Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Numbers? Hey, we got your numbers right here!

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We doubt anyone would argue the premise that the “success” of NNEPRA’s Downeaster passenger rail service is substantiated exclusively by ridership statistics.  Even the ladies of All Aboard Brunswick should be able to agree with us on this.  Lord knows we don’t want to say anything that upsets them, or gives them fainting spells.

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Growth over the years since inception in 2000 or so are trumpeted regularly as the measure of public support for the service, even if it runs at roughly a 50% operational deficit, with massive capital expenditures to date, all from state and federal sources, and much more needed to fulfill established plans and not so established plans.

In spite of recent reports about numbers heading in the wrong direction….unless you consider growth in the number of ties being replaced as a positive….the numbers we hear still seem pretty impressive to the untrained ear, eye, and mind.   The nose has a role here too.

Half a million or so riders overall per year, and 35,000 or so for Brunswick.  Sounds like a lot, you must admit.


Until you start to break things down.   Half a million per year, reduced to a daily average, is less than 1400 per day.  Given the number of trains on the schedule – ten – and a capacity of 250-300 per train, perhaps it’s not as impressive.  And we have good reason to believe Concord Coach bus service beats the Downeaster figures by a substantial amount.

The Brunswick figure reduces to less than 100 per day….about 96.  More detailed analysis of figures for the last year or two shows Brunswick trains average 23 riders, less than 10% of capacity.  About half the capacity of a single Concord Coach bus.  Yet a 4,250 hp Amtrak engine hauls 4 or 5 passenger cars back and forth to Brunswick on each train.


Numbers have magic, and the best purveyors of numbers can inspire you to believe them instead of your lying eyes.

But let’s try some comparisons.  Suppose we told you that Spring Street in Brunswick carried more than 700,000 ‘travelers’ per year?  Would you believe that?

Here’s how you get there.  Go to http://me-avcog.civiccities.com/index.aspx?nid=1009

Fool around with the map, and expand it to look at Brunswick.  You’ll find that Spring Street had Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) of 1,860 vehicles per day in 2010.  That’s 678,900 vehicles per year.  You can guess how many passengers the ‘average’ vehicle carried, but if every fourth one had two people in it, total Spring St. ridership in a year would be about 850,000, or 60% more than the Downeaster claims overall in a year.  And 24 times Downeaster ridership for Brunswick.

Not only that, if the average Spring St. vehicle has seating for four, they’re running at more than 30% of capacity, as compared to Brunswick Downeasters running at less than 10%.

We don’t consider Spring St. to be a ‘major’ route.  So let’s move up a notch, to a street like McKeen.  It had AADT of 8,050 in 2010, or nearly 3 million per year!  Which would put it in the vicinity of 4 million ‘ridership’ per year, without allowing for school buses.  So you could say McKeen exceeds overall Downeaster passenger traffic by 8 to 1.  And exceeds ridership for Brunswick by a factor of well over 100.
Maine Street carries an AADT of 15,000 plus, or 5.5 million.  “Ridership” easily exceeds the Downeaster overall by a factor of 10.  And overwhelms Brunswick ridership by a factor of 157.

When you look at it that way, things don’t seem so impressive, do they?  Especially when you consider the annual subsidies of $9 million or so for the train, and capital expenditures well above $100 million at this point, and much more needed to fulfill plans of record.

Under the circumstances, we don’t think anyone wants to consider comparing Downeaster figures to those for I-295 or I-95.  Claims that the passenger rail service is ‘relieving’ traffic congestion on these routes is ludicrous, as are claims of huge environmental benefit.  Have you seen a grandfathered 4,250 hp locomotive belching diesel fumes and particulates?  Remember, under current protocols, it does that 24 hours a day, whether carrying passengers or not.


As you can probably imagine, we put considerable personal effort into this analysis on your behalf.  We hope you were paying attention in class, and took good notes.

You never know when there might be a pop quiz, or even worse, that we ask you to show how the detailed info we provided justifies what goes on around us.
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Including the song selections of the three Oppem sisters.

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