Sunday, November 23, 2014

We could say….but it’s getting old, don’t you think?

Remember that recent winner, posted 8 days ago?  On Saturday, November 15th?


It featured this passage:

Wouldn’t you just know it?  Look what we just found on the NNEPRA web site:

PRIORITY ALERT: Track work to cause Downeaster delays

Due to continuing track maintenance work, all Downeaster trains are experiencing delays of approximately 20-30 minutes. Please check your particular train's status by using the Train Status tab or by calling 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train status".

PRIORITY ALERT: Track Maintenance November 17th to 21st

Weekday trains 683 and 686 will be cancelled during this time frame. Trains 681 and  684 will run on a modified schedule and will not service all stations. All other trains will run according to the regular schedule. For details please got to

All trains WILL  run Thanksgiving week Nov. 22 to 30

You can trust them on that last assurance; this time will be different.  So book your travel for that week now. 

You turkey, you.


We’re almost embarrassed to report that our friend, shown above, has once again proven to be reliable in such things.

As proof, we came across this posting on the NNEPRA Amtrak page over the weekend:

PRIORITY ALERT: Track work to cause some Downeaster delays

Due to track maintenance work, delays are anticipated. Please check your particular train's status by using the Train Status tab or by calling 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train status".

As we see it, this announcement applies to Thanksgiving Week, November 22 to November 30, and who knows how many weeks beyond that.  Progressive disclosure is the norm, as you should be well aware by now.

You can also decide how deeply to parse the official words to guess whether ‘anticipated delays’ could also include any cancellations.  At some point, what does it matter?  Your carefully laid plans get messed up either way.

Oh, that’s right.  It matters for NNEPRA official reporting purposes.  Putting the best face on things is the name of the game when you’re heading an operation that runs at a 50% loss or thereabouts.

Maybe they should double all the fares, and see how that affects reliable, on-time performance.

Even if ridership declines just a little.

Thursday, November 20, 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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Downeaster Economics vis-à-vis Brunswick: Gruber theory right before your eyes?

Maybe you recognize the individual pictured above, maybe you don’t.  Regardless, based on recent news, we think a very good case could be made that he is the ‘poster child’ for NNEPRA and it’s Downeaster; it’s relationship to Brunswick; and the BDA as well.

The individual pictured, the suddenly very high profile Professor Jonathan Gruber of MIT, embodies several principles that are apparent in our own midst, particularly as it relates to the Downeaster.  One, “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”  Two, the end justifies the means.  Three, the average American is stupid in matters of economics.  Four, if the truth were known, the program could not survive. 

Which, in the notation of Gruber economic theory, can be represented by this expression:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = you’ve been had, and you better like it.

Or symbolically, with this iconic image:


We could go on and on having fun with this, and we no doubt will before long.  As the hours go by, we’re feeling remarkably blessed that Professor Gruber has surfaced to personify our circumstances so perfectly and succinctly.

The above is by way of introduction to the fact that we spoke to our betters on the Brunswick town council tonight on exactly this subject – the economic consequences of the Downeaster for our local economy.  Herewith the text of our statement:

  • Good evening. I'm Mr. Schaeffer.

  • I'm here to talk about an idea I had; an idea involving the Amtrak Downeaster, Bowdoin College, and Brunswick

  • As background, NNEPRA (Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority), the state agency that operates the Downeaster, was created by Maine State Law in 1995.

  • The law mandated creation of the agency, directed that it establish passenger rail service, and obtain the funds to do so by whatever means it can find.

  • The law did not call for assessment before hand of public transportation needs; nor analysis of possible methods for meeting any credible needs; nor the creation of a viable, sustainable economic model for implementing and operating this service.

  • It simply directed that passenger rail service be established, without benefit of due diligence. As such, NNEPRA and the Downeaster are a fine example of government legislation that creates a solution, and then sends it off in search of a problem that may or may not exist.

  • It's almost as if a young Professor Gruber was involved in it's creation.

  • The Downeaster has been operating between Portland and Boston for more than ten years; the extension between Portland and Brunswick has been in operation for two years.

  • The service to Brunswick has received glowing praise, especially as regards its “great economic benefit” to our local economy. I'm not aware of any objective data to support that assertion. Brunswick residents provide a subsidy for the operation of roughly $100,000 a year on the debit side, or in the range of $300 a day. Various interests and community leaders are bursting with glee at plans to increase service to Brunswick from two round trips a day to five.

  • On another dimension, we are the home of Bowdoin College, a respected, highly selective institution with an Economics Department. And a stated commitment to service learning and engagement with the community. Brunswick is proud of its relationship with the College, which among other benefits, resulted in this building becoming our town hall.

  • To this observer's thinking, the utter lack of objective economic benefit data for the Downeaster provides an opportunity for a win-win town-gown collaborative effort. College students studying economics could engage in a real world study of the local economy, and the town could gain economic insights to underpin future decisions about Downeaster related policy and spending.

  • Points to consider in any such study include these.

    • A significant number of local businesses offer no attraction to visitors, and would seldom if ever benefit from their travel here on the Downeaster. I doubt anyone comes to town on the train to do banking, get their hair done, their shirts laundered, their eyes tested, or their health tended to at a walk-in clinic.

    • That 'long term parking lot,' if used as intended, holds cars of folks taking their discretionary dollars to points south to spend, rather than spending them locally.

