Thursday, April 30, 2015

Déjà vu again: Northern New England Passenger Rail services…from other state perspectives


Strangely enough, while perusing the NNEPRA web site yesterday, an article they had posted led us to this item, whose source URL is:

We won’t vouch for the numbers presented or anything else.  We simply think inquiring minds and the intellectually curious will find the material informative.  In particular, you should notice many of the same symptoms, talking points, platitudes, pathologies, etc, that apply to our own circumstances here in Brunswick as they derive from AAB and NNEPRA activities.  Not to mention glowing consultant projections of economic growth beyond imagining.  If you’re into projections, instead of reality, you’ll probably enjoy this:

We find it amusing that the three states mentioned….Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine….really are Northern New England.

Pay particular attention to the “Champlain Flyer” material.

Here’s another item by the same author:

Be sure to read the comments attached to each column.

And if you’re the type who likes to look at ‘audits,’ you might enjoy this one; it’s very illuminating, in our view.


It might serve as a guide for OPEGA work on the NNEPRA investigation.  It shouldn’t take you long to go through it, and Side strongly encourages you to do so.  A little reality can’t hurt once in a while; it’s a good antidote to irrational exuberance fever.

(PS: Ed note – Lest you think Mr. Lemieux, author of the article below, is a “Mr. Grumpy,” as a ‘certain’ town councilor calls your correspondent, he is not.  We just learned he’s a member of the Concord, NH Transportation Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC), so he has actual credentials on the subject.


By Dick Lemieux;  January 29, 2013

          Passenger Rail: Overpriced, Underutilized

Train advocates in New Hampshire often cite Maine's Downeaster as an example of a successful train. It is not. It is an economic and transportation disaster.

The Downeaster consumes $7 million per year in taxpayer subsidies. In exchange, it attracts a minuscule market share in the corridor where it competes for passengers.

Since 2001, the Downeaster has been subsidized by the Federal highway gas tax, supplemented by a state tax that is levied on rental cars. If not for a Maine-only statutory exception that has allowed Maine to continue to use Federal funds longer than other states, both the subsidy and the Downeaster would have ended years ago.

The Downeaster is not sustainable. It cannot attract enough passengers willing to pay anywhere near the cost of providing the service. Downeaster fares are priced at a 50 percent discount on its real operating cost. Still, the train only attracts about 740 round trip passengers per day out of the hundreds of thousands of people who live and travel in the Downeaster's service area. It has not relieved highway congestion in any noticeable way.

One might expect that Maine would be looking for ways to put the Downeaster on a path to financial sustainability. Instead, last year Maine spent $38.3 million Federal tax dollars to push Downeaster service 30 miles further into sparsely populated areas. The expansion is expected to attract fewer than 50 new round trip passengers per day. Operation of the extension is sure to result in higher annual deficits, which will worsen the Downeaster's already bad cost and service metrics.

A second nearby example, not so often cited by rail proponents (for reasons that will become obvious), adds to our understanding of the economic, environmental and energy realities of passenger rail in rural states.

Between December 2000 and February 2003, Vermont’s "Champlain Flyer" ran an average of 7.5 round trip trains a day 13 miles each way, between Charlotte and Burlington. All decisions to proceed with the project were based on predictions and estimates that should have led to the opposite decision: Do Not Proceed. In approving a multimillion-dollar project that clearly offered no offsetting benefits, Vermont and Federal agencies gave us a documented model of bad decision-making that led up to a train that should never have left the gate. Vermont's final decision to proceed with the Flyer was based on the results of a "Major Investment Study" (MIS), like the one now being proposed in NH for the "Capitol Corridor" commuter rail project.

The Champlain Flyer cost $19,112,317 to build - 147 percent over budget. It cost an average of $2,526,943 per year to operate - 177 percent over budget. It carried about 230 one-way passengers a day - 61 percent less than predicted, and it took in an average of $37,734 a year in ticket sales - 74 percent less than predicted. The average train carried 15.2 passengers - the capacity of a passenger van. The fare, after a four-month long free trial, was $1 - 3 percent of the $32.82 per passenger cost to operate the train. Even at a 97 percent discount, the equivalent of one in 1,275 Chittenden County residents chose to take a round trip on the train on a daily basis. State officials not only underestimated their costs, they also overestimated their market.

