Monday, December 15, 2014

Take the B-Train; and someday soon, the A-Train?

A loyal reader recently told us about this breaking news item:

We’re filing it under shorts; fried.

And we’re here to tell you that if you thought there was no such thing as a Kool-Aid train,  you would be wrong.  We admit to being a bit surprised ourselves, but it looks like our friends to the north broke the code some time ago.  But our story here is about the A-Train, not the K-Train, though one could advance a theory that the K-Train is the progenitor of them all.

We find ourselves a bit breathless from all the hot buttons this story presses on our master control panel. so we’re simply going to give you the ‘highlights,’ and comment briefly after we do.  Emphasis is ours.


Augusta council inclined to back rail service study

A rail enthusiast says trains could bring money and development, as well as passengers, to the state capital.

AUGUSTA — With rail advocates saying Augusta is well-positioned for an eventual return of passenger train service, city councilors say they plan to approve a proposal to look into the idea.

Richard Rudolph, a director of the nonprofit rail advocacy organization Maine Rail Group, told city councilors Thursday that trains bringing passengers to and from Augusta could bring money and development to the city. That’s especially true of the area surrounding the city-owned former Statler mill on the city’s east side, which Rudolph suggested could become the station at the end of the line and a regional transportation hub.

Randolph told councilors that wherever rail lines go, transit-oriented development follows.

“So I suspect if in fact train service went over the bridge to east Augusta, onto the property the city owns, that would be a huge economic generator. And I think there is enough land over there you could certainly have a railroad station along with whatever else would be put in.”


The resolution would not obligate the city to take action, or even apply for grant funding. But it would provide an official show of support for the return of passenger rail to the city, which is something Rudolph said is needed for the process to move forward.

The council resolution will suggest that a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant be sought to fund detailed planning.

Rudolph said he believes the proposal has a good chance of winning funding in part because it is multimodal, meaning it would involve several forms and uses of transportation serving the region.


A consultant hired to examine potential uses for the Kennebec Lockes site concluded that it could be redeveloped as a mixed use commercial, residential and retail site, with a passenger train station included.  (A consultant hired by who, with whose money, we think it’s fair to ask!)

Rudolph said the city could have a small train stop downtown and have the former Statler site be home to a larger station serving the region, meaning trains would run through downtown and cross the river on a trestle.


The approximately 34 miles of inactive track between Augusta and Brunswick is owned by the state. Amtrak’s Downeaster line to Boston ends in Brunswick. The run, which previously stopped in Portland, was extended in 2012.

Rudolph said passenger rail came probably generated $50 million to $60 million in economic development in Brunswick, including a new hotel.

However, it has also generated complaints from some Brunswick residents concerned about a proposal to build a train layover facility where trains would be kept overnight. Neighbors fear that noise from idling trains might bother them.


Yessir, yessir three bowls full, though Kool-Aid traditionally comes in pitchers and glasses.  Perhaps bobbing for dollars in a tub of Kool-Aid would be a more appropriate image.

                       Bobbing for Dollars.png

Did you drink fully of the standard phraseology of contemporary big government spending with no factual basis or due diligence?  If not, let us help you drink from that grail:

Rail enthusiasts, rail advocates (see TrainRiders Northeeast); otherwise known as elite minorities looking to revive past glories, regardless of economic and physical realities.

Regional transportation hub (see Brunswick Downtown Association); grandiose but unsupported visions aimed at increasing the infusion of OPM.

Transit oriented development follows (see, Brunswick, Town of); note especially that ‘development’ preceded arrival of the transit, aided measurably by a variety of tax breaks and other incentives granted to favored ‘parties.’

Huge economic generator (hollow claims, which no one in officialdom is willing to validate); see Brunswick; ask about Portland.


Grant funding (as long as we’re out of funds, and printing more currency to deal with it, why shouldn’t we get our share?)

TIGER Grants (of which NNEPRA has lost the last three application cycles; proposals typically exceed ‘available’ funds by nearly ten to one)

Consultants (most of whom claim direct access to free money from external sources; see Grants, TIGER; see Howard; Scott)


Or, you could just summarize things by seeing Entitlement Syndrome; civic variety.

We’re reminded of two other specifics.  First, Dale McCormick, former ED of the Maine State Housing Authority, former state treasurer, and bona-fide big government groupie and true believer, especially when it comes to grants and other forms of free money, is a member of the Augusta City Council.  They deserve her, and you can take that any way you wish.

We have half a mind (watch it, smarty pants) to fire off a communiqué to the Augusta City Council, but we only have time to bang our head on so many walls.  Still, we might decide to have a little fun with this.


Then there was a recent opinion item published in the Topsham Town Cryer, in which a so-called transit expert opined about the wonders of rail travel, as if we never had passenger rail service before in this country.  His thoughts were embraced by Saint Wayne Davis of TRNE, who happens to live in the same town.

We won’t bore you with a detailed assessment here.  Suffice it to say that anyone who lives in Topsham and works in Boston is not one you should listen to on almost anything, but especially in matters of transit.

Said individual appears to have graduated from the “Downtown Association” School of glowing and unsubstantiated platitudes.  He also seems not to grasp the not-so-subtle differences between freight and passenger rail, and how their business models differ in ever so significant ways. 

Best we can surmise, he’s making a living in that quasi-governmental cloud of promotional schemers that get local agencies all atwitter with the possibilities of making their little corner of the world an economic whirlwind. 

Professionals, consultants, whatever.  A few finely tuned PowerPoint charts here, lots of buzzwords there, and next thing you know, the dollars start flowing, and nothing in the way of a return is required to earn them.  Think terms like ‘reinvention,’ ‘youthful packs of bright, ambitious change makers,’ and soon the vapors take the place of common sense.  Before you know it, you’re convinced that Maine is just a train or two away from becoming the New York metropolitan area.

Want proof?  Just look how our own Portland has been transformed in the twelve years or so since the Downeaster has been servicing the city.  Why it’s almost unrecognizable, don’t you think?

We rest our case.  And our invoice is on its way.

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