Sunday, May 31, 2015

Swamp gas footprint…and the scale of civic importance in Brunswick

Whether we wanted to or not, we’ve had a few more thoughts related to the clap-traporama post we published on Thursday:  Which means, as usual, that we’re going to shower them upon you our loyal or not-so-loyal readers.  Free of charge, of course, as usual.  An ‘amuse bouche,’ as it were.

‘Carbon footprint’ is the favored bludgeon of the culture warriors of our day, but from what we’ve read and heard lately, we think swamp gas footprint is a far more immediate threat to Brunswick’s future ‘sustainability.’


It may sound far-fetched, but it would go a long ways toward clearing things up.


Let’s begin today’s disclosure by looking at some pictures, so following along isn’t too complicated.

This is a mountain:

Image result for mountain

This is a mole-hill:

       Image result for mole hill

This is an elephant:

Image result for elephant

This is a gnat; be sure to notice the gnat’s eyebrows; one is markedly different than the other:

      Image result for gnat

This is a flea:

      Image result for flea

These are flea’s eggs:

       Image result for flea eggs

Can you see the fleas and the flea eggs on the elephant?

Now we’ll move on to numbers.

$10,000; this is the amount discussed by the Brunswick Town Council that led to this recent coverage in The Ostrich; note the Page 1, ‘above the fold’ placement:

$15,000; this is the amount PER STUDENT the Brunswick School department is planning to spend in the coming school year.  And there are roughly 2,400 students in the system.  This is the coverage The Ostrich has invested in detailed analysis of our school system’s spending this year, and in every past year in recent decades:

                                                             Image result for nullity

You might say it usually appears on page 9 of an 8 page paper.  Others might suggest The Ostrich is a journalistic black hole when it comes to such information, and an even more outrageous concept - analysis.

                      Image result for black hole

Which is similar to the attention our town council has devoted to detailed discussion of these uncomfortable realities in budget deliberations over the same decades.  The most important metric, ignored by both….our elected ‘leaders’ and their ‘watchdogs’….is the growth in per-student spending, and what the return on that spending is.

Does it seem to you, like it seems to us, that our elected officials’ ‘laser like focus’ on the town’s budget and property tax burden is aimed at flea’s eggs, rather than elephants?  And that they have a penchant for turning mole-hills into mountains, right before the public’s eyes? Especially if it will help distract attention from their lack of willingness and ability to manage the town enterprise with forthright leadership, accountability, and rationality?

Since we don’t impose any expectations upon them, we shouldn’t be surprised this is what we get, frankly.  Overall societal decline in expectations is why we find ourselves where we are.  It shows in our government run schools, and it shows in the dismal behavior of the general citizenry.  Mediocrity reigns.

Humility, integrity, and pursuit of excellence (both personal and organizational) have been superseded by a sense of pretentiousness and prideful arrogance.


“Hey…what’s it to you, wise guy?  Mind your own damn business!”

Which is why our general sense is that Council chambers are suffering from oxygen depletion, and the not so faint aroma of swamp gas, if only in a figurative sense.  Perhaps it’s time to open the windows and let in some fresh air….figuratively speaking…..if that sounds more civil.

Now that we’re on this track, we can’t help but think of this passage from one of the articles on which we performed a clap-trap analysis a few days ago:

Pan Am Railways and Amtrak have other safety measures in place on the line in Maine and New Hampshire, Quinn said. Engineers must press a button every 30 seconds to demonstrate they are alert, she said, and dispatchers can determine a train’s speed at any time by tracking its GPS signal. Amtrak managers also conduct random compliance checks to make sure engineers are following speed limits and other rules.

Why not adapt this technology for council meetings…..a button that must be pressed every minute or so to demonstrate councilors are awake, alert, and getting enough oxygen.  Maybe they could add those clever little blood oxygen sensors that clip onto one’s finger at each seat at the council horseshoe.   When any councilor’s O2 level falls below accepted norms, an alarm could go off at their position, along with a flashing red light above the Council Chair position. 
No sense letting the council action train go off the rails without warning, right?

Pursuing the same post facto thought pattern, we wondered whether paraphrasing the comments by various councilors cited in last night’s post might provide some amusement and enlightening contrast.  Here’s what we ended up with:

Original: Several councilors said their objections were based on the fact that the finance committee has not discussed changing that policy.

Original: “We haven’t really vetted them,” said Councilor Dan Harris. “I have no idea what their salaries are for their staff. … We have an obligation to know where that money’s going.”

Notional paraphrase: “We haven’t really vetted the school department,” said Councilor Dan Harris.  “I have no idea what their salaries are for their staff. …..We have an obligation to know where that $36 million is going.”

Original: Councilor Kathy Wilson suggested money ought to be taken from the school budget in order to fund MCHPP, while adding that students, school staff and supporters haven’t done enough to raise money to offset the cost of Brunswick High School’s graduation.

Notional Paraphrase: Councilor Kathy Wilson suggested the MCHPP ought to be brought under the jurisdiction of the School Department, adding that the department already provides thousands of free and reduced cost meals to town residents every school day.

Original: “I’m not comfortable in just throwing money at them,” said Councilor David Watson. “I’ve heard their meals are fine but everything else is candy. I just want to know whether this is going to go to a good cause.”