As a result, the train lost a lot of money. While the project was supposed to reduce congestion on nearby Route 7, save gas and reduce air pollution, it did none of those things. To the contrary, a postmortem audit of the Champlain Flyer, ordered by the Vermont Legislature, revealed the following:

  • Congestion. The train shaved an imperceptible 3 seconds off the 15 minute trip on Route 7. Vehicle miles traveled on Route 7 were reduced by about one quarter of one percent.
  • Fuel use. During the 27 months it was in service, the Champlain Flyer resulted in a savings of 118,634 gallons of gasoline, due to the cars that would have been on the road had the service not been operating. During the same time, the train consumed 277,943 gallons of diesel fuel. In other words, it burned 2.34 gallons of diesel fuel for each gallon of gas it saved. The cost of the diesel fuel was largely borne by taxpayers who didn't ride the train, while the gas that would have been bought by drivers would have generated $45,555 in state and Federal gas tax revenue.
  • Air pollution. On an annualized basis, the Flyer was responsible for a net reduction of 21 tons of carbon monoxide (CO) emissions. That's the good news. The bad news is that it also resulted in a net increase of 49.5 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and a net increase of 781 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. Region wide, the train was responsible for a 0.5 percent increase in air pollution and a 0.09 percent increase in greenhouse gases. The real air quality benefits of this project were realized when it ended. Vermont should have gotten some kind of air quality improvement award for returning passengers to their cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars!
  • Economic Growth. The auditor's report is silent on how much economic growth resulted from the state's "investment" in the Flyer. Maybe that was the big undocumented payoff. Maybe The Train That Gobbled Up Money By The Caboose-Load sparked multiple millions of dollars worth of new development. Maybe. If so, the auditors forgot to mention it.

In January 2003, Vermont's Secretary of Transportation said on Vermont Public Radio, "It's cost the Flyer $150,000 a month to run and we have expended our federal dollars and now we are looking at state dollars to continue the Flyer....” After little more than two years of operation, Federal funds ran out. Predictably, the Champlain Flyer was shut down the following month. Only through the involuntary good graces of highway taxpayers was it able to survive as long as it did.

In 27 months, The Little Train That Couldn't spent $265 for every dollar it took in, it burned up 159,309 gallons more fuel than it saved and added a net of 1,868 tons of pollutants to Vermont's air, all while making an insignificant difference in congestion.

Could this calamity have been predicted? Yes. In fact, it was. But, the handwriting on the wall was ignored.

In 1993, when VT was where NH is now, rail advocates and their consultants were predicting the train could be built for $8.8 million and operated at a net loss of between $835 and $875 thousand a year with an estimated 460 to 978 passengers a day. That was a plan that predicted losing money forever.

Unswayed by those dire predictions, the state rehired the same transit consultant, who came back in 1995 with a modified plan to build the train for a million dollars less than their initial estimate, expand the recommended service from 750 to 5,110 round trip trains (not passengers) per year, lower the fare from $1.25 to one dollar, reduce revenues by almost 50 percent and, magically, only increase annual operating losses by 10 percent from their earlier estimate.

Predicting an annual operating deficit between $834 and $995 thousand, this plan too was a recipe for fiscal disaster. Even if they had not exceeded their cost estimates and even if they had not overestimated revenue, on its face it was still a bad plan.

Nobody pulled the wool over their eyes. Yet Vermont officials, eager to have their train, proceeded with the project as if they didn't believe the dire predictions they had paid for. Vermont’s Governor told reporters, "This is the beginning, I hope, of a real renaissance in rail."

What could they have been thinking?

Twenty years later, NH is now where VT was in 1993: that is, staring at the first forecast of doom and deciding whether or not it would be smart to spend more money on another study that would, at best, forecast lesser doom.

The most recent consultant study estimated the Capital Corridor train would cost taxpayers $300 million to build and $4.6 million a year (initially), over and above expected revenue, to operate. If history is a guide, those numbers are optimistically low. Yet, they still predict financial disaster.

The objective of the project is to provide a "transportation choice" to a predicted 600 commuters a day, going to their higher paying out-of-state jobs. Shifting those 600 commuters from buses and cars to trains will, the wishful thinking goes, reduce congestion, save gas, reduce emissions, stimulate economic growth (that far exceeds the enormous investment), create hundreds of jobs (without eliminating any) and bring about general euphoria.