    • Claims by any local business that they gain meaningful patronage from train-riders must be balanced by the fact that no-one can measure the offsetting opportunities lost because area residents take their patronage out of town.

    • For example, a local Inn manager says in a recent video that he attributes 400 room nights a year to the train. That's slightly more than one room per night, which is next to nothing. But how many room nights were booked elsewhere because of the same train, by area residents traveling south?

  • We're quick to mention dollars wafting in on breezes blowing to the north, but fail to acknowledge dollars leaving the area on winds blowing south. There is, surely, a sucking sound, but identifying the specifics is uncomfortable, if not impolitic.

  • Another truism associated with our circumstances is that someone coming to town ON THE TRAIN does not mean they come to town BECAUSE of the train. Diversion from one travel mode to another yields no economic benefit.

  • The lack of specificity in ridership reporting only makes things worse. Virtually every rider is on a round-trip, some originating here, and some originating at points south. So to begin with, one traveler shows up as two in ridership figures.

  • One wonders what effect the Downeaster has on Concord Coach ridership, a service established long before Amtrak started coming to town. That bus service, by the way, is far more economical, flexible, convenient, versatile, and environmentally friendly than the train.

  • Let's get to the punch line. In view of the above, I proposed the idea of a collaborative 'town-gown' economic study effort on Downeaster local consequences; I even made some notes on a 'framework' for the study, and suggested unique parameters that would apply.

  • My hope was to make the proposal a formal agenda item for council discussion and a vote. For the first time in all my years coming before you, I talked to four councilors about the possibility of sponsoring a motion so it could come before the council and the public. None signed on.

  • So here I am, with a dead-letter idea, left to ponder why. Are those I spoke to unwilling to face what could be disappointing realities? Has too much personal capital been invested in the groundwork for Maine Street Station and the Downeaster service? Are you fearful of offending various town leaders, of both the official and unofficial sort? Are you concerned that developing a factual basis for future policy and funding could cause NNEPRA to discontinue service here?

  • More to the point, are you afraid of the truth? Or that such a study could not be conducted objectively? If so, what a sad story that tells about elected leadership, and what a pall it casts upon other discussions of governance that come before this body. Not to mention the perceived academic integrity of Bowdoin.

  • In closing, as someone said recently, lack of transparency is a huge political advantage, and this situation may be as simple as that.

  • Thank you. And I hope you have a chance to read the brief material added as an Appendix.

Appendix to Statement:

The points below are excerpted from:

1. Transportation spending can stimulate economic development only if it generates new travel that didn’t exist before. Transportation projects that merely persuade people to change from one mode to another or one corridor to another might influence where economic development takes place, but will not produce any net additional development.

(A corollary to this rule is that the dreaded “induced travel” that comes from building new roads in congested regions is exactly the kind of desirable result that should come from transportation spending. Such new travel creates new economic opportunities for landowners, employers, and entrepreneurs that are the best indication of whether a transportation project was worthwhile.)

2. Transportation spending will generate new travel only if the project provides transportation that is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than what existed before. Projects that reduce people’s costs (both in hours and dollars) will encourage people to travel more.

3. Most rail transit, and virtually all streetcars and light rail, provide transportation that is slower, more costly, and less convenient than the alternatives. Even if most of the costs are paid by taxpayers, rather than travelers, the higher taxes place a burden on the community that slows economic growth.

4. Even where rail transit is paid for by federal taxpayers (thus relieving local taxpayers of the burden) and carries huge numbers of people (which almost requires that it be subways or elevateds, not light rail or streetcars), any new development stimulated by the transit project will probably be limited to the downtown area (see p. 3). The rest of the region will end up suffering because even if the feds pay for construction, locals will probably have to pay high cost of maintaining the rail line.


That’s it for tonight, students.  Make sure your slide-rules are well waxed, so you can follow the next class on precision in economic analysis.  And don’t worry, Professor Gruber has already declined our invitation to be the visiting lecturer.  Seems he was worried he wouldn’t be able to get a seat on the Downeaster because it’s ‘sold our farther down the line.’ 

But he did send along his calling card:


Oh, and if you’re wondering what the reaction from the council was, you can watch the video once it’s posted.  In a word, a perfunctory comment we were already aware of.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

We could say we told you so…..”we told you so.”


One more item for today before we go into chicken fried steak and football mode for the rest of the day.

We refer you back to this recent post:

Même les Français ont des problèmes avec le MLF*

In it, we included these words; in particular, take note of the last paragraph…it begins with “Call us skeptical, but….”

We checked today, and found this update from a few days ago (Monday.)  Once again, attention to detail inspires confidence.

PRIORITY ALERT: Track work to cause Downeaster delays

Due to continuing track maintenance work, all Downeaster trains are experienceing (sic) delays of approximately 45-60 minutes.  Please check your particular train's status by using the button below or by calling 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train status".

PRIORITY ALERT: Track Maintenance extended to November 14th

Updated 11/3/14- Weekday trains 683 and 686 will be cancelled during this time frame. Trains 681 and  684 will run on a modified schedule and will not service all stations. All other trains will run according to the regular schedule. For details please got to

Call us skeptical, but we have a hunch another “PRIORITY ALERT” will be forthcoming somewhere around Friday, November 14.  Progressive disclosure is always appropriate in such circumstances. 

