Friday, April 17, 2015

Passenger Rail Expansion: Should it signal ‘the end of the line’ for a Brunswick MLF?


How many times have we heard Patsy Quinn, Executive Director of NNEPRA, insist that Brunswick is the only possible and acceptable location for the planned $20 million Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility (MLF)?  NNEPRA, you should recall, is the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, an agency of Maine State Government, and it operates the Downeaster service that currently runs between Boston and Brunswick.

Her rationale is that the MLF decidedly belongs at ‘the end of the line.’  Which Brunswick currently is.  Just as Boston is the other ‘end of the line.’

We’re not railroad professionals, nor transportation professionals in any sense.  Still, our gut instinct is that such facilities don’t belong at the ends of a service route, but should instead be at an intermediate juncture.  Like Portland in this case.  Portland/South Portland had a chance to have this facility located there, but as we hear it, fought to see that didn’t happen.  So much so that Ed Suslovic, a Portland City Councilor, appeared at the DEP hearing on March 25th to speak in favor of the SWPA, hoping to see, we suppose, there would be not a smidgeon of a chance that the subject be reopened.  We found his appearance strange and telling, to understate things.

We think of how the airlines usually arrange things around hubs; like spokes on a wheel.  Putting the MLF at the ‘end of the line’ in Brunswick means it can only be accessed from one direction, where if it was in Portland, say, it could be accessed from the North and the South.  Wouldn’t this allow more arrival and departure flexibility, and easier assignment of operating assets?

We wonder what railroad professionals think about NNEPRA’s planning here.  We’re going to see if we can’t get a couple to chime in on this.

For our discussion tonight, though, it doesn’t matter much, because we have another point to make.

It’s that Quinn’s foundational concept of Brunswick being ‘the end of the line’ appears very squishy.

TrainRiders Northeast, the group that exists solely to lobby on all things Downeaster, including trying to impose their will on the selection of NNEPRA Board members, has an expansionist view of Downeaster service and routes.

As we’ve told you before, their ‘pro bono’ attorney looked at us when he told legislators that they “are not lobbyists, but The Downeaster would not exist without us.”  Maybe they’d feel better if we labeled them hobbyists instead of lobbyists.  Truth be known, they’re a combination of both.

As to their goals for expansion, and their egos, take a look at this item from their web site; keep in mind that track improvements run in the vicinity of $1 million or more per mile.  Equipment upgrades?  You could get to $100 million before the cock crows.


It was posted in March of last year, as part of their reporting for a NNEPRA public meeting, which they described thusly:

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.

Patricia Quinn, Executive Director of NNEPRA, answered the many questions regarding currently needed improvements (double tracking, speed and frequency of service) as well as new feeder services to the Brunswick-Boston core of the current Downeaster.

Image result for nnepra

It’s curious, obviously, how TRNE could report on March 11th of the discussions at a forum held on March 19th.  Unless you subscribe to the theory that TRNE scripts things for NNEPRA.  We wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that, but perhaps they’d like to proof-read their postings in the future to avoid creating such impressions.

Now they’re soliciting inputs on where Downeaster expansion should be prioritized.  Here’s a screen shot of that effort:


Throw in the Maine Rail Group and the other advocacy groups pushing for passenger rail to Bangor and other distant stops in Maine, and you’ve got a scenario that says 1) If NNEPRA, TRNE, and the rest have their way, passenger rail service in Maine is in its infancy, and 2) Brunswick most assuredly will not be a terminus for the service.

Which begs the question whether this should not be sufficient reason to declare that plans for a huge industrial facility in Brunswick have reached ‘the end of the line.’

Because NNEPRA’s rationale for locating it here are clearly not consistent with their expansionist plans, and will in all likelihood result in an underused, poorly accessible, and wrongly located facility at great taxpayer expense.

           Image result for white elephants

At least that’s the way it looks in view of everything we’re seeing and hearing.  And we don’t think wearing sunglasses will keep the white elephant away.

The best way to do that is to not have him come to town in the first place.  Look for love in some other place, to riff on an earlier theme.

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