How many more failed expensive experiments will it take before public officials wake up to the fact that passenger rail in rural states is a colossal money pit? Time after time, states fall for proponents’ sales pitch that trains are a more efficient way of moving people than roads and, time after time, the transportation marketplace proves them wrong.

Hope springs eternal. Maybe, as the wishful thinking continues, if we spend enough money on enough consultant studies, we can come up with more favorable (if not more believable) estimates of cost and ridership, in spite the odds against it. And, if not? Well…. So what! We can't be left in the dust. We have to keep up with our neighbors in Maine and Vermont or everybody will think we're hicks!

Seduced by the thought of free Federal money but armed with the knowledge of two colossal failures, one on either side of us, and certain massive subsidies to follow, how will the Executive Council vote on the pending proposal to enter into another expensive rail feasibility study? Odds are such a study would only yield projections they will have to ignore anyway (like Vermont did) to get to proponents’ objective of restoring passenger rail in NH. Judging by past experience, odds of a positive return on investment are better with Megabucks. Will the governor and Executive Council be willing to gamble $1.9 million on another sure failure?

What are they thinking?



Provocative, don’t you think?  We wonder what All Aboard New Hampshire and All Aboard Vermont, not to mention All Aboard Champlain, have to say about the articles, audits, and such.

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They must have pooches of their own, though we’re not sure what breeds they might be.

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Not to mention other members of the animal set.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Schadenfreude all over again….

A letter appeared in today’s Ostrich, using our commentary of last week as a launch point for the same old, same old tired talking points about the MLF issue.  We present it here for your reading pleasure, in its ‘native’ columnar format.


In response to
‘Wrong Town’

Wrong town? What’s Pem Schaeffer
talking about?
Brunswick has always been a
train town. Trains and railroads
were in Brunswick from the beginning.
Rails helped build
Brunswick, moving people and
freight in and out of Brunswick
and the Mid-coast area all before
Mr. Schaeffer, Mr. Gerzofsky and
most everyone in the Bouchard
Drive neighborhood were even
So, trains are right for
Brunswick. Trains could and do
help with Bowdoin College,
Brunswick Landing business park
and airport, Bath Iron Works and
tourism, in general.
One locomotive can move a lot of
cars, no matter what’s in those cars
— passengers or freight. I guess
there will be some pollution in the
air and stormwater runoff, anything’s
possible, but that one locomotive
or two or three, compared
to the hundreds or thousands of
passenger cars and freight trucks
we have in Brunswick and the Midcoast.
I bet it would surprise people
how much pollution is put out in
the Bouchard Drive neighborhood.
Let’s see, each house has oil/gas
furnace in the house that pollutes.
Each house had a car or two that
pollute when they idle and move
about the town. They wash their
cars, water the grass and gardens,
there’s pollution with stormwater
Wrong town? What’s wrong is
that Brunswick and the towns in
the state don’t embrace mass transit.
Rail service would take more
traffic off the roads. Maine roads
are bad and need repair because of
too much car and truck traffic on
them, and more cars and trucks
means more pollution, and wear
and tear on the roads. One locomotive
moves many cars with freight
or people, meaning less pollution,
and less wear and tear on our crappy
Regardless of the outcome with
Amtrak and layover facility in
Brunswick, I only hope that the
people that make up the Bouchard
Drive neighborhood, Mr. Gerzofsky
and the Brunswick West group put
their time, mouths, money and
energy into other causes like better
jobs, welfare abuse, better schools,
roads and lower taxes.
But they won’t, because all they
care about is their own backyard,
not the betterment of the town,
Mid-coast and state as a whole.
Remember, they built or moved to
that neighborhood with train
tracks there, the train didn’t build
in their backyard. They live in the
railroad’s backyard.

Tim Halpin, Harpswell


We thought we recognized the name of the author, and sure enough, we were right.  Turns out he wrote a similar letter little more than a year ago, to which we responded with the following post, titled:

Schadenfreude, Harpswell Variety


(Ed note: File this one under schadenfreude, which we introduced you to yesterday.)

Remember the Harpswell LNG tanker terminal controversy of some years back?  The idea was to ‘repurpose’ the decommissioned fuel supply terminal in Harpswell that once delivered aviation fuel to the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Here’s at least one archived article to remind you of what it was about:

As it happens, we came upon a letter to the editor in today’s Ostrich from a Harpswell resident.  It reads as follows:

Enough already with the train foes

To the Editor:

Enough already with Save Brunswick West.

