Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Amtrak Ties and Woes…..

As we were out crawling under rocks today, looking for news stories that could increase our revenue potential here at Side, we noticed something out of whack with respect to Downeaster service, that cherished cornerstone of Brunswick’s place in the pantheon of historic and consequential New England villages.  Collecting news this way can be such a bear.

It appeared that the 12:30 pm arrival in Brunswick was late by well over an hour.  A backup Brunswick Taxi van was waiting patiently near the Church Road crossing to pick up  a crew and transport them back to Portland, at a cost of $250 or more, if we had to guess.  And we do have to guess, because no one in a position to know will speak up about the real cost.

Then we noticed that the Maine Eastern leaf-peeper tourist train was sitting at Maine Street Station, apparently awaiting the hordes of passengers that would disgorge from the arriving Downeaster to help it survive as a small railroad operator.

Given the perfect conditions, we concluded this was not a weather related anomaly.  So when we got back to the editorial offices, we had our staff do a quick search of the news wires to see what they could find.  And this is the result (http://www.amtrakdowneaster.com/ConstructionAlert):

Construction Alert

10/10/14 Update

Beginning Tuesday October 14, mid-day trains to/from some locations may be modified or cancelled due to tie replacement on the railroad.

During construction periods:

  • Trains 680, 682, 685, 687, 688 and 689 will NOT be impacted. 
  • Trains 681 and 684 will operate on a modified schedule to some stations with discounted fares available.
  • Trains 683 and 686 are will to be cancelled.

Weekend trains will not be impacted.

Don’t you just love attention to detail?

So take note, if  you are will to be taking a train, cancelled you could be, but with some possibility are will be discounted fare.

Which leads to the back story, and our obligation to apologize for yesterday’s item (http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/10/amtrak-woes-article-of-interest.html) in which we said there is a 22,000 tie problem.  The problem is 28,000 ties, more than any of us could possibly wear in a long and formally garbed career.  Let alone afford.

Notice the off-handed and casual reference to “tie-replacement on the railroad,’ as if they’re just changing light bulbs in the passenger coaches.

We remembered the same sort of cavalier comments in that story from August.

From that post:

Now the worst part.  In a classic ‘oh, by the way’ comment buried several paragraphs down in the story, we find this nugget:

Beeler said he expects the number of delays and cancellations will diminish after this week. However, more disruptions could occur this fall when Pan Am Railways is scheduled to replace another 28,000 ties. The work will be concentrated in a few areas, so it is expected to proceed more quickly and there should be fewer cancellations than what occurred this summer, he said.

Invited Guests Onboard the Inaugural Train

“Could occur???” These are the kinds of pronouncements we’ve come to expect from some of our local benefactors, shown here in happier days aboard a celebratory Downeaster run.  The same sorts of ‘public servants’ are often nowhere to be found when things go all to hell, as it were.  Or, when pressed, adopt the same passive voice and other rhetorical dodges.

Which is why you’re glad you have us.  If 2,000 ties needing replacement were enough to cause something like 2 months of service disruption, we can only guess what trauma replacing 28,000 ties, or fourteen times as many, might cause.  Even if the work is more ‘concentrated.’  Anyway you look at it, we find it absurd to believe that replacing 28,000 could “cause fewer cancellations than what occurred this summer.”

The photo just above seems to fit the circumstances perfectly, now that we muse on it.  Johnny Protocols looks for all the world like he’s trying to sell a former Maine Senate President on the idea that regular train service will cause a major economic boom for local florists and water bottlers.  We might even suggest that look on her face is one of disbelief.

She looks for all the world, frankly, like she’s had more than her fill of his pronouncements. 

Haven’t we all; haven’t we all.  Imagine if you will what it will be like when he ascends to the Chairmanship of the town council in a few months.


PS: for the chronically curious, we are attaching here a query we made to the cognizant NNEPRA individual back then (Brian Beeler II,) and his response:

Aug 20

Good afternoon Mr. Schaeffer,

Thank-you for your inquiry. Here are the answers to your questions:

1) Presumably, if 28,000 more ties need to be replaced, slow orders covering the relevant track sections must still be in place.  Is this true?  My assumption is that ties would not be replaced if the relevant track sections are approved for passenger operations at the Downeaster's desired operating speeds.  Can you provide some insight into the location of the slow orders, and how many individual such orders are still in effect?

Slow orders can be caused by a number of factors, some of which are dynamic and can change based on track conditions existing on any given day.  Crews continually maintain the track to address conditions causing slow orders as they arise.  There are currently no significant slow orders in place due solely to tie conditions. The tie replacement program scheduled for this fall is part of a regular preventive maintenance program to replace ties that are nearing the end of their useful life but have not yet failed.  Just as tires on cars are replaced before the tread is worn and the car is no longer drivable, ties should be replaced before –not after- they reach the point where they are the cause of slow orders.

2)  Does detailed information exist on exactly what track sections are involved in the need to replace 28,000 ties?  I assume it must, or there would be no way to clearly and effectively specify the work to be done, and oversee its successful completion.  Further, what is the estimated date for mandatory work completion based on expected weather conditions?

Track inspectors determine the exact ties to be replaced. NNEPRA monitors work being completed and verifies that all ties purchased for the project are installed in the locations identified. There is no mandatory date for the completion of the work.

3)  I understand from a knowledgeable professional that railroad ties are in short supply, so much so that the 2,000 ties replaced along the Downeaster route in recent months were 'borrowed' from Amtrak inventory.  Is this true, and if so, what is the outlook for obtaining the 28,000 units required to complete the necessary work in the next 3 months or so?  If the work cannot be completed before weather interferes, how badly will remaining slow orders interfere with Downeaster operations per published schedules?

There were approximately 1,000 ties borrowed from Amtrak for the tie project earlier this summer. NNEPRA currently has an order in place for the 28,000 ties to be delivered this fall. We anticipate Pan Am will install most or all of those ties this season and do not anticipate tie-related slow orders to interfere with operations this winter.

Again thank-you for your email and I hope I have clarified your questions.


Brian Beeler II

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority

Manager of Passenger Services

1 comment:

  1. Neither rain or snow or dark of night will stay these shifty couriers from their pursuit of their subsidies.