Notional Paraphrase: “I’m not comfortable in just throwing millions at the School Department,” said Councilor David Watson.  “I’ve heard their recess periods are fine, but everything else is a joke.  I just want to know whether this is going to a good education, or just higher paid teachers without any improvement in results.”

Original: “It almost seems absurd we’re going to argue over 10,000 bucks,” said Harris, “but I’m going to argue anyway.”

Notional Paraphrase: “It almost seems absurd we’re going to argue over $15,000 bucks per student per  year,” said Harris, “but I’m going to argue anyway.”

                   Image result for bert and ernie

We had begun to miss ‘a certain’ unique aspect of the town council since it was reconstituted in the last election.  But we’re beginning to think a talented stand-in for one of the established roles has been permanently elevated to the position.

Lastly, we note the town, ‘led’ by the council and art-focused local groups, has a distinct emphasis on using ‘pieces’ by established and not-so-established artistes to enrich our local environs, including council chambers.  We have a suggestion along related lines.
Behold these examples of caricatures:

Image result for caricatureImage result for caricature

Can’t you just feel the excitement that would ensue from the town commissioning a noted (or not so noted) caricature artist to create ‘impressions’ of each of the leaders seated at the horseshoe table in council chambers?  And then ceremoniously displaying them in said chambers, instead of those boring, so yesterday, group photos?  And the other non-descript pieces embellishing the walls?

Oh, By-the-Ways:

As we suggested above, the MCHPP should consider having itself absorbed into the School Department, which would ensure steady funding increases in the future, no matter the tax burden upon the town.  For the same reason, the Curtis Memorial Library should look into a similar merger.

On another note, imagine if the Downeaster was idling within footsteps of the HBS School.  Or the Library.  Schoolies with hair on fire!  Bookies with hair on fire!  Town Councilors aghast!

Why have there been no similar concerns over idling within footsteps of the MCHPP facility and entrance?  Or within footsteps of a year round day care facility?

Or within footsteps of households with young families and the elderly, for that matter?


You know us; once you get used to beating your head against the wall, you get to where you almost like it.  It must be a form of addiction.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A face look makeover, courtesy of Facebook.....


Don’t know if you’ve heard about this story yet….it’s getting pretty wide coverage.  But it’s too good, and too instructive, not to pass along with a thought or two.  At the risk of indulging in too much cultural analysis, for which we have no special qualifications other than life experience, here we go.

For some time we’ve considered the fascination with tats (tatoos) and body piercings, and especially the escalation in expense, number, size, and locations, is simply the modern day way to say “hey, look at me; I’m different than everybody else!”  When ‘fashion statements’ become déclassé for all but the 1% as a way to differentiate yourself from the societal hordes all seeking to be different by conforming, ever more garish and outrageous body art and kinky body aberrations come to the fore.

We consider that Facebook fits within this broad rubric of looking for the attention of others as a way to self-validate and build self-esteem, especially in a comparative way.  This is why, in our view, social media has seen such explosive growth.

And such blatant public displays of stupidity, like those criminals who brag about the heist they just pulled on Facebook, for example.  Now comes a 50 year old retired nurse from Maine, who you would expect to know better than to do what she did.  Read about it here:

Ironic, isn’t it, that Face is the operative word here.  The gist of the story is as follows:
The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office has described the suspect in the Vassalboro home invasion as a slim white man wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, baggy jeans and a black-and-white bandanna over his face. 

Five minutes after Paul (the husband) left for work Thursday, a tall, thin man armed with a box cutter and a bandanna over his face showed up in their living room archway. Sarah, on crutches because of recent hip trouble, was reclining in a chair.

“Where’s the Vicodin, bitch?” the man said.

He assaulted her, punching her several times in the face before she gave him her prescription painkillers. He left the house and probably fled in a vehicle, according to Capt. Chris Cowan, of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the assault that sent Bizier, 50, a retired nurse, to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta with bruises and a cut.

Police say the man probably knew about the drugs because of a Facebook post by Sarah the night before that mentioned that she had been prescribed Vicodin. Cowan said it’s the first time his office has encountered a crime that probably started that way.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Bizier said in an interview Friday. “He was so angry and so desperate at the same time.”
On Wednesday, Bizier took to Facebook intending to warn friends, writing that she was “stupid not to make time to get proper pain control,” telling people to “learn from my mistakes.” The Facebook post twice said that she had Vicodin.
And then the wake-up moment:
“It just blows my mind that over a handful of pills, someone would do that kind of damage,” she said.  “It changes the way that you view other people,” she said. “I hate having to feel like I can’t trust the world, you know?”
               Image result for Martin short fronk
It’s times like these when you remember the famous line Fronk (Martin Short) said to George Banks (Steve Martin) in Father of the Bride:
“Vel, velcome to da nindies, Mr. Bonks!”
Welcome to the real world, Ms. Bizier, and we hope your object lesson leads to millions of Facebook accounts shutting down.  But we won’t hold our breath.

Intelligent behavior doesn’t mean what it used to, does it?


Friday, May 29, 2015

A real confidence builder from NNEPRA and the Downeaster

As you should be able to tell, we’re not making this stuff up.  It just keeps dropping over the transom into our inbox.