After three years of bellyaching over the train layover area, I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: The trains and their tracks have been in the same spot for very long.

I’m 45 and they have been in the same spot. My grandma used to tell stories about her using the train in her younger days. My point is that those tracks and the trains have in Brunswick longer than most of the Save Brunswick West members have been alive.

Why did you move in to a house so close the tracks if you’re a railroad hater?

Asking the Town Council for their support is wrong. The Town Council is there for the entire town of Brunswick and the taxpayers of Brunswick, not just your street.

Timothy Halpin

This letter, after a bit of cobweb removal, reminded us of that controversy.

So we posted this comment to the letter on line:

If you don't know the difference between a train and a 600 + foot long 40 foot high building, maybe you should abstain from this conversation. Hint: It's a BIG difference, kind of like the difference between a lobster boat passing your waterfront property, and a supertanker mooring off your deck.

Doesn’t anyone these days have the ability to stop for a moment and think critically?  Is the general public so information starved that they have no sense of proportion and context?

If this is typical of society these days, we’ve got far bigger problems than running loss leader Amtrak ego-trips to Brunswick, so they can cart area residents and their shekels elsewhere. 

Though perhaps none more illuminating.


A few days later, we posted these additional thoughts on our blog:

While we’re at it, we’d like to add a note to get rid of a yellow sticky we’ve had on our keyboard since we posted about Schadenfreude, Harpswell Variety.


We’d like to hear back from Timothy Halpin, the Harpswell resident who wrote the subject letter, whether he wrote a similar letter indicting his fellow residents when they groused over the potential for an LNG tanker depot on their fair shores.

We imagine he could have said something like this:

Enough already with Save Harpswell’s Waterfront

After years of bellyaching over the LNG depot area, I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: the coastline, the water, the boats, and their sea lanes have been in the same spot for very long.

I’m 35 and they been in the same spot, even when my grandma told stories about riding on boats in her younger days.  My point is that the water and the boats have been in Harpswell longer than most of the Save Harpswell’s Waterfront members have been alive.

Why did you move in to a house so close to the water if you’re a ship hater?

Asking the selectmen and the public for support is wrong.  The selectmen are there for the entire town and the taxpayers of Harpswell, not just your property.

We hope he’ll get back to us on this, just as we hope we wake up tomorrow with a full head of hair, and find ourselves 20 years younger, 50 pounds lighter, and with a winning lottery ticket.

Who knows; maybe in a few years the LNG tanker proposal will come back, and we can schaden some freude in Timothy’s general direction.


So we offer this response to his letter of today:  Back at you, pal.  Try writing something new that might advance the discussion, instead of offering the same old baloney.


Not that baloney isn’t a favored treat of engaged locals.  Think of it as the equivalent of Spam in the great debate over passenger rail rebirth.  Or if you wish, food for thought for the easily influenced. 

Neither Spam nor baloney have GMO content, which makes them all the more popular and trendy in our midst.

Booches, Pooches, and bees in bonnets

A Response to Emily Boochever

By Pem Schaeffer

You remember the Booch, don’t you?  She’s the kindly soul who put forth the fine example of harassment shown in our earlier post:  Not to mention a number of other efforts to chill civil discourse.

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Looks from here like the Booch train is at risk of going off the rails.  Maybe the harsh winter, with DEP hearings and OPEGA commissioning and LD 439 Consideration have weakened her underlying rail bed, and she’ll have to lower her speed while repairs are made.


Turns out Ms. Boochever, as she is known in polite circles, had a column published in The Ostrich on Monday, entitled “A Response to Pem Schaeffer.”  It attempts to refute or diminish our opinion piece in the same paper the prior week, which we posted for you here.

We’ll do our best to cite her assertions and comments, and deal with them one by one.

  • Pem Schaeffer’s commentary in the April 22 issue of the Times Record directly contradicts Senator Gerzofsky’s stated rationale for requesting an OPEGA (Office of Professional Evaluation and Government Accountability) audit of NNEPRA…..