Wouldn’t you just know it?  Look what we just found on the NNEPRA web site:

PRIORITY ALERT: Track work to cause Downeaster delays

Due to continuing track maintenance work, all Downeaster trains are experiencing delays of approximately 20-30 minutes. Please check your particular train's status by using the Train Status tab or by calling 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train status".

PRIORITY ALERT: Track Maintenance November 17th to 21st

Weekday trains 683 and 686 will be cancelled during this time frame. Trains 681 and  684 will run on a modified schedule and will not service all stations. All other trains will run according to the regular schedule. For details please got to

All trains WILL  run Thanksgiving week Nov. 22 to 30

You can trust them on that last assurance; this time will be different.  So book your travel for that week now. 

You turkey, you.

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Changing seasons…changing stories; shouldn’t there be protocols to deal with these things?


As Brunswick adapts to a change in governance…one in which John Eldridge is, in fact, “Mr. Manager,” or as we would prefer he be called – “John,” or “Mr. Eldridge,” and Johnny Protocols soon ascends to the position of Governor of Brunswick, it seems only appropriate that a change in stories should be in the mix.

My stories run up and bite me in the leg -- I respond by writing them down -- everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off. -Ray Bradbury, science-fiction writer (b. 1920)

We can’t remember when we first came across that quote, but it explains better than we could  why we ‘do what we do.’  Here’s another one we like:

As scarce as truth is, the supply always seems to exceed the demand. Winston Churchill complained, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."

Invited Guests Onboard the Inaugural Train

The look on Betheda Edmond’s face in the above picture reminds us that this would be a fine time for you to reread our post of a few months back:

Protocols, Backside Awards, voting, not voting, etc…

It’s a cold, cold day here in Perfect, and reminding yourself of the behavior of our betters on the town council should start a fire within your belly that takes the chill off for the rest of the day.

That post, as you know, was about the shenanigans associated with a vote to approve offering the Town Manager job to John Eldridge; how one very influential councilor had obligations elsewhere he couldn’t get out of; and how other councilors present were so flummoxed by his absence they couldn’t see straight, and voted accordingly. 

One of those councilors has since been turned out of office, we presume because the voters involved couldn’t figure out how to vote without GoJo beside them when they marked their ballots. 

You know the old saying: “live by the Protocols, die by the Protocols.”


The fun part of that late September post was this:

Now as to that claim that it was too late to reschedule his commitment to work with the Maine Labor Relations Board on Monday evening in Rockland.  Lucky for you, we have reporters in the field who can look into such things.  One of them contacted the Maine Labor Relations Board office, and surprisingly, they had nothing on the three calendars they maintain for Monday night in Rockland.  Nothing for the Board itself, or the Mediation Panel, or the Board of Arbitration.

That passage refers, of course, to the explanation Johnny Protocols gave as to why he had to miss the council meeting at which the vote was taken.  We offered him an opportunity to correct the record in our little media outlet, but when no correction was submitted, we were sure it was from him.


Now comes word, via one of the other councilors with a leading role in that post, that the protagonist in this curious caper has proffered a different explanation for his unavoidable absence.  It seems he ‘had to be in court, and couldn’t get out of it.’  You know how lawyers are; they never, ever, ever ask for a postponement, or a continuance.  That would be a breach of their code of honor.

We don’t know if this was at a court in Rockland, or even if there IS a court in Rockland.  But we’ve asked our field correspondent to look into things for us.  You know how we hate having loose ends in our stories.

We just thought you ought to know about this ‘loose end’ flapping around out there in the halls of municipal governance.

We’ll close with this wondrous sentiment from one of America’s treasures:


Of course, if you can barely remember which day it is, or which sock to put on first, it doesn’t matter a whole lot, does it?

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PS on yesterday’s posts……

First, on this one about the eyes of the school board opening to some of the realities many of the rest of us have been aware of for years, and looking like they may actually grab the bull by the tail, as it were.

We neglected to make a point on this passage from the Forecaster article:

A repair plan proposed by Facilities Director Paul Caron last month called for a $2.5 million annual investment in school buildings.

As we noted, it is not within the realm of possibility for the school board, or the Department, to cut elsewhere to ‘find’ that money to ‘invest.’  Invest, as you know, simply means spend in these circumstances.

So in all likelihood, the Department, with board approval, will propose a $2.5 million increase in the annual budget for this purpose, along with the other usual increases.  At today’s going rate,  $2.5 million a year equates to about an 8% increase in the property tax rate.  Add that to the other increases always in the hopper, and you can’t help but be really excited!



Explore Maine by Bus

Then there’s the second PS, attendant to the post on the Metro Bus possibility.

We wondered to ourselves what $200,000 a year is equivalent to if it was a payment on a bond issue.  So we checked with a competent authority in such matters, and here’s what we can tell you.

Depending on the interest rates, and the amortization term (10, 15, 20 years), $200.000 would ‘service’ bonded debt somewhere in the range of $1.5 to $3.0 million.  So $200,000 is nothing to sneeze at.

As we pondered this, we also wondered why consideration isn’t being given to chatting with Concord Coach, which already runs bus service between Portland and Brunswick (and points north and south of those two end points), to see if they might find interest in expanding their service to meet the same needs.


Hell, who knows; they might even have a way to approach it that doesn’t require direct public subsidy. 

Not that anybody would find merit in such an idea.  After all, community is the name of the game, right?  Shared sponsorship, shared indebtedness, shared payments.


