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.

1 comment:

  1. There is an answer to every question. If logic doesn't get it for you try common sense. If that doesn't work try wishful thinking. Our representatives in Augusta and Washington know they can count on your vote if they just promise to fulfill your wishes.