We’re not quite sure what the Booch’s point is here.  We didn’t address Senator Gerzofsky’s ‘stated rationale,’ so we didn’t ‘contradict’ it. She can rail on about the subject, but she’s just doing it to hear herself talk, rather than responding to or refuting what we wrote.  We cited the OPEGA effort as an open investigation into NNEPRA operations, which creates a penumbra of uncertainty going forward

  • as Mr. Schaeffer demonstrates, the audit request serves as a sort of political Petri dish, a vessel in which insinuations, misinformation, and disinformation about the BLF and NNEPRA can incubate and multiply, with the ultimate goal of stalling the project and eventually killing it off.

Talk about insinuations!  Ms. Boochever has publicly demonized several local residents, and chased down background data on Brunswick’s incumbent state senator, who apparently angers her, as do others, we can only assume.  Her comments and actions are a ‘petri dish’ in which the politics of personal demonization can thrive, with the ultimate hope of eventually killing off opposition to her favored public ‘investments.’

  • This is not to say that the rail agency should never be subject to an OPEGA audit, but rather to suggest that NNEPRA’s operations give little cause for concern.

To begin with, Ms. Booch is trying to convince you that an OPEGA ‘audit’ is an exercise in green eyeshade review, where balance sheets are checked for accuracy.  Note the mention of an ‘accounting firm’ and ‘scrutinizing of agency financial operations.’

We can play semantics over the word ‘audit,’ but a review of OPEGA functions, as shown here, reveals their interests are far deeper and wider than checking the math.


OPEGA's Mission: (

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) exists to support the Legislature in monitoring and improving the performance of State government by conducting independent, objective reviews of State programs and activities with a focus on effectiveness, efficiency and economical use of resources.

OPEGA conducts objective and independent performance audits of State government programs and activities to ensure they are achieving intended results and are effective, efficient and economical. Within this context, OPEGA also evaluates compliance with laws, regulations, policies and procedures.

Using an independent perspective, OPEGA:

  • provides timely and credible information for identifying risks and making decisions;

  • facilitates positive change by recognizing excellence, recommending improvements and working collaboratively to assure effective action is taken; and

  • fosters a more complete and accurate understanding of State government through its reports and communications.


Besides, those familiar with credible enterprise/agency ‘audits’ in the higher sense know the term has a more profound meaning.  According to a professional with decades of experience in such efforts: 

“concerning audits, there are at least two types: financial statement audit and operational audit. The purpose of the former, financial statement, is to attest as to fairness of presentation of the financial position, results of operations and cash flows so users of these financial statements can make prudent investment decisions.
The purpose of an operational audit is to uncover waste, fraud and abuse, evaluate program and management effectiveness, e.g. are the funds being used effectively, are the funds being used for designated purposes rather than misuse of funds, e.g. staff massages or parties with public funds (MSHA).  OPEGA is obviously concerned with operational audits”

  • …to suggest that NNEPRA’s operations give little cause for concern.

We should expect nothing less from one who closes their column with gratuitous boot licking of NNEPRA’s ED and the founder of TRNE, their lobbying group, and spiritual father of NNEPRA.

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Oh, if the Booch only took the time to see outside her rose colored glasses.  She herself has written publicly suggesting that the NNEPRA Board should behave as rubber stamps, rather than overseers of the public trust assigned to the agency.  Inversion of leadership roles is a constant concern in such instances, where connection to day to day Department oversight is virtually non-existent, and the agency floats in a muddled mix of municipal, state, and federal programs and interests.  This is not a viable model for success.

How much are New Hampshire and Massachusetts contributing to offset Downeaster operating deficits?  Why aren’t fares set to cover operating costs?  Why is it that many state legislators, and surely the majority of the public, think NNEPRA is a federal agency, outside the control of State Government?  How much is being paid to Brunswick Taxi for transporting Downeaster crews back and forth to Portland twice a day, every day of the year?  Was that contract awarded competitively?

Why has management been unable to plan for and effectively address on time performance and weather related track maintenance?

The fares are set, by statutory decree, to ‘encourage use of this service.’  Imagine if similar law was applied to sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes.  Wouldn’t it be grand if state and municipal officials were compelled to set tax rates at levels that would encourage moving to Maine and Brunswick?  And encourage new economic development?  Regardless of what operating deficits such levels might cause?


Those familiar with the issues and agency operations since inception know there is much below the surface that calls for detailed examination of accountability and decision making effectiveness.