Gotta love it!  Even the shared pride part.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Brunswick School Department: grabbing the bull by the tail


Sometime ago, we had a poster that hung on the back door of our office, so we only saw it when we arrived in the morning and hung up our jacket.  Or when we shut the door for a private meeting with associates or customers or both.  It showed W.C. Fields in a classic pose, with the caption “There comes a time in the affairs of man when he has to grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

That image is seared in our mind, and we’re pretty sure we’ve referred to it before here on Side.  It seems especially appropriate to an article appearing in this week’s Forecaster.  We don’t know if you saw it, and to be Frank, you’d probably be happier if you haven’t, though less informed.

We’re not going to dwell at length on it; we’re just going to highlight a few passages we believe corroborate positions we’ve expressed over the years, and exemplify the systemic in- competencies in our school system governance.  Which means ever increasing budgets and taxes, and ever decreasing performance and accountability.

We’ll start here:

The five-point plan, proposed by district officials last month, calls for an annual investment in repairs to existing buildings,…..

Board members Joy Prescott, Corinne Perreault and Janet Connors did not attend the meeting.

(Board Member Rich Ellis) acknowledged that the department needs to take immediate action on several maintenance and repair issues in the town's aging schools…

A repair plan proposed by Facilities Director Paul Caron last month called for a $2.5 million annual investment in school buildings.

Caron said that $500,000 should be reserved to maintain Brunswick High School and Harriot Beecher Stowe Elementary School, the newest buildings, while $1 million should be directed to fix issues at Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School. Another $1 million would be set aside in reserve to help pay for future projects.

The plan approved Tuesday calls for staff to develop a long-term financial plan to fund the repairs. According to estimates provided by the department's architects from Portland Design Team, basic repairs for the BJHS and Coffin could cost about $5 million.

Damn; that’s nearly half the article!  We’ve asserted for years that stewardship of Department facilities has been largely non-existent; that the SOP for school departments nationwide is to let facilities fall apart, on the assumption that the taxpaying public is easy prey for replacing ‘worn and crumbling facilities’ with new ones, rather than prizing diligent care of existing ones.

The time frame involved, nominally 40 years, is beyond the cognizance/interest range of the average resident and citizen, so it’s very easy to characterize things as ‘sneaking up on us.’

As we see it, the statements cited above more than confirm our suspicions.  They as much as say that facility maintenance has been, for all intents and purposes, ignored in favor of other spending priorities.  We might add that the same malady infects other areas of our local governance, like buildings, roads, etc.

We should try to give you a laugh at this point, so here are some humorous lines from the article:

"I don't think we want to do short-term facilities planning without some vision of where we're going to be 40 years from now, 20 years from now," McCarthy said. "We've got to do that work, and that work isn't done."

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said adopting the plan is a necessary step in formulating a longer-term facilities plan.

"There's no way you can do this correctly without doing that," he said.

To which we say, who woke you all up?

Next, let’s consider the capacity issue:

It seemed earlier this year that the board was aiming to construct a new elementary school to help ease the threat of overcrowding.

Overcrowding?  Need we remind you that this very same school board, and Department staff, are the ones that shut down Longfellow School, Hawthorne School, and Jordan Acres School as functioning assets that were much beloved by those whose children attended them? 

The first two are still functioning as useful assets; the last is a perfect example of how benign neglect (not shoveling snow off the roof) can force a community to cough up $25 million or so to replace a facility that had been working just fine a year before.  Unless you didn’t like the design, which adhered to the advice of recognized professional experts of the era in which that building was constructed.

Now for the punch line:

The plan approved Tuesday calls for staff to develop a long-term financial plan to fund the repairs.

Here’s the only possible plan: they spend, we pay.  And the ‘plan’ they devise will not reduce spending anywhere.  It will only add to spending.

They shut down three old schools and replaced them with one new hyper-cost effective one.  How much did spending go down because of that?  Enrolment declined by 1,000 when the base closed; how much did staffing contract, or spending decline because of that shrinkage in the ‘customer base?’

The only solution that lies ahead is symbolized by our long forgotten assistant:


We might be a bit grumpier than usual tonight, but holding the toe-touch position for extended periods has a way of doing that to us.

The wheels on a bus go blank blank blank…

Explore Maine by Bus

You may remember that a few months ago, in this post:

we mentioned emerging discussions about Metro Bus service running from Portland north to Freeport, with a number of stops in between.

We speculated that the very thought of such service could easily cause hyperventilation, or worse, by our favorite Downeaster supporters, the Brunswick Bobbsey Twins:


As Phate would have it, Chance led us to discover a related new development that could, prepare yourselves, reach as far north as BRUNSWICK!!  Shirley, the very thought of such a possibility must cause palpitations of the most troublesome sort among the choo choo chognoscenti (sick.)

In readying ourselves for a brief statement to the town council this coming Monday, we discovered that the agenda includes this item:

135. The Town Council will discuss the possibility of the Greater Portland METRO Bus providing commuter rides to and from Brunswick, and will determine if any future action is needed. (Chair Pols)

You’ll find the agenda and the associated ‘packet’ with detailed backup info here:

Once you open that document, go to page 64 and the pages that follow, and you’ll find all the exciting details.  Including the fact that without ‘free money’ from elsewhere, the service could cost Brunswick (we taxpayers) $200,000 a year, or about $4,000 per week.

