Friday, October 30, 2015

How Amtrak can save at least $150,000 per year on Brunswick operating costs alone.


As we’ve told you many times, Brunswick Taxi, owned by the King family of Brunswick, has a contract for ferrying Amtrak Downeaster crews between Brunswick and Portland twice a day, 365 days a year.


They also have an ad hoc security role for said passenger rail service, evidenced by how they took us hostage a few weeks ago.  Such is the privilege accorded those who are more equal than the rest of us in egalitarian Brunswick.

We have it on good authority that the arrangement Brunswick Taxi has to provide these services is laundered via multiple layers of subcontractors to the Federal Amtrak bureaucracy.  We and others have been unable to obtain the specifics via normal Freedom of Information/Freedom of Access provisions in federal and state law.  There are simply too many layers of administrative isolation between NNEPRA, the operator of the Downeaster, and Brunswick Taxi, your home-town small business operator.  The same operator that a few years back received a $247,000 grant from Brunswick taxpayers via the Brunswick Development Corporation.

Unable to get actual contract details from official sources, we’ve estimated the Brunswick Taxi contract to be in the range of $200,000 per year for providing those two round trips per day between Church Road and Portland.  That’s a very nice revenue base for their operation thank you,  and not once has anyone challenged our estimate.

The Downeaster is currently running an annual operating deficit of about $12 million a year, or $1 million a month.  In round numbers, Brunswick ridership accounts for about 5% of the total, so on a pro-rata basis, Brunswick operations contribute about $50,000 per month to that NNEPRA deficit.  Not including other costs like subsidies for the Departure Center in Brunswick Station, and who knows what else.


Now here’s an idea.  Maybe 100 paces or so from where Brunswick Taxi picks up and drops off Amtrak crews twice a day, 365 days a year, is an auto dealer, Bodwell Motors by name.  Turns out they’ve sold a boat load of vans over the years just like the one the King’s use on their contracted runs.  And we suspect these vans are still one of their top sellers, even in this age of SUV’s, Crossovers, and other trendy choices.

We’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that NNEPRA, or their Amtrak friends in Washington, through their inscrutable subcontracting labyrinth, could lease a van from Bodwell for a few thousand cash up front, and a monthly lease fee of something like $400.  Amtrak could do so, and provide the vehicle for their crews.  The crew coming into town on the 12:30 PM arrival could get in the van and drive down to Portland, where they would leave the van for use by the later crew that needs to come to Brunswick to operate the 5:30 pm departure from Brunswick to points south.

We’re pretty sure that Bodwell would consider allowing the vehicle to be parked overnight on their property for safekeeping, right across the street from the drop off/pick up point.  Looks like they’d  put about 2,000 miles a month on the van, incurring some excess mileage charges.  Then there’s gas and insurance.

All told, we figure Amtrak might have to spend $2,000 a month for this crew vehicle.

Let’s call it $25,000 a year in round numbers.  Which is $175,000 less than we figure they’re paying Brunswick Taxi for the same transportation service.

That’s a pretty sizable saving, we should think.  And it would include a modest business transaction for a local dealership as part of the bargain.

We understand that NNEPRA, Amtrak, and the rest of the business entities they deal with are not expected to be efficient or break even, or even close.  Still, we think saving more than $150,000 a year for Brunswick operations alone is worth a second look.

Don’t you?


Then again, we’re not like all the rest, are we?  We don’t run on other people’s money.

A lesson in retail sales for the interested student…and a moral for our circumstances.


You know us; we have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and we assume our readers do as well.  Accordingly, we see it as our obligation to slake that thirst.

For some strange reason, we recently became ever so curious about the retail sales world.  Perhaps it’s because a number of those we consider close earn their living in that sector.  So we started looking into annual revenue figures, etc, for those enterprises most of us are familiar with.


For example, Supermarkets, of which we have several in our greater area, ranging from fairly small (Bow Street Market) to quite large (Hannaford, Shaws).  We frequent both Bow Street, which we love, and Hannaford, which is our most convenient option, including their pharmacy.

Both are always busy, and sometimes very busy.  But we had no idea what sort of volume the ‘average’ supermarket does.  So following Casey Stengel’s advice, we looked it up.

Here’s what we quickly found at this site -

In 2013, average sales per U.S. supermarket store amounted to 16.56 million U.S. dollars.