  • Mr. Schaeffer’s description of the actions taken by the Government Oversight Committee (GOC), which OPEGA serves, is inaccurate.

Ummm…we’re not sure what the author is getting at here.  We simply stated that the GOC ‘unanimously voted’ to have OPEGA ‘conduct a detailed investigation into NNEPRA’s operations.’  The unanimous vote is on the record; if the author has a problem with the words ‘detailed investigation,’ let her make the case that they are wrong.  We know she likes the word audit, but it seems like this is an objection without distinction or merit, as previously addressed.

  • Mr. Schaeffer’s interpretation of NNEPRA’s plans for expansion of passenger rail service to other Maine cities is speculative. It is clear that he has never checked his “facts” with NNEPRA or Ms. Quinn. 

Excuse me?  Later in her column, the author shoots herself in the foot with this passage:

  • “There is strong demand for rail service throughout Maine. Look at two bills making their way through this legislative session: L.D. 1174, which proposes “to study the feasibility … of providing passenger rail service to the City of Bangor,” and L.D. 323, “An Act To Provide Funding to the Department of Transportation [DOT] To Complete the Assessment for … the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Line,” which NNEPRA supported as amended. NNEPRA seeks to collaborate with DOT and Maine cities to bring feeder rail lines into service and connect them to a strengthened Downeaster.”

Of course, strictly speaking, continued existence of the Downeaster is ‘speculative.’  Perhaps what we have here is a ‘failure to communicate.’  One of the quirks of rail operations is that stretches of track have formal names, and passenger trains that operate upon them have formal names of their own.  Words like ‘lines’ become confusing in many cases, such as when the author talks of bringing ‘feeder rail lines into service and connect them to a strengthened Downeaster.’  Whatever the hell that means; we’re not sure that’s a rail expert’s terminology.  Regardless, NNEPRA is charged with establishing passenger rail service, independent of what the track sections or trains themselves are named.

“Strong demand?”  From who?  Local and state politicians looking for truckloads of OPM to indulge their fantasies?  Real estate developers looking to leverage the profligate spending of public monies, without any evidence of merit?  Or calling for objective evidence of benefit in places like Brunswick?  Which subject Boochever scrupulously avoids, we should note.

The Booch might also look into these items:

and (

NNEPRA Holds Pubic Forum on Improving Downeaster Service

Published on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 13:54
Written by TRN Webmaster


NNEPRA held a public meeting on Wednesday (March 19th) to discuss the Amtrak Downeaster Service Development Plan. It was a well-attended public forum that focused on extending Downeaster service to Lewiston-Auburn, Augusta and beyond New England to New York City.

TrainRiders/Northeast spoke in support of multiple extensions, particularly an effort to connect Maine through Worcester to Penn Station in New York, where a whole new market for travel to and from Maine awaits.

TRNE published this comment on Quinn’s appearance before the town council two nights ago:

“She assured the council that the Downeaster service is confined to Brunswick through Boston and would not expand. If additional feeder services from other Maine cities are approved, they would most likely connect to the system in Portland.”

We don’t know about you, but that statement of and by itself seems to document things with a forked tongue.  Terms like ‘feeder services’ seem once again intended to confuse issues.  Is that a track or a train?  Is it a passenger ‘service?’

In short, while we base our view on published reports, assertions that NNEPRA and Quinn have no plans for expansion of passenger rail service are patently absurd.  Using the word ‘interpretation’ in this context is meaningless, especially since the supposedly authoritative sources themselves are all over the place with their comments and terminology.  Perhaps double speak is endemic to those who operate on two rails.

  • Mr. Schaeffer not only repeats the Bouchard Drive neighbors’ contention that the BLF will not reduce the number of hours that trains spend idling, he takes that claim to a whole new level, asserting that the facility will increase idling time to “perhaps” 30 to 50 hours a day.

What we wrote in our column is this:

“Construction of the MLF will increase the daily idling of locomotives in Brunswick by an order of magnitude, from 3-5 hours per day to perhaps ten times that amount.”

OK, let’s go over the basics.  NNEPRA operates three Downeaster train sets.  The current Maintenance and Layover Facility is adjacent to the Portland Transportation Center.  By our estimates, the trains are parked and idling for an aggregate of 40 plus hours per day (or more, under current circumstances of cancelled runs, etc.)