That may sound like a lot, but as you know from being a loyal reader, that’s roughly the amount we suspect Amtrak pays Brunswick Taxi for shuttling crews back and forth between Brunswick and Portland twice a day.  Peanuts, that is, among the governing class.  Come to think of it, why hasn’t Brunswick Taxi submitted a proposal of their own?  BDC stands ready, we assume, to provide whatever ‘seed capital’ is required to make the dream come true.

Note when you read the material how carefully everyone tip-toes around the issue of possibly competing with the Downeaster.  We wouldn’t want market demand and competition to enter into the equation, would we?  Better we should let our betters decide how to serve us, than we ourselves.


On the other hand, it’s just a damn bus, for guards sake!

As for us, we immediately take off on flights of fancy when such news surfaces.  Taxpayers are already subsidizing the Downeaster (and Amtrak overall) with vast sums on an annual basis.  NNEPRA’s service alone runs at an operating loss of around $8 million per year.

Under the circumstances, we wonder why the town council isn’t considering $4,000 in weekly subsidies for the gasoline costs of residents.  Or perhaps the construction of a municipally operated carwash to service resident’s vehicles, with a subsidy of the same amount.  We’d really appreciate $2 weekly car washes, courtesy of our benevolent overseers.  Shirley that’s a worthy benefit of choosing to live here in the wealthiest little town in America?  We’d even be willing to drop off our pay per bag trash at the carwash, to save the cost of picking it up.  Synergy; we’re all over it.

We look forward to great frugality and perspicacity being displayed in Monday’s discussion; it’s our right.

Just like $2 car washes and having someone else pay for most of our train or bus ride are our right.



By the way, the smoking lamp will not be lit at the council meeting, or on board the transit service, no matter who makes THEIR wheels go round with YOUR money.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

The Saga of Sold Out Seats: Somebody should stop selling sausage



We get a kick out of the exuberant gent shown in the Downeaster promo above.  He looks like a cross between the guy who just found out Cialis daily will improve his romantic life, and the one who dug until he found out about Eliquis, a “prescription blood thinner used to reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in people who have atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of irregular heartbeat, not caused by a heart valve problem.”  Oh yeah….”for three reasons.”

Either that, or he just found out that the NNEPRA pronouncements about difficulty buying Downeaster tickets to and from Brunswick because seats are ‘sold out farther down the line’ is so much Brunswick Sausage.

Continuing with our own investigation into those claims, which have proven totally bogus in our last two ‘stress tests’ on the ticket purchasing system, we today looked into buying tickets both Northbound and Southbound between Boston and Brunswick, this time, for today, the 10th, through Sunday, November 23rd.

As before, we tried buying 8 adult seats, the most the reservation page will allow with a single transaction.  Guess what.  We found out just what we did before: we could buy the requested 8 seats on all “trips”, except, obviously, those that are cancelled.  Some of the trips are hybrids, as before, involving a bus segment and a train segment.

We did come across a curious block of trains that show as ‘sold out’ in the later days of this time span.  Skeptics that we are, we’re kind of suspicious that authorities have noticed our reporting on the subject, and are taking to calling cancelled connections ‘sold out’ because it looks better.


But don’t worry; we’ll look into this further.  It’s how we amuse ourselves and inform you.

Kennebunk steals Brunswick’s Downeaster Glory Story

The old Boston & Maine Railroad station, located on Depot Street in Kennebunk, will likely become the seventh stop in Maine for the Amtrak Downeaster. The building, which still maintains a platform, is owned and occupied by Dietz Associates. The town is working to purchase a parcel almost directly across the street at 11 Depot St. to be used as a parking lot. (Alex Acquisto photo)

An item came across our desk this morning from the widely read Kennebunk Post.  You can read the full article here:

It has to do with the Downeaster adding a stop in Kennebunk.  Prominent in the article is Matt Eddy, former Economic Development Director here in Brunswick, who now holds the same position in Kennebunk.  A presumably more current view of the Kennebunk site is shown in this screen capture, which we suspect may be another product of a William Lord piloted drone.


What we found most interesting in the reference article are these words:

Amtrak has not specified how many trains will stop in Kennebunk, Eddy said. “Their (Amtrak’s) capacity will increase when the storage area is improved in Brunswick. If that were to happen there would be a capacity to either add more cars or add more runs.”

The Downeaster “does a lot of surveys on where people are going on the train,” Tibbetts said. “When they’re traveling up from Boston or New Hampshire, where are they going? Their number one destination is Portland. Their number two destination is the Kennebunks.”

“People are going to Portland, renting a car and coming down here, or they’re getting off in Wells and taking a bus or taxi and they’re going over to the Kennebunks,” Tibbetts said.

For those readers who like a little ‘friendly competition’ between neighboring towns, this passage should find interest:

Selectman Dick Morin also spoke in favor of the proposal: “We’ve invested immense time and energy in getting our downtown cooking, this is one more way to bring people to our downtown and I would put money on, when we go live, that we will start to put pressure on Saco and Wells to figure out how they’re going to stay open, because I think the train is going to want to just buzz right by and stop here. I don’t think we have anything but good things to come of this.”

Let the above soak in.  Think about things; like the recent report of Enterprise car rental giving up their staffing at Maine Street Station.

These thoughts come to mind for us.  First, how can Portland and Kennebunk be such dominant destinations, when all we hear locally is how critical Freeport and Brunswick are to Downeaster success and appeal?