For our purposes today, that’s good enough.  With inflation and other factors considered, we can think in terms of $350,000 a week in sales per ‘average’ supermarket, or $50,000 per day.  Somehow, that sounds about right.  Intuitively, that is, or ‘in our gut.’


We also decided it might be instructive to learn what smaller, more numerous retail establishments register in the way of revenue results.


We can all relate to nationally known franchises:

Fast food dominates the ‘local’ retail landscape it seems.


Turns out it’s fairly easy to find what sort of revenue figures such establishments yield on an annual basis.  This web site…………lists the figures for the top 50 franchises.

Look at the figures there, and you’ll conclude that on average, the best such an establishment might do in a location like Brunswick and the Midcoast at large is $1 million per year.

We have one more data point to add.  One of our close acquaintances works for a national chain that has about 700 ‘stores,’ dealing in the food/health products sector.  They specialize in various food supplements and nutritional items for those willing to pay a premium for such products.  In our view, they are playing off the Whole Foods model, carrying specialized products with prices well above what one would normally expect.  They cater to a very specific and particular clientele.

Their stores average $1,700,000 in gross revenue per year, or $33,000 per week.

By now, you’re probably asking why all this boring data has any meaning or relevance to what goes on around here.  Thanks for playing our straight man.  This is why:

EDRG Table 6.1

The above is a table contained in a study we’ve told you about in prior posts, and cited in our recent briefing given to the state’s Passenger Rail Advisory Council.

Our government paid good money to a consultant named EDRG to get this projection of economic benefit from the Amtrak Downeaster.  Note that it asserted that by 2015, which is now, Brunswick would see an increase of $95,000,000 in total business sales.

Maybe $95,000,000 is a figure that’s hard to ‘get your arms around.’  That’s why we provided the retail revenue data in the preamble to the table just above.

Think of $95,000,000 as the equivalent, of sixteen (16) new Hannaford Markets in town.  Or somewhere between 100 and 200 new franchise/fast food establishments.  By 2015….NOW.  Or 55 new high end specialty food/health product outlets.

This is what we fall for in the way of expert consultant wisdom and genius.  And models that predict Transit Oriented Development benefits to the local economy.

We don’t know about you, but this seems to us like it deserves the label ‘AAB’, for absolutely absurd and bizarre.  Frankly, it seems fraudulent……as in criminal misrepresentation.  But it makes our carriage set happy, and so it won’t be questioned.

How on earth, we have to ask, can a sane and informed populace allow such complete incompetence and wasteful use of taxpayer dollars to continue.

As we’ve said before, the question answers itself.  And the moral of our story is this:

All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.

Thank you, George Orwell. 

And sleep well in your stupor, Brunswick, Maine, and the rest of you who gobble up such garbage proffered at your expense by those who claim to be wiser than you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Something for AAB to aspire to….


We may have been off base in identifying the folks at AAB as ‘trainies,’ or ‘Kool-Aid Keggers.’ [Flying_Yankee_Matchbook_ad_derivativ.jpg]

Yes, they are zealots for ‘legacy infrastructure’ who are blind to other modes of transportation.

                         Amish horse and buggy

They are rank amateurs, however, when it comes to foamers elsewhere, as evidenced in this video, which should give us all pause as we consider the advocacy of our local spokespersons.

Watch it here:

We tried to embed it, but were unsuccessful.  We hope you can make it work, because it is truly ‘something special.’  If it doesn’t work for you, be sure to let us know.  We’ll work to solve our little technical problem.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Conflict of Visions….Transportation Style


We’ve been updating you lately about what’s going on in the Lewiston-Auburn area on the transportation front, specifically regarding expansion of Downeaster passenger rail service to the area.  Including the matter of our briefing a related Council in Augusta last week on the benefits of such service observed in Brunswick, and the expert projections that no doubt set the stage for the expansion to Brunswick.  Certain ‘interests’ in Brunswick still believe in those projections, so much so they implored Auburn officials to ignore any facts that would suggest otherwise.

To review the bidding, the state budget includes language addressing a $500,000 planning study to extend passenger rail from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn and beyond.  Each of those towns recently voted to come up with their $50,000 share of the cost, and the state will provide the other $400,000.  Presumably the result will be a plan costing less than the $107 million to $234 million estimate in this 2011 MDOT analysis: MDOT Aug 11 Portland to LA Feas.  Including a nice new MLF in that area, and an annual operating subsidy of $2 to $8 million a year.

