for the Brunswick MLF that aren’t being revealed.  Could it be a maintenance facility for more than Downeaster train sets, justifying a scale and investment well beyond what otherwise might be sensible?  Could other ‘parties’ be involved?

We’d ask The Shadow to check in and take an assignment, but he just hasn’t been very helpful in recent months.  So we’ll pursue other sources to see what we can find out.


Meanwhile, your job is to just believe.  You can do that, can’t you?

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