Second, considering the distances and ridership involved, why the hell are full train sets even operating over the ‘Portland North’ extension?  And why is another $30 million in capital expense being planned to expand this extension?

Said another way, why would anyone rent a car in Brunswick to drive to Portland or Kennebunk?


As silly as that question may sound, we think it captures the larger silliness of the situation overall.  Though we’re confident Brunswick residents are happy to do whatever they can to improve the Kennebunks economic outlook.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Follow-up on DEP Breaking News

Pursuant to the letter posted last night, this DEP notification has been published:


Maine Department of Environmental Protection

DEP to Hold Public Hearing on Train Layover Facility in Brunswick; November 13 Public Meeting Postponed

Maine Department of Environmental Protection sent this bulletin at 11/06/2014 04:14 PM EST

Contact: Karl Wilkins, Acting Communications Director, or (207) 287-5842

DEP to Hold Public Hearing on Train Layover Facility in Brunswick; November 13 Public Meeting Postponed

11/06/2014 03:53 PM EST

BRUNSWICK - Today Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Patricia Aho issued a determination to hold a public hearing on the Stormwater Management application filed by Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) for the Brunswick Train Layover Facility. In light of this determination, the public meeting scheduled for November 13, 2014 at the Brunswick High School cafeteria has been postponed and will be held on the night of the public hearing.

According to the Department's Rules Concerning the Processing of Applications, the Commissioner may conduct a hearing on any application. "Due to the unique circumstances of this case and the substantial public input, I am exercising my discretion to hold a public hearing relating to the stormwater issues on this project," stated Commissioner Aho. A hearing will assist the Department in understanding the technical evidence submitted and allow further evaluation and consideration that cannot be effectively conducted in a "comment/response to comment" forum typical of a public meeting only process.

The public will be able to provide comments at a public meeting setting that will be held the evening of the public hearing. The date, time and location of the public hearing and public meeting have not been determined, but will be provided when they are available.



We went to the web pages of NNEPRA and TrainRiders Northeast to pick up on their reactions to this determination, but so far, crickets in the cabbage car is all we find.


We did find this older entry on the TRNE site:

UPDATE: The Press Herald's Editorial Board has just published a commentary on the LePage administration's renewed involvement in the Brunswick Layover Facility decision. Referring to the governor's opposition and the last-minute involvement of the DEP commissioner, they wrote:

"The state’s involvement in a proposal over which it has no final say is a splashy and entirely symbolic move, and nobody should count on the heightened environmental concern on the part of the governor and his allies to outlast this fall’s election."

The full editorial is well worth reading. Go here.

No doubt it is; perhaps when we have more time, we will. 

To remind ourselves of the finely honed judgments and predictions of the media elite.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Breaking News: DEP calls for Public Hearing on specifics of NNEPRA’s stormwater permit application for MLF

Many of you following the ups and downs and ins and outs of the permitting process for the proposed NNEPRA MLF know that DEP is responsible for ensuring the project complies with all applicable laws and regulations. 

DEP, we should say, is the Department of Environmental Protection in Maine State Government.

And the proposed project site is the Bouchard Drive neighborhood in Brunswick.

We’re not going to take the time right now to list all our prior postings on the matter; instead, we’re here to bring you the latest news on the matter.  Today, DEP issued a letter, signed by Commissioner Aho, calling for a public hearing on the details of the application.

Here it is; we apologize for it being in three pieces; this results from our basic skill level in screen capture.  You’ll have no problem reading it, we hope.




We asked a friend knowledgeable in the details of the application process to give us a reaction to the letter, and here is what he had to say, edited by us for consistency with Side stylistics.

DEP has thoroughly scrutinized NNEPRA's third filing of a Stormwater Permit Application (SWPA) for the proposed Brunswick Maintenance and Layover Facility (MLF), along with comments submitted by “Interested Persons.”  Appropriately, the permitting process will be by the book, with an open and transparent review that includes a Public Information Meeting combined with a more rigorous Public Hearing.  

A Public Hearing will provide the forum for the Applicant and all Interested Persons to assist DEP in considering all the evidence, and unique dynamics affecting both on and off site effects.

The proposed industrial level train maintenance facility has statewide implications, and is the first of its kind to be considered for permitting by DEP.  We appreciate their commitment to an open and transparent regulatory process.

Stay tuned for further updates.  As details of the Public Hearing become known, we’ll publish them.

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Même les Français ont des problèmes avec le MLF*


As we’ve told you in the past, Side is your archetypical engineer, which means our foreign language skills are virtually non-existent, along with our grasp of cultures elsewhere. 

So much so that we aren’t even sure whether the name “Davis” is French.  But we assume that it must be, because an item we came across in today’s press says the author lives in South Paris (‘Sooth Paree?’)  You’ll find it here:

Please read it.  To tempt you to do so, here are some pithy excerpts:

That this structure is vital to increasing ridership and adding more trains to the schedule is hogwash.

Any passenger department head knows it is steadily increasing ridership that puts more trains on the rails. And now that the novelty of service to Brunswick has worn off, the 120 people or so who trackside observers initially noted riding each train have dwindled to an average of 35 or fewer per run – so let’s not use Boston-to-Portland figures to assert that ridership is strong and growing.