All of which evokes memories from the salad-days of passenger rail:


From Wikepedia:

One of the most popular and busiest trains to be operated out of Portland was the Boston-Portland-Bangor "Flying Yankee" route which was run jointly by the MEC and Boston & Maine Railroads making three daily departures (two southbound and one northbound) from Portland Union Station. On April 1, 1935 this service was inaugurated with a then ground breaking diesel-powered stainless steel articulated streamline train set. Based at Portland, its three unit 142-seat integrated consist was the first such non-steam streamliner to enter service in North America east of the Mississippi, and just the third overall in the United States after the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad's almost identical "Pioneer Zephyr" (1934–1960) the Union Pacific Railroad's M-10000 (1934–1942).

The "Flying Yankee" covered about 730 total miles a day on its Monday through Saturday runs over a Portland-Boston-Portland-Bangor-Portland-Boston-Portland loop during which it reached speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. After a little over 23 years in operation during which the three unit train set traveled over five and a quarter million miles, the streamlined "Flying Yankee" made its final revenue runs on May 7, 1957 and was then retired from service.

Who knows how long it will take to do the new planning study, massage the numbers so they don’t look near as ridiculous as those in the 2011 study, go in search of the money, and then, if it can be ‘found,’ roll the dice and start spending it.  We’re thinking what….seven to ten years before any service could be available to carry distinguished retired diplomats and professionals in the area to Boston for their academic employment, refined dining and cultural events, and medical care.  All of this will be done, of course, by properly motivated government operatives spending OPM efficiently and carefully as only they know how.

Now, all of a sudden comes along a wild-eyed entrepreneur from the private sector who already operates a sizable collection of motor coach routes in Maine and nearby states.  That would be Harry Blunt, owner of Concord Coach and related enterprises.  We alerted you to the presser that would take place yesterday in the L-A area.  The photo at the top is the bus that was there for the event, and the photo just below is of Maine Turnpike Authority ED Peter Mills speaking at the event.


The Sun Journal, the esteemed journalistic guardian of freedom in the area, was so excited about the event that they went apoplectic and could not attend.  No matter; whatever coverage they might have provided would have smelled of rotting grapes, and disdain for private sector interference in the proper province of Government.

The net result, whether they like it or not, is that area residents will soon have convenient and proven means of transportation to Portland, where they can connect with other links….rail, bus, or air…to other places.  Just as important, local and state decision makers will be able to gauge local demand for such transport options.

Which undoubtedly scares the Sun Journal and local and state politicians all to hell.  What if the buses start running, and ridership is extremely low, or worse?  How will passenger rail expansion at orders of magnitude greater OPM costs be justified, rationalized, and sustained?

On the other hand, what if bus ridership exceeds expectations/projections?  Simple enough…expand the schedule accordingly with additional scheduled runs.  That should take what….maybe a month or two?

So, two parallel efforts are underway.  One was tried a long, long time ago, and went defunct nearly 60 years ago.  Passenger rail fantasists are trying to resurrect the idea at colossal public expense and with years of effort lying ahead.  All for unknown/unproven ridership demand.

The other was conceived in recent months, and will soon be operating with minimal public expense and virtually no infrastructure complications, and be as flexible as you could want in responding to lesser or greater demand.

Which leads us to the following obvious point.  NNEPRA is planning to expand Brunswick to Portland Downeaster service to 6 round trips per day, and will need at least $22 million in OPM investments in infrastructure to make it happen.  Even though there is no credible, established demand for such expansion in service.

Instead, why aren’t those plans being put on the shelf in favor of an expansion to the existing Concord Coach bus service that connects Brunswick to Portland and Boston?  We could even imagine the loop originating in Bath, then taking the bypass off Rte 1 to make a stop in Topsham, coming across the bridge to Brunswick Station, and then heading south to Portland, with a stop in Freeport if considered useful.

This expansion in service could begin virtually immediately, without any of the infrastructure complications and expenses involved in expanding Downeaster round trips to our town.  Just as important, it would be a useful demonstration project to gauge regular passenger demand for service between this area and points south.  Schedules could be adjusted quickly and efficiently.