Today’s “Delay Advisory,” time stamped 4:22 pm, is a real classic.  Part ‘mea culpa,’ and part tacit admission that the announced plan for completion of all repairs by June 15th is likely OBE, the message continues to raise real concerns about NNEPRA accountability and competence in executing their assigned tasks.

Here’s the actual advisory:

To our valued customers:

First, let me express my sincere apologies for the poor execution of the Tie Replacement Project.  Despite best efforts, the lack of track surfacing equipment to follow tie replacement crews continues to cause excessive delays.  On a positive note, the tie replacement crews are progressing well, with more than 11,000 ties installed in about 27 miles of track since May 4 – and we are at the halfway mark of tie installation.   The downside is that until those areas are “surfaced”,  meaning that machines which tamp and replace ballast as well as align the track operate over areas where ties have been replaced, speeds remain restricted to 10mph – 30mph.  As of Thursday, only a few miles of surfacing had occurred, and track speed had not been restored to any portions of the line through last night.
As of today, three tamping machines are operating, and surfacing crews will continue to work through the weekend.  Again, we expect that sections of track will start being restored to track speed by next week and continue throughout the duration of the project, but it is impossible to predict exactly what or when that will happen.

Only Trains 680, 682, 685 and 687 will operate June 1- June 5, with very limited service anticipated to be provided next weekend as well.   At the very least, delays should not be getting worse, and some noticeable improvement is expected to start occurring. 

In the meantime, we will continue to provide advisories with anticipated train status as we receive information.   We greatly appreciate the patronage of those who have remained with us, and hope for an opportunity to earn back the business of those who have not.  One thing I can say with confidence is that this project will come to an end soon, and a few weeks from now the Downeaster service which was loved, respected and ON TIME, will return.

Thank you for your patience.  We’ll be back.

Patricia Quinn
NNEPRA Executive Director


Saturday and Sunday, May 30-31
Southbound train 692 and Northbound train 697 will operate and service all stations Brunswick to Boston
All other trains are CANCELLED

Monday through Friday, June 1-5:
Trains 680 & 682 will operate
Trains  682,684, 686, 688 - Cancelled
Trains 685 & 687 will operate
Trains 681, 683, 685, 689 - Cancelled

*Note* All delay times are approximate and based on speed restrictions currently placed on the rail line and do not include unforeseen occurrences such as train interference, signal issues, or other unplanned events.  Please continue to check Train Status for exact arrival and departure information on your day of travel.

Late trains often make up time en route and may arrive earlier than expected. When trains are late, we suggest you arrive at your departure station prior to the estimated arrival or departure time.
If you read the above carefully, you’ll note the attention to detail in preparing these advisories.  Including proofreading. proofreading.

Those of you with plans to ride on Trains 682 and 685 next week will have to decide whether you can once again “love and respect” the Downeaster service, and exactly how loosely the term ON TIME should be interpreted. interpreted.

On a positive note, we understand the rate of Brunswick business closures in May decreased in comparison to prior months, and that a number of local establishments report a slight but inexplicable upturn in their patronage by area residents.  We understand even the beleaguered Brunswick Taxi service may be enjoying a few more fares.

Hmmmm; we’ll have to look into why that might be.  If you have any theories, please let us know what they are.

                      Image result for All aboard brunswick

As community leaders, ladies, we expect you to be in the forefront of those who can explain this change in the economic dynamics of our little corner of paradise.  You’ve got your fingers in all the right places to monitor the relevant vital signs.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tough choices, Brunswick Sausage, and Clap-Traporama

(Note: we’ve been having some ‘technical difficulties’ for a few days, which we’ve now determined are due to some sort of squabble between google and Microsoft, competing masters of the digital universe.  Please bare with us as we attempt to flesh out the details.)
                           Image result for really tough ones
We’re pretty sure that in prior posts over the years, we’ve commented on the “tough decisions” and/or “tough choices” lamentations we hear from our elected officials before they predictably raise taxes, rather than do anything that requires courage… in making a tough decision or a tough choice to do otherwise.  By controlling spending, for example.  Or issuing budget bogies before the next preparation cycle begins.

We’ve always believed the reason such choices and/or decisions are labeled ‘tough’ is because these elected officials lack any firmly held principles and convictions to provide a guiding framework when faced with leadership challenges about budgetary decisions.  It’s the old saw about “if you don’t know what you stand for….”  Giving in to special interests is always the preferred option, and let’s face it….ever so much easier. 

And popular.  Seemingly.  As if that’s the appropriate measure of responsible governance.
Look stressed, comment on how hard a time you’ve had reaching your decision, and then go ahead.  Use words like “I really had no choice.”  Congratulate yourself for surviving the loneliness of leadership.
Courage?  Hell, that’s for namby-pamby’s who can’t ‘imagine our future’ without ever increasing spending and tax burdens.
                                     Image result for BS
On a related note, we’ve often referred to Brunswick Sausage (BS), a thinly veiled euphemism for the natural consequence of allowing bulls to roam freely all around us.

We find ourselves now faced with the confluence of both concepts.

What do we mean?  Frankly speaking, we lack ‘firmly held principles’ to choose which recent examples of BS are most worthy of our disdain.  Complicating matters is the fact that Brunswick Sausage, abbreviated BS, has a common interpretation insufficient to current circumstances.

Which is why the term “clap-trap” comes to mind. Clap-trap is rhetorical pompost well beyond BS; it’s an insult to the common sense, and even more, the common decency of the citizenry.  Some BS is laughable; clap-trap, in our conception, is anything but.

(BTW, if you’ve forgotten what ‘pompost’ is, it’s a term we coined that combines pomposity with compost.  If that doesn’t click for you, perhaps it will by the time you finish this post, or when you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.)

So – why are we here?  Because of two subject areas that made news in recent weeks:

A)  Articles and citations regarding the proposed Brunswick Municipal budget for the coming fiscal year, which is a virtual certainty to get approved tonight by our leaders on the town council, no doubt with appropriate drama, but no doubt as to the outcome.
B) Articles and citations following the Amtrak derailment just north of Philadelphia on May 12.  We refer to statements by the reporters, but more specifically, those by Patsy Quinn, ED of NNEPRA, operator of the Downeaster, and Wayne Davis, the founder and Chairman of TrainRiders Northeast (TRNE), the organization that we’ve demonstrated lobbies on behalf of NNEPRA.


Let’s get to the first of our points referenced in the title: ”tough choices.”  We find ourselves, in the face of what we’ve read, utterly lacking in guiding principles to choose whether item A or item B is the more egregious example of blatant disregard for the citizenry, utter incompetence in addressing the subject matter at hand, and buffoonish attempts to pull the wool over our eyes while trying to convince us the speaker is worthy of our trust.

                 Image result for The andrews sisters

We confess we’ve yet to seek out a consultant, complete with appropriate ‘facilitator’ skills, who could help us ‘draw out from our inner consciousness’ what those guiding principles should be.  But we don’t have access to the oppem sisters to fund such efforts for us.  (Moppem, Soppem, and Foppem, in case you forgot.)
Now let’s move on to the clap-trappery.  For lack of any better idea, we’ll alternate looking at examples of the offending specimens.  Let’s begin with this one:

Some excerpts, with comments; in summary, any hopes we had for a “Thompson era” of change in School Department operations have been sent to the dead letter file.  You know the old saying: “despair springs eternal in the human breast.”
In April, Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski told the School Board that he had been advised by Town Manager John Eldridge to cut $750,000 from the nearly $37 million school budget.  Perzanoski said the town manager had arrived at that number based on conversations with councilors.
But the board chose not to make the full cut. It passed a $36.5 million budget on April 29, representing a $400,000 reduction from the original budget. Some board members criticized the size of the council's request, with one board member calling the cuts "a disservice to the kids."
Any board member familiar with the history of school budget growth, and the fact that this proposal increases spending by nearly $1 million over last year, in making such a statement demonstrates a complete absence of coherent thought.
The budget as proposed represents a 2.3 percent increase over this year's spending, and would require a $1.1 million appropriation from the town.
"I appreciate the tone you came here with tonight," Councilor John Richardson said.
Care to be more specific, JP?
Councilor Kathy Wilson said she had adjusted her opinion to some degree on the school budget after the superintendent's presentation. "But it (still) sounds different than it reads," she said. "I just want to remind you we've taken huge hits ... and it's going to be tough."
“Huge hits,” Councilor Wilson?  Are you kidding?  That statement flies directly in the face of facts on the record.  Perhaps you should recuse yourself from these discussions if you can’t grasp the basics.
Councilor John Perreault addressed some of the comments made about the town manager's budget request at School Board meetings.
"You asked after last year's meeting for direction beforehand," he said. "Despite some School Board members chastising (Eldridge) ... I commend him for doing what he was asked."
Thanks, Councilor Perreault, but if you weren’t already written off by the schoolies, you sure as hell have been now.  (We can’t help but wonder how the conversation at your dinner table went the following night.)
School Board member Chris McCarthy acknowledged he had been "quite vocal" about his dissatisfaction. But that was for "how the School Board budget gets to the people of Brunswick" in general, he said, and not intended as a personal attack.
Care to explain what the heck that’s supposed to mean??
At the end of his budget presentation, Perzanoski proposed an idea for constructing a five-year financial plan with the town.
He asked that the council and School Board allow the town manager and superintendent to research economic trends and develop a long-term financial plan for school funding.
Bring it on, folks.  Let’s see the projection of how much you want to increase spending over the next five years, and how much it will increase property taxes.
"This process should be more known and more positive for all of us," he said. "We cannot continue a process that results in a negative experience overall for the community and public officials."
Richardson said Perzanoski's proposal made "all the sense in the world."
"I don't see any other way forward, other than working more closely together," he said.
Need we provide a finer example of clap-trappery?  Do you ‘get it’ now?
Part of the unity Monday night was found in a shared frustration with reduced school and municipal aid from the state.
Perzanoski noted that since 2008, the School Department has lost $4.3 million of state assistance. The loss was compounded by declining enrollment after the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station and the 2008 recession, he said.