No efficiently managed railroad ever expended hundreds of thousands, let alone millions of dollars in revenue earnings or subsidy monies erecting barns to house complete train consists during layovers at turn-around terminals.


As to a letter by Ms. Quinn, written in response to an August Sun Journal op-ed, citing the “net cost” of the Downeaster’s cafe cars: No one’s ever starved to death on a short-haul, 140-mile, three-hour trip. I’ve been privy to a few board meetings in my time, and any divisional passenger head proudly congratulating their chief of dining car services for “operating … with a net cost of only $160,000 last year” would quickly be scrubbing pots and pans for the cook on an extra gang far north of North Bay.


Sorry, Ms. Quinn, but your concept is no way to run a railroad – not even a basement model layout.


As long as we have your attention, we thought this might be a good time to update you on Downeaster service anomalies caused by ties.

Roughly four weeks ago, this was the published notice:

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.

We checked today, and found this update from a few days ago (Monday.)  Once again, attention to detail inspires confidence.

PRIORITY ALERT: Track work to cause Downeaster delays

Due to continuing track maintenance work, all Downeaster trains are experienceing (sic) delays of approximately 45-60 minutes.  Please check your particular train's status by using the button below or by calling 1-800-872-7245 and say "Train status".

PRIORITY ALERT: Track Maintenance extended to November 14th

Updated 11/3/14- Weekday trains 683 and 686 will be cancelled during this time frame. Trains 681 and  684 will run on a modified schedule and will not service all stations. All other trains will run according to the regular schedule. For details please got to

Call us skeptical, but we have a hunch another “PRIORITY ALERT” will be forthcoming somewhere around Friday, November 14.  Progressive disclosure is always appropriate in such circumstances. 

Apologies for the double entendre; we’ve been learning French while drafting this post.  One word at a time, right? 

Grâce au ciel, pour penser les gens.

* Ed Note: The English translation of the title is: “Even the French have problems with the MLF.”

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Waste Watch: WGME Investigates The Downeaster


On tonight’s broadcast, Jon Chrisos of Channel 13 offered his “Waste Watch” report on the Amtrak Downeaster, and in particular, the Portland North extension between Portland and Brunswick.

For some reason, we can’t get the ‘embed’ version of the video clip to import here, so we’re linking you to the location:

Clicking the ‘play’ arrow in the screen capture at the top here won’t do anything.  You’ll have to click on the link in the last paragraph, and endure an ad at the beginning of the video. But tough it out, and you should enjoy it.

We particularly liked the quotes on ridership between Portland and Brunswick, and the shots of the empty seating.  Patricia Quinn, head of NNEPRA, attempted to brush this aside as a consequence of not having an MLF in Brunswick.  Yah, shurrr; that’s it.

Ms. Quinn also doesn’t have much grasp of the concept of a ‘hub’ in transportation.  Here’s a clue: the end of the line is not a ‘hub.’  She talks about wasted expense running empty trains for ‘relocation’ purposes, and not getting any revenue from the movements.  Here’s a clue: maybe she should sell tickets for those runs!

Turns out she’s running near empty trains for revenue purposes as well.  In the same vein, we’re not sure why she never talks about the contract with Brunswick Taxi for running crews back and forth to Portland twice a day, 365 days a year.  We’ve previously estimated that cost at in the range of $200,000 a year, but somehow it never comes up in discussions of the service extension.

As a reader suggested today, one who likes trains, they should just give up on the Brunswick Downeaster run, and substitute a few extra bus trips.

Sorry for the ‘technical’ problem.  We’ll check again in the morning to see if we can get the embed feature to work.

Goodnight for now, you “Princes and Princesses of Maine.”  And no wise cracks and snickering, please, after we turn the lights out, about the “Waist Watch” at Other Side offices.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

“Quality of Place:” How five Downeaster round trips will provide it, 24 hours each and every day


Part of the fascination of living in Brunswick, America’s perfect little town, is reveling in the dreams of the moment, each of which inspires us as a ‘community’ to invest not only our dollars, but our self-esteem, in those dreams, no matter how distant they may seem, or misguided they may be.

In recent years, the dream of passenger rail service coming to town has given rise to euphoria among a devoted segment of local believers in the ability of government, flush with OPM - backed by printed subsidy dollars - to bring perfection to otherwise imperfect ‘places.’

18 Quality_of_Place-Dean Meyers-REV.jpg

Do you recall this post: - from April of this year?  It featured the cute little graphic above, and commented on the fascination of many with the concept of ‘place’ and ‘place-making.’  Such terminology is important; it marks the utterer as ‘in touch with contemporary community visioning,’ just as calling the dining room in your home a ‘space’ will elevate your stature among the ‘interior design’ elite, who used to be called ‘decorators.’ 

We hope you’ll take a few moments to reread the post, because it provides a useful preamble to our thoughts here.  Perhaps it will distract you from the stuff falling from above that momentarily threatens our QOP.

We thought of the post as we pondered the Downeaster dream, especially as it relates to Brunswick.  Perhaps the two most important aspects of the dream are these.  First, unless the Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility are built ASAP in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, Downeaster service to Brunswick simply cannot go on. 

Second, that building the MLF will allow expanding Brunswick to Boston service to 5 (five!!) round trips per day, which will, in no time at all, turn our peaceful little village into the economic powerhouse that has always been its rightful destiny.  It simply requires the right dreamers to make it real.  Aided, of course, by various and sundry unsubstantiated endorsements from the BDA and their loyal supplicants.