Now we have to ask why ‘local leaders’ aren’t lobbying for just such an evolution?  Are they too devoted to spending millions upon millions in OPM to address a ‘need’ which is absolutely, totally unproven?  Are they too committed to the Field of Dreams approach to risk their own political capital in taking a stand opposing the ‘community consensus?’  Have they taken a dip in the Kool-Aid tank once too often?

                       Amish horse and buggy

Are they so committed to resurrection of “legacy transportation” models that they can’t see the horse-manure they’re spreading everywhere, at the bidding of a group of elites among the carriage set, at the expense of the populace at large?  And in the process, furthering the expansion of a bureaucracy that would not exist in a rational world?

Are they too excited about what could well become a white elephant smack dab in the heart of “pristine” downtown Brunswick?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Further thoughts on AAB, Auburn, and Brunswick….

Here’s your humble reporter, recently called ‘uncivil’ by a rabid passenger rail advocate, coming to you with further musings and additions to yesterday’s post, which featured Brunswick’s favorite local majorette.


We’re going to try to cut to the chase quickly, but before we do, we must confess that we gave some thought today to renaming our publication.  Other Side of Town seems woefully inadequate at this juncture in our civic lives. so the idea of changing it to “The Under Side of Town,” or even “The Dark Side of Town,” crossed our minds.  We have beaucoup reasons to do so, but we tabled the idea for now.


So… on to the thoughts & news of our moment.  Recall this passage from Ms. Knox letter to the Auburn City Council:

In Brunswick there are many people who travel regularly, once a month or more often, to Boston to augment or to complement the medical treatment available to them locally in Maine.  The advanced medical treatment providers in Boston offer van service to meet each train arriving, so the trip is easy and reliable, and well-suited to the needs of these patients.  Also in Brunswick, numerous semi-retired academics and others with distinguished careers in several fields commute to Boston to lecture as adjunct professors.

It occurred to us to ask why said ‘many people’ haven’t considered taking Brunswick Taxi to their destinations in Boston.  Local taxpayers coughed up a quarter millions dollars ($247,000 for the uninformed) to replace their entire fleet something like three years ago.  They have door to door service, are at your beck and call, and could certainly use the business.  24 hours a day, your fellow Brunswick citizens are just waiting to serve you. 

Shirley the ‘many people’ prioritize patronizing local businesses over the unknown corporate interests behind the Amtrak scheme.  Here’s a chance for our ‘distinguished’ retirees and semi-retirees in ‘several fields’ to demonstrate their commitment to our community.  And they just might get an FU pennant for giving them their business.


Next item: speaking of alternatives, did you see the announcement today coming from State Government?  Looks like Augusta is backing transport diversity and fiscal prudence in providing alternatives to citizenry around the state.

Media Advisory: Governor to announce bus service from Auburn to Portland

October 20, 2015

AUGUSTA – Members of the media are invited to attend a press conference with Governor Paul R. LePage at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21 to learn more about two new Auburn bus stations coming in 2016, as well as a new bus service that will provide Lewiston-Auburn residents with transportation to Portland.

The two bus stations are slated for construction in Auburn in 2016, with new service anticipated to start in early 2017. The new Downtown Auburn Transportation Center will be at 14 Great Falls Plaza in Auburn. The second station will be at Exit 75 off the Maine Turnpike.

Both stations will serve the Lewiston-Auburn fixed route bus service, Citylink, as well as provide enhanced regional connectivity through a new Concord Coach Line bus route. The route will begin at Bates College in Lewiston, stop at both new stations, then proceed to the Portland Transportation Center with connections to Boston.

Governor LePage will be joined by David Bernhardt, Commissioner of MaineDOT; Jonathan LaBonte, Mayor of the City of Auburn; Peter Mills, Executive Director of the Maine Turnpike Authority; Harry Blunt, President of Concord Coach Lines; and Phil Nadeau, Chairman of the Lewiston/Auburn Transit Committee.

WHEN: 3 p.m., October 21, 2015

WHERE: Great Falls Plaza, Auburn

Wow!  What an idea!  The service can start immediately without taxpayer ‘investment’ of hundreds of millions of dollars!

