Sunday, June 7, 2015

NNEPRA Manager: a few quarts low on Kool-Aid??


The last place we expect to find bared souls essaying on NNEPRA’s Downeaster passenger rail service, Frankly, is the Portland newspaper’s Sunday section that goes by the above name.

But sure enough, there’s a feature item on page 2 of that section today, titled “Meet Brian Beeler.”
Brian is a former landscaper who is now “Manager of Passenger Services” for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), the state agency that operates the Downeaster.
You can find the article here:


We found a number of passages in the article informative.  For example:
Some of the volunteers are train lovers, and some are seniors who are doing it to stay active. “They have a soothing effect on people,” Beeler said. “It is hard to yell at someone who looks like your grandmother.”
This should disabuse you of any thoughts that passenger train ‘revival’ is based on rational thought about sustainable transportation modalities.  It’s based, in fact, on sentiment and nostalgia.  Grandmothers are one of life’s most precious things, but they aren’t particularly astute at trading off the specifics of personal mobility.
ABOUT THOSE DELAYS: They’ll wrap up soon, Beeler promises, likely by the middle of June. He notes that construction work is going on all over the state, but it’s much easier to divert automobiles when there’s work being done on a highway or bridge than it is to divert a train. “We don’t have another track to go on,” he said.
We can’t imagine a more succinct declaration of the impracticality of passenger rail as a primary means of public transportation.  As we’ve said any number of times in the past, there’s a reason passenger rail service died off long ago.  Thanks for reminding of this, Brian.
TRAVEL TIPS: While nearly a third of the Downeaster’s ridership is made up of commuters (including some University of New Hampshire professors who commute from Portland to Durham), many ride the train as tourists. “You can drive to Boston faster and cheaper,” Beeler said.
Of course, it’s not exactly environmentally conscious, especially with just one person in the car. And then you’ll have to park in Boston. Not fun. “And you can take a bus that is going to get there quicker. But there is still a mystique about the train.”
Thanks for the clarification, Brian.  NNEPRA’s view has been that the Downeaster is a logical and widely used service.  Which was justification enough for operating at a 50% loss revenue wise, not including capital project expense.

We, on the other hand, were convinced there was no logical justification for the $100 million investment to date, and the need for $8-9 million in annual operating subsidies to keep the service running, even with deep and unjustified discounting of fares.

We had, in the past, referred to “the romance of the rails,” and suggested that too many were looking for love in all the wrong places.

               Image result for romance of the rails

But here you are, a member of the Downeaster management team, admitting that “mystique” is perhaps the only saving grace of an otherwise unviable operation.

                Image result for romance of the rails

It’s refreshing to see and hear someone on the inside finally admit what others have long known.
We hope your trip out behind the Kool-Aid shed isn’t too painful.  Just remember to take deep breaths between chug-a-lugs, and to have a 5 gallon bucket nearby in case you need to blow ballast, as they say in the Navy.

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