It goes without saying, as our readers well know, that expecting authorities engaged in such forward thinking plans to respect applicable laws, regulations, zoning, comprehensive plans, and socio-environmental considerations is entirely unreasonable. There are, after all, special exceptions that must apply when those to whom things have been revealed decide to act on our behalves, in order to realize whatever the vision of the moment might be.   

Stick-in-the-muds that we are, we decided to think about things anyway.  Particularly as it relates to expansion to five daily round trips between Maine Street Station (that’s in Brunswick) and Boston.  As we often do, we decided to begin at the beginning. 

So we put our hands on the current Downeaster schedule, effective October 6, 2014.  Here’s the southbound weekday schedule; the weekend schedule is pretty much the same, except that the second digit in the train number jumps from 8 to 9.  (The D means it “stops to discharge passengers only.”)


For sake of discussion, we decided to extrapolate the current schedule to originate all trips in Brunswick, without changing the existing stops shown in the schedule, since the timing was surely arrived at to satisfy the needs of those heading to the final destination….Boston.

Doing so results in 680 departing Brunswick at 4:25 am (stopping in Freeport at 4:40 am); 684 departing at 11:50 am (Freeport stop 12:05 pm); and 686 leaving Brunswick at 1:40 pm (Freeport stop 1:55 pm).

To complete the thought process, we have to extrapolate the northbound schedule as well, shown here.  In this case, the R means the train stops to pick up passengers only.  The comment regarding weekend schedules applies as well: train number middle digits change from 8 to 9. 


Here again, we simply filled the missing Northbound stops in by extrapolating the existing runs, because they are surely driven by the needs of the big city commuters from Boston to Portland.  Doing so ends up with all trains terminating in Brunswick.  683 arrives in Brunswick at 2:50 pm, with a Freeport stop at 2:35 pm; 687 arrives in Brunswick at 8:55 pm (Freeport stop at 8:40 pm); and 689 arrives at Maine Street Station at 2:10 am, after a sleepy stop in Freeport at 1:55 am.

Wow; what a glorious future this portends for Brunswick, especially as it relates to Quality of Place.  In case they haven’t jumped out at you yet, some immediate conclusions can be drawn from this scenario.

Let’s go through those that have occurred to your correspondent (so far.)

1)  It takes close to 3.5 hours for an end to end run from B-town to B-town, so a round trip has the tracks in use for 7 hours in round numbers.  Five round trips means the tracks have to be in use a minimum of 35 hours in each 24 hour day.  Given that the vast majority of the route is single tracked, the implications for careful and precise track utilization management are clear.  We should add that we don’t know what the demands of freight transport add to the mix.

2)  It’s our  understanding that the Downeaster currently operates three train sets.  Can they operate five round trips with only three?  We’re not sure, so we checked with Professor Murphy, who seems to have the requisite skills in such matters.  He told us that Murphy’s Law of Passenger Rail Operations says to figure on increasing the train sets to four for sure.  Ka-ching, ka-ching.

3)  That 4:25 am departure from Brunswick should require rolling the train set out of the MLF at 3:45 am or so, and taking it to the station.  The “Visitors Center” should be open no later than 4:00 am to service departing passengers.

4)  The 2:10 am arrival in Brunswick should require rolling the train set back to the MLF about 2:30 am or so, which means the MLF will be, for all practical purposes, operating 24 hours a day, moving trains back and forth and servicing the Downeaster train sets, however many it takes.  The “Visitors Center” should be open until 2:30 am or so to provide appropriate services and a warm welcome to arriving passengers. 

5)  So the center at the station will be busy for more than 22 hours every day.  A small price to pay for the numerous benefits of visitors bringing their dollars to town.  We trust the Taxi service and in town hotels/motels/B&B’s will be ready to pick up and check in these souls.

6)  In wintertime, the three later northbound trains from Boston will be operating in night-time conditions from end to end.  Of the southbound trains, the first and last will be operating in night-time conditions as well during the shortest days.  We trust all those charged with operating safety of the trains will be prepared for the challenges.

7)  Significant cost factors remain to be assessed and planned for, especially since the Downeaster is a ‘loss leader’ and requires perpetual subsidies to continue operating.  The failure to win their latest TIGER grant request only hints at the scale of the problem.  What will it cost to add at least one train set to the mix?  How will Amtrak’s mandated doubling of fees to operators effect fares, and hence ridership, not to mention ongoing subsidy amounts?  How much more will Brunswick have to spend annually for Station operation support?

8)  We’ll set this item aside as “TBD,” and we expect alert and insightful readers will be helping us to fill it in.


9)  Because the specifics are currently unknowable, we couldn’t even begin to factor in the additional burdens and complications of the MBTA’s proposed utilization of the Brunswick MLF as discussed in this post just two months ago:  It referred to this document which made specific reference to potential use of the Brunswick MLF.  How this would play into operating schedules for the MLF, and more importantly, track corridor utilization and management, is beyond our ken.  But Shirley knows a Ken at the responsible government agency who will take the challenge ‘under advisement.’


We’re not sure how many of you are familiar with the concept of a ‘blivot,’ but this visual hints at the meaning we learned in our college days, admittedly a very long time ago.  We’ll leave it to you to add your own nuances, based on experience you might have had with others attempting to overstuff various containers.