This gives us an idea, which will likely be seen as warped by The Booch, ET, Ms. Knox, and the rest of the trainies.  But here it is.  The Brunswick MLF, just starting construction for $14 million (at least), and the related proposal for a Royal Junction siding costing $8.5 million, are entirely rationalized by a pressing need to run more Downeaster round trips between Brunswick and Portland.

Memo to ALCON: three more round trips per day, or four, or five even, could be accomplished in a finger snap by engaging Concord Coach in the same way they’re adding service between Auburn and Portland.  They already service the Brunswick-Portland market, so all it takes is drivers and buses to service the new service.  It could begin….let’s speculate…by the first of the new year, and the MLF and Royal Junction proposals could be cancelled and the allocated funds used for other beneficial purposes.

Oh wait….the carriage set won’t like riding on buses…too evocative of the Greyhound terminals of yester-year.  Even though their handbags and messenger pouches will be ably loaded aboard by the driver.  Alright then, why not add the service with this type of bus:

Why?  You know why as well as we do.  The beautiful people of the carriage set demand their tribute; they must have what they must have, and we must pay for it.  You don’t expect them to ride on a bus, do you?  Have you no dignity, sir?  Ma’am?


Now for tonight’s last little info blast.  Ms. Knox linked us to an Amtrak brochure in her letter to Auburn City Councilors that contained this passage:


Ms. Knox referenced the words herself:

As the study notes, the town estimates that public funding of $5.2 million in federal, state, and local funds, has generated private investments of $25 million in the community.  The valuation of Brunswick Station property itself went from $676,700 in 2008 to $6,725,400 in 2011, even in anticipation of Downeaster service which was initiated in November 2012.  Development spurred by the service is a source of valuable tax revenue to the town, and more importantly, the Brunswick Station development has created 97 new full time jobs.

As we are wont to do, we decided to follow up on this information, so we stopped by the Brunswick assessor’s office.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • 2 Station Avenue, the former Bowdoin Store, now occupied by Edible Arrangements and Magic Ear, and owned by JHR Development: taxable asset value, $400,600, and a tax bill of $11,361.
  • 6 Station Avenue, the Midcoast Federal Credit Union, who owns the property, with a taxable asset value (TAV) of $493,200, and property taxes of $13,987.
  • 16 Station Avenue, the eastern half of the main Brunswick Station building, owned by JHR Development: TAV, $2,050,500, and property taxes of $58,152.
  • 22 Station Avenue, the western half of the Brunswick Station building, owned by JHR Development: TAV, $2,037,100, property taxes $57,772.
  • 4 Noble Street, the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern, owned by “Maine and Noble LLC” of Marblehead, MA (guess who that is!), TAV $4,077,500, property taxes $115,637.

If we did this correctly, the aggregate assessed value of the Brunswick Station Development, including the Hotel and Tavern, is $9,058,900.  And total property taxes generated adds up to $256,909.


So on the face of things, the “$5.2 million in federal, state, and local funds” has “generated” private investments of less than $9 million, keeping in mind the MFCU is not part of the promotional mix here.  Not $25 million in private investment by the developer.

Now we suppose someone might come back to us saying that we simply went by taxable value, not actual dollars invested in the properties.  Fine; go ahead and play that card.

In which case we’ll play the card that says the town has grossly under-assessed a $25 million development, not even taking the TIFs and other arrangements into account.


Either way, we think flags should be flying, and Ms. Knox and her AAB groupies should rework their story.  Especially if they want to sell it to others who might not be as gullible as they are.


That’s “The Other Side” for today, fun-seekers!  And don’t even get us started on the 98 jobs claim.

AAB Ships Trainload of Kool-Aid to Auburn City Council

Let’s start with a quick update on passenger rail expansion advocacy in Maine at the moment.  A Legislator from Lewiston, Rep. Jared Golden, submitted a bill (LD 323) earlier this year proposing that the state conduct a $500,000 study to ‘plan’ passenger rail expansion to Lewiston & Auburn.  Rep. Golden and the other usual suspects testified at the hearing for the bill, almost everyone talking about the economic benefits the expansion would cause. 

Long story short, the bill eventually got absorbed into the state’s biennial budget.  It ended up reading that the state would chip in $400,000 for the study, and the cities of Lewiston and Auburn would each be required to chip in $50,000 for the effort to move forward.  The Governor line-item vetoed the budget item, but the legislature over-rode the veto.