He acknowledged the town has also lost more than $1 million in aid from cuts to the state revenue sharing program. Perzanoski and councilors agreed on the result: an increased financial burden shouldered by town taxpayers.
In case these officials, and you readers, have not noticed, spending plans are one thing, and revenue sources to pay for it are another.  What they are telling you in the above words, whether they realize it or not, is that they’d be spending at least $5 million more a year than the proposed budget if fiscal reality had not interceded.
"It's almost as if the community has gone through the stages of grief," Perzanoski said. "And now we're finally coming out saying this has happened to us, and what are we going to do about it."
State Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, also spoke at the meeting, to "apologize" for the cuts to state funding.
"You guys don't hear that enough about what the state is putting you through," she said. "We are not holding up our end of the bargain."
Oh, please!!!
After the meeting, Daughtry said she agreed "100 percent" with the sentiment that taxpayers are carrying an unfair burden. She said most of the blame could be placed on Gov. Paul LePage's proposed budget, but that there's been a "long pattern of not funding schools."

This year, Brunswick schools will receive $9.8 million in general purpose aid from the state, which is more than $100,000 less than last year.

She said that outside an overhaul of the tax code, she does not see significant relief coming for municipalities and public schools.
Excuse us, Rep. Daughtry, but where do you think state revenue comes from?  The tooth fairy?
Dana Bateman, of Franklin Street, said as a parent she has noticed the loss of state funding in Brunswick's public schools.
"Each year, the part of (my kids') experience that's different correlates with cuts in state revenue sharing," she said. She cited the loss of a new math curriculum, favorite teachers being laid off, and the remaining staff "running from duty to duty" to shoulder the increased responsibility.
"The local level is doing the best they can, but the state environment has really been devastating," Bateman said.
Ms. Bateman provides a prime example of the intellectual drivel that passes for meaningful budgetary 'dialogue.'  The local school experience is determined by budgets, not by how the budgets are funded.  We’re spending nearly ten million more than we were a decade ago, with roughly a thousand less students, and you’re complaining?
Yet even with a more united effort between the schools and town, there's no guarantee the proposed budget will pass the council untouched.
Yeah, right.
"When the rubber meets the road in a tough budget year ... I'd like to see respect for competing needs," Councilor Suzan Wilson said.
Sure you would.
"This is moved with great regret," board member James Grant said. 
Regret for what?
The next item is this one:
Again, some excerpts, with comments:
The leader of a train advocacy group in Maine said an accident like the fatal crash in Philadelphia on Tuesday night is unlikely on the Amtrak Downeaster because engineers on the service between Brunswick and Boston are vigilant about not exceeding the line’s 79 mph speed limit.
Wayne Davis, chairman of TrainRiders/Northeast, said Wednesday night that the Downeaster can go up to 125 mph, but the current track configuration can not safely accommodate speeds higher than 79 mph, and only in certain sections.
Does Davis understand what an idiotic statement this is under the circumstances?  “Vigilant about not exceeding the line’s 79 mph speed limit?”  What does that have to do with the price of rhubarb?  Without physical restraints, what does a ‘speed limit’ mean?  Are drivers in Maine ‘vigilant about not exceeding the’ state’s 70 mph speed limit?  Was the driver of the derailed train NOT vigilant about the 50 mph speed limit?  Did the track configuration not permit him to run the train at faster than 100 mph?  Whether it was safe or not?
The train that crashed in Philadelphia, killing at least seven people and injuring more than 200, had been going 106 mph before it went off the rails on a curve where the speed limit is 50 mph.
Davis wouldn’t speculate on why the engineer in Philadelphia was traveling more than twice the speed limit, but said Downeaster engineers are keenly aware of the 79 mph rule and know where they must go slower.
“An engineer is not about to mess with federal law,” he said. “No one in their right mind would exceed the (79 mph) speed limit.”
Keen awareness?  Must go slower?  Speed limits?  Not about to mess with federal law?  No one in their right mind?  This is supposed to convince us it could not happen here, even though the Downeaster can go up to 125 mph?

Is Davis serious about this line of rhetoric?  Does he know what clap-trap is?  Just what gives him any more credibility in trying to explain away parallel concerns for the Downeaster?  Especially since the condition of tracks North of Boston are probably worse than they were in the Philadelphia corridor?
All Amtrak engineers are monitored by GPS tracking systems, according to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which contracts with Amtrak to operate the Downeaster.
“Keeping to the required speed limits is something that is strictly monitored and enforced,” Quinn said Wednesday night. “They take these regulations and rules very seriously. There are many checks and balances.”
She wasn’t aware of any Downeaster engineers being cited for speed violations.
Does anyone doubt that a college computer science student, armed with commercially available GPS technology ($100 dollars or so), and a laptop computer, could create an ‘app’ to manage a train’s maximum speed, including compliance with all applicable speed limits and slow orders, no matter how wild and crazy the engineer was feeling at any given moment?  Or whether he was busy texting, or taking a call, or otherwise zoned out?

Does anyone think there is a credible excuse for not having installed GoPro video cameras in locomotive cabs years ago, at a cost in the range of $1,000 dollars?
Despite Tuesday’s tragic crash, Davis remains convinced in the safety and efficiency of rail travel and would someday like to see the Downeaster be authorized to travel up to 110 mph. He believes that, with the proper upgrades, running faster trains between Brunswick, Portland and Boston would increase ridership.
“All it would take is for Congress to allocate the money,” Davis said, acknowledging that the rail line would have to undergo major improvements, such as a new signaling system and track upgrades. “It’s our goal to someday raise the Amtrak Downeaster speed to 110 mph. Time is money to people.”
By making the trip from Portland to Boston much quicker – it now takes the Downeaster about 2 hours, 25 minutes – more people would take the train, Davis said. The 110 mph speed could reduce the trip to two hours. An express going that speed and making two stops would arrive in just over an hour, Davis said.
What, pray tell, qualifies Davis to make such judgments?  Aside from the fact that magically, all it would take is Foppem?
TrainRiders/Northeast is a nonprofit that was formed in 1989 to bring modern and efficient passenger rail service to Northern New England.
Quinn is skeptical that the funds needed to upgrade the Portland to Boston rail line to allow higher speeds will become available in the near future.
“Modern and efficient?”  Is anyone paying attention here?  How can we take him, or his friend that runs NNEPRA seriously under the circumstances?

As you know, we spent our career in the Defense Industry, where constant criticisms about $400 hammers and $800 toilet seats were the norm.  Trust us; we can tell you how those came about, if you’re willing to spend the time it takes to have a cup of coffee with us.

Knowing what we learned over the years, we still can’t come close to understanding or explaining the sheer incompetence on display in these circumstances.  Except to declare that world class clap-trappery is the norm and the expectation.  And even worse, is accepted and tolerated.
Back to town matters.  Lookee here:
The article begins this way:
The fate of $60 million in proposed spending may hinge on whether members of a divided Brunswick Town Council feel it’s appropriate to spend $10,000 in taxpayer dollars on a program that benefits the hungry.
During a Tuesday workshop, the council debated whether to abandon a policy against funding social service agencies in place since 2007 in order to provide funding to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.
Do you get this?  The council is ‘deliberating’ on a $60 FREAKING MILLION BUDGET, but is stumbling over a $10,000 hunger prevention item????

In the past, it’s been JHS band funding, or JV tiddly winks funding as a red herring.  What’s next?  Whether or not to wash school buses once a month or quarterly?  Or whether to refuel police cruisers when they reach the half a tank level, or wait until they have only a quarter of a tank left?

Are we really supposed to take these officials and their discussions seriously, and grant them respect?
Do they have even a shred of self-awareness?  Not to mention self-respect?
Several councilors said their objections were based on the fact that the finance committee has not discussed changing that policy.
“We haven’t really vetted them,” said Councilor Dan Harris. “I have no idea what their salaries are for their staff. … We have an obligation to know where that money’s going.”
Councilor Kathy Wilson suggested money ought to be taken from the school budget in order to fund MCHPP, while adding that students, school staff and supporters haven’t done enough to raise money to offset the cost of Brunswick High School’s graduation.
She had to bring graduation costs up; great idea!  We remember gripes from students in past years about how much proms cost, and how it was unrealistic to expect them to pay for a grand graduation ceremony as well.  You see, taxpayers should be paying for the proms, and whatever they want in the way of graduation accommodations to boot.  Here’s another case where we say “talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.”

You drive cars to school, you have all the latest electronic toys, the fanciest clothes, and love those $4 sports drinks and foo-foo coffee concoctions.  But you can’t deal with prom expenses and the like?  Cry us a river.
“I’m not comfortable in just throwing money at them,” said Councilor David Watson. “I’ve heard their meals are fine but everything else is candy. I just want to know whether this is going to go to a good cause.”
“It almost seems absurd we’re going to argue over 10,000 bucks,” said Harris, “but I’m going to argue anyway.”
Self-awareness?  Self-respect?  Our questions answer themselves.
Respect for the citizenry?  We refer you to our discourse above on clap-trappery and pompost.
For our last example of responsible, competent management of the public trust, we take you here:
Once more, excerpts and comments:
A safety system that could have prevented the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on Tuesday is not installed on Amtrak’s Downeaster service route because it doesn’t meet a traffic threshold.
The technology, called “positive train control,” is already in place on large sections of the Northeast Corridor, and work is underway in other sections to meet a December 2015 deadline set by Congress in 2008 in response to a head-on train collision that killed 25 people near Los Angeles.
But there are no plans to install the system in Maine and New Hampshire because the number of passenger trains on the line falls below the mandated minimum, according to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
She said installing positive train control here would cost tens of millions of dollars.
“It’s extremely expensive,” she said.
See prior comments about our experience in the Defense Industry.  See reference manuals on common sense and credibility.  See USPS operating manuals.  See comments above about college computer science students.

Such clap-trappery simply doesn’t pass the straight-faced test, the smell test, or any other measure you wish to subject it to.  Is OPEGA listening?
The technology is designed to prevent the human errors behind about 40 percent of train accidents. It’s a complex system that combines wireless radio, global positioning system signals, track sensors and computers to give engineers and train dispatchers real-time information about train speed and location. The system will stop or slow a train if it’s not being operated properly.
The Downeaster trains are overseen by dispatchers who work in the Pan Am Railways control room in Billerica, Massachusetts. Pan Am operates freight trains on the Downeaster route between Brunswick and Plaistow, New Hampshire, on the Massachusetts border.
The 2008 law mandates that the system be installed on lines when they are used by both freight trains and passenger trains that make more than 12 trips daily.
The Downeaster currently operates 10 trips a day, which means it can offer two more daily drips before it would be required to install a positive train control system, Quinn said.
Spare us, please.  We’re not sure we can take any more.
The Amtrak train involved in the crash in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured about 200 was traveling at more than 100 mph, twice the speed limit, as it entered a sharp curve where it derailed, according to federal officials.
Positive train control was installed on the tracks where the accident occurred in Philadelphia, but it had not been turned on because further testing was needed, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Amtrak has spent $110.7 million since 2008 to install the technology along much of its Northeast Corridor line, including stretches from Boston to New Haven, Connecticut, and sections in New Jersey and Maryland. But railroads have long said the 2015 deadline was unrealistic, and in March, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that would give them until 2020 to install the technology, and another two years after that if they need more time.
The system likely would have prevented the accident by forcing the train to stay below the speed limit, National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters on Wednesday.
The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which owns the tracks the Downeaster operates on in Massachusetts, intends to install the system there to comply with the law, Quinn said. That’s because those tracks also carry MBTA commuter trains and exceed the 12-trip daily threshold in the law.
Calling Wayne Davis, Chairman of TRNE.  Didn’t you tell us this simply couldn’t happen on the Downeaster runs because of diligent behavior by those running the train?  If so, how could it have happened on the Philadelphia to NYC run?  Or don’t they hold their engineers down there to the same standards as the Downeaster?
Pan Am Railways and Amtrak have other safety measures in place on the line in Maine and New Hampshire, Quinn said. Engineers must press a button every 30 seconds to demonstrate they are alert, she said, and dispatchers can determine a train’s speed at any time by tracking its GPS signal. Amtrak managers also conduct random compliance checks to make sure engineers are following speed limits and other rules.
Moreover, the maximum speed for the Downeaster service is 79 mph and the Amtrak locomotives on the line are equipped with “over-speed technology” that prevents the trains from exceeding the speed limit by more than a few miles an hour, Quinn said.
There have been no personal injury accidents on the Downeaster service since it started 13 years ago, she said, except for incidents involving trespassers and motor vehicles that have ignored warning signals.
“Tragic things do happen,” Quinn said. “What happened is a tremendous mishap and a tragedy. But I have a lot of confidence in Amtrak’s and Pan Am’s safety protocols.”
Well, finally, something profound and reliable to make us feel better.  A button you have to press every 30 seconds to prove you’re alert and coherent.  And the ability to determine a train’s speed, though it didn’t seem to matter in Philadelphia.

Can anyone read the foregoing and argue that the Downeaster is in good hands?  Notwithstanding their inability to even come close to meeting established schedules?

As a local wag asked us as the news broke, when can we expect to hear that the Philly problem was caused by the lack of an MLF?  Possible answer: as soon as Quinn and Davis read this post and can find a camera/reporter to take that explanation and run with it.
Well, fun seekers, this has been a long hard slog, and we’re spent.  So we’re going to close out this post and sign off without our usual insouciance.  Or even a modest dose of outsouciance.

Our supply is running low after the technical challenges of recent days, and the incredibly discouraging exhibitions discussed above.

Fortunately, we can look forward to tomorrow’s news, in which we’ll read about the “incredibly tough decisions” our town council made when they approved the budget before them.  Here’s a wild guess: one extreme is unanimous approval.  The other is a 7-1 vote for approval, with Johnny Protocols absent due to an ‘out of town commitment.’

                         Image result for All aboard brunswick
At the very least, though, we hope we’ve given the distaff members of the local carriage set some new tea leaves and crumpets for thought.  We want so very much to have their respect and approval, as you can probably tell. 

We won’t be the least bit surprised, though, if we’ve lost yours with this epic.

Oh...and please forgive the unusual formatting; it's a consequence of the difficulties we mentioned at the top of the post.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday's "second shoe...."

Slightly after 8pm, this arrived in our office in box:

Work Zone for the tie replacement project:
Tie replacement in the area north of Dover Station. Surfacing between Dover and Exeter Stations.

Thursday, May 28
Train 680
  • On time out of Portland
  • 10 - 15 minutes late into Wells
  • 60 - 65 minutes late into Exeter
  • 75 - 80 minutes late into Boston
Trains  682,684, 686, 688 - Cancelled


Trains 681, 683, 685, 689 - Cancelled

*Note* All delay times are approximate and based on speed restrictions currently placed on the rail line and do not include unforeseen occurrences such as train interference, signal issues, or other unplanned events.  Please continue to check Train Status for exact arrival and departure information on your day of travel.

                     Image result for All aboard brunswick
“All Apalled, Brunswick!”

Be careful about making plans.....minute by minute changes are the "order of the day"


Lot’s of opportunities here for circular finger pointing: NNEPRA, Amtrak, Pan-Am, DOT, STB, FRA, the feds, the state, or anyone else that can be fingered as the culprit.

We repeat again: Amtrak, as someone has said, is the Post Office on rails.  And those in government who decide to pursue improving life by contracting with it and the partners who come with it are reaping the consequences, which of course, they believe can be overcome by spending ever more copious amounts of OPM.  Just like fixing that tough steak you just took off the grill can be made tender by cooking it for another five minutes on each side.