The proposed Brunswick Maintenance and Layover Facility will handle three complete train sets inside the building, and we understand a spare engine might be kept on standby outside the building.  Our operating assumption is that most, if not all, of the idling that currently takes place in Portland will take place in Brunswick if and when the building is built.

We’ve heard for years that shutting the engines down completely is not possible, practical, or advisable for any number of reasons.  Therefore, we should expect Portland practices to continue in Brunswick, until demonstrated otherwise.  And if the trains can and will be shutdown in Brunswick, they could and should be shut down in Portland (most of the time) using the same auxiliary equipment.  Of course, since no detailed operations plan is available, estimates are the best we can do.

Current operations result in idling of one train set in Brunswick between 3 to 5 hours per day (assuming scheduled operations occur.)  Increasing aggregate idling in Brunswick to 30 or more hours per day seems to us like ‘perhaps ten times’ the current amount.  QED.

At the broader environmental level, including carbon footprint, etc, whether the trains idle in Portland, or Brunswick, or a combination of both (plus future sites, like Lewiston), this is a Maine problem at lminimum.  And we won’t count on engines being shut down until we have conclusive reasons to believe that.  In which case we would expect concerned environmentalists to be yelling “why has it taken you 15 years to do something about this?????”

The Booch is free, of course, to replay her favorite FONSI talking points.  But since we never came close to mentioning such things, it does nothing in the way of responding on point to our column.

  • Finally, I believe Maine owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Wayne Davis, without whom there would be no Downeaster, and to Patricia Quinn, who has overseen the Downeaster’s dramatic growth in ridership and popularity and remains optimistic about the prospects for passenger rail in Maine despite the past winter’s challenges.


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To repeat, we find this closing gratuitous and obsequious, in keeping with the Kool-Aid politics of passenger rail these days, and the determination of a small group of zealots and elites to have the wants of the few financed by taking the assets of the many, using whatever trumped up rationale they can sell at the moment.  Could she be angling to get the MLF named after Saint Wayne?

Closing Argument:

Plaintiff has demonstrably failed to invalidate the premise of our case, and the arguments advanced to support it.  Therefore, our conclusion stands as originally presented:

“Regardless of the outcome regarding NNEPRA's SWPA for the MLF and LD 439, the plan to construct an MLF in Brunswick is fatally flawed for compelling reasons associated with location, timing, and rationale. Existing plans are premature, clouded by organizational concerns, and lacking in credible reasoning. Those responsible for overseeing NNEPRA performance should make respect for the public trust their top priority, and suspend or outright cancel plans of record for construction of the facility.”

Defense therefore moves for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s charges.

The defense rests.



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One of these days we could all have a lively discussion over coffee or adult beverages about where Ms. Boochever fits in the pantheon of the train-loving aristocracy here in Brunswick.  For the time being, however, we think benevolent advice for her is in order.

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Yielding to the the winds of life might help her avoid the various alternatives for which she has shown a penchant in recent times.


There’s already enough smoke polluting our air these days. We trust Ms. Boochever doesn’t want to make it any worse.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oh, to be the Grand High Poohbah of Brunswick

                                          Image result for grand high poobah

We were going to say “Oh, to be the King of Brunswick,” but that would be too ambiguous, for too many reasons.  And fraught with any number of other potholes.

If we were, we’d be issuing orders to the Town Council and relevant town staff, including John Eldridge, immediately.

The orders would read as follows:


Date: 28 April 2015

Subject: Orders Re: Visit to Amtrak Facility at PTC

From: Grand High Poohbah Poppycock

Priority: Highest


At last night’s Town Council Meeting, Ms. Patricia Quinn, ED of NNEPRA, invited the Town Council and Staff for a tour of the Amtrak/Downeaster layover facility in Portland.  Several members of the council responded enthusiastically to the offer.

You are hereby directed that before making the trip to Portland, you are to first arrange for a tour of the proposed MLF area, while a Downeaster is there idling, and a related tour of the Bouchard Drive neighborhood, including backyards and properties of effected residents.  This tour is to be arranged and conducted by those who live and work in that area as pre-requisite for any guided tour in Portland.

Someone will be contacting you shortly to arrange a date and time for said tour here on town resident and constituents’ home grounds.

Full compliance with this directive is mandatory, and failure to do so will be grounds for downgrade in rank and removal from office.

By direction,



How’s that for living in a dream world?  But trust us, the message is meant with all due seriousness.

Why?  Because some time ago, after we first experienced the olfactory pleasures of an idling Downeaster on the tracks near Church Road, we contacted Susan Wilson, our own Town Councilor, to describe what we had experienced, and how startling it was to us.  After a conversation of a few minutes, we invited her to join us trackside at her earliest convenience so she could personally experience the same thing.

That quickly ended our conversation.  She wanted no part of it, and didn’t want to discuss the subject any further.  This made an indelible impression on us, and not a good one.  We took it as indicative of council posture on the subject at that time.


You know: talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.

We’re more convinced than ever that since the council has now engaged with NNEPRA on the subject of Downeaster operations, they need to correct that prior stance, and immerse themselves in the realities that town residents have to live with.

                                      Image result for grand high poobah

Which is why our role of Grand High Poohbah of Brunswick has never risen higher than cartoon status.  But at least we can laugh, rather than walk around in sour-puss garb all the time.

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Ducks, TrainRiders Northeast, and confirmed suspicions…


On a number of occasions, we’ve asserted that TrainRiders Northeast (TRNE) is a lobbyist organization for NNEPRA and the Downeaster.  Recently, F. Bruce Sleeper, shown

here in action at the DEP SWPA hearing on March 25th in Brunswick, challenged us on that view.

The challenge took place at the Public Hearing for LD 439 before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, in the State Capitol, on March 26th of this year, the day after the DEP hearing.  We were in attendance, and sitting off to the side of the podium from which members of “the public” would address the committee.

Sleeper was one of those speakers, rising to speak in opposition to LD 439 (IE: asking for an “Ought Not To Pass” referral to the full legislature).


As he addressed the committee and introduced himself, he turned towards your reporter and pointedly stated “by the way, we are not lobbyists for NNEPRA, but the Downeaster would not exist were it not for us.”

He then proceeded to deliver his remarks, the opening page of which is shown here:


You can read the entire document here:

Note that he submitted the testimony on the TRNE official letterhead, and that he is an officer and legal counsel for the organization; one who knows all about their finances.

Now as Sam Ervin might have said, ‘we’re just an old country blogger.’  And ‘we’re also an old country bumpkin retired engineer.’  But as we see it, the statement above is “lobbying.”  Which is defined thusly:

  • verb (used without object), lobbied, lobbying.

4. to solicit or try to influence the votes of members of a legislative body.

  • verb (used with object), lobbied, lobbying.

5. to try to influence the actions of (public officials, especially legislators).

6. to urge or procure the passage of (a bill), by lobbying.

Furthermore, TRNE is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization under federal law, which is readily verifiable through a variety of public sources:



Harking back to our ‘old country blogger’ stature, it’s our understanding that 501(C)3 organizations are prohibited from lobbying, which it clearly seems that our man Sleeper did in this case.

                                    Image result for bruce sleeper maine attorney

We also recall that last year, Wayne Davis, founder and head of TRNE, issued a statement threatening that his organization would work to defeat Governor LePage in his re-election bid because of his ‘interference’ with the Federal Railroad Administration’s adjudication of the Environmental Approval process for the Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility.

                             Image result for wayne davis TRN

We don’t think 501(C)3’s are supposed to do that, either.   On a related point, we note that Sleeper’s testimony reflects a substantial amount of detailed effort on his part, all of which must take away time from his participation in his law firm’s business.  We trust there are no other means by which he’s being paid for his TRNE Downeaster related professional efforts.


But what do we know about such things?  We’re more adept at identifying ducks when we see them.


We can’t help but think, however, that young F. Bruce forgot one of the lessons his parents tried to teach him when they caught him telling fibs.


In closing, let’s just celebrate the ducks’ involvement with our beloved Downeaster.


We understand they’ll soon be marketing a computer game (not for profit, though) to easily influenced youngsters.  And that they’ll be selling TRNE Train Host tchotchke's at the Brunswick Departure Center in Maine Street Station, and on board the trains as well.



Which suggests a new sticker needs to be printed up for Downeaster advocates to go along with their AAB (All About Boochever) stickers:

                              Image result for duck on tracks

We had hoped one day to see this happen in the seat of our town’s government and the State Capitol:


But even we know what a snowball’s chance in hell is.  At least in the warmer seasons there.

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