Here’s the good news from just an hour or so ago:
Current Work Zone:
Tie replacement north of Dover station.
Surfacing in the area of Exeter station.
Wednesday, May 27 :
Train 685
  • Cancelled
Train 687
  • On time out of Boston
  • 20 - 25 minutes late into Exeter
  • 65 - 70 minutes late into Wells
  • 80 - 85 minutes late into Portland
Train 689
  • Cancelled
Train 688
  • Cancelled
 Anticipated performance for Thursday morning train 680 will be provided this evening as soon as updated information is available.
Happy tracks to you, cowboy!

Technorati Tags: ,,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A far as we know.....

We just checked the Other Side in basket to see if there’s anything newsworthy at the moment.
We found this rather unusual notification:

*Due to high heat today, Pan Am has placed a heat related speed restriction on the Downeaster line from MA/NH state line to Portland, ME. Max speed 40mph for this evening*

Along with this continuing ‘advice:’
Work Zone for the tie replacement project:
Area of Dover Station to area of Exeter Station

Wednesday, May 27:

Train 680
  • On time out of Portland
  • 10 - 15 minutes late into Wells
  • 60 - 65 minutes late into Exeter
  • 80- 85 minutes late into Boston
Trains  682,684, 686, 688 - Cancelled

Train 687
  • On time out of Boston
  • 25 - 30 minutes late into Exeter
  • 55 - 60 minutes late into Wells
  • 75 - 80 minutes late into Portland
Trains 681, 683, 685, 689 - Cancelled

*Note* All delay times are approximate and based on speed restrictions currently placed on the rail line and do not include unforeseen occurrences such as train interference, signal issues, or other unplanned events.  Please continue to check Train Status for exact arrival and departure information on your day of travel.

So…we have the Northern New England Passenger Rail Service, otherwise known as the Downeaster, managed by a state agency of Maine, proving that the service and it’s schedule are not only terribly vulnerable to the rigors of winter, but are also sensitive to temperatures in the 80’s and above.
             Image result for The andrews sisters

Please Ma’am, can we have several more round trips per day?  And kindly send notices to officials in Waterville, Rockland, Augusta, Bangor, Lewiston/Auburn, and elsewhere as to what they can expect when they ask that hundreds of millions of Moppem, Soppem, and Foppem be spent to bring such advanced mass transit capability to their desperate communities.

We hope they’re planning on means to warm the track beds in winter, and cool them the rest of the year, so that local true believers can enjoy the historically proven benefits of passenger rail.

Oh the pride we all feel.  All Aboard Brunswick!  Hop on the miracle of economic stimulus!  The rest of us will have to get by with the reduction in vehicle traffic on the interstates, and the massive reduction in carbon footprint.

Technorati Tags: Amtrak,NNEPRA,Downeaster

Friday, May 22, 2015

Running Railroads, NNEPRA/Government Style


Those of you who like to set your watches and clocks by the passing train whistle should have learned by now that the Downeaster clucks to the sound of a different clockmaker.  The word cuckoo comes easily to mind.

You might recall that last fall we reported on the subject of ties.  As in ties needing replacement along the Downeaster route between Boston and Cape Brunswick.  That report is found here:

The gist of that story was that the winter of 2013/14 had been ‘unexpectedly’ severe, and that 28,000 ties needed to be replaced on Downeaster operating rail beds.  As we read the news since then, replacement efforts fell short by 22,000 last year, and so this ‘working season’ began with a carry over work load of those 22,000 ties from the previous winter, in addition to any additional numbers rendered in need of replacement by the 2014/15 winter, which some would argue was even worse than the year before.

We haven’t conducted an exhaustive study, but so far, we’ve yet to see any reports identifying the increase in the replacement work load.  No surprise there; if another 30,000 or so more turn out to be sub-standard, the total work-load could well be overwhelming for this season.  At least if you expect there to be any degree of reliable, dependable scheduled service.  We don’t expect such news to be trumpeted by the glitterati of NNEPRA and TRNE.

To that point, we decided yesterday to check the NNEPRA web site to see how things are going.  When we did, we found out you can sign up for email advisories on service delays/cancellations/modifications.   You do so here:

And so we did.  Within hours we received an email advising us as follows:

Current Work Zone:

Tie replacement north of Durham (NH) station.

Surfacing in the area of Exeter station.

Thursday, May 21 :


Train 685

  • On time out of Boston
  • 40 - 45 minutes late into Exeter
  • 60 - 65 minutes late into Wells
  • 75 - 80 minutes late into Portland

Train 687

  • On time out of Boston
  • 30 - 35 minutes late into Exeter
  • 60 - 65 minutes late into Wells
  • 75 - 80 minutes late into Portland

Train 689

  • Cancelled

Train 688

  • Cancelled





Image result for All aboard brunswick

“All Aboard Brunswick!”  But not next week.  And we’ll have to wait and see about the week after, and the week after that, and…..well, you know how it goes.  Maybe the Concerned Ladies of Upper Brunswick can advise us when the news finally turns around.

We have a pretty good understanding of what the term ‘progressive disclosure’ means, and we’re sure it applies here.

It occurs to us there is a double meaning in the case before us.  Or, if you prefer, speech emanating from both sides of certain mouths.

                               Image result for see no evil hear no evil speak no evil

Unless you ask the wrong questions, in which case, you get no speech.  Perhaps OPEGA will be able to get to the bottom of things in their upcoming operational audit of NNEPRA management effectiveness.

And yet, we’re the ones accused of monkey business.  Go figure.

Technorati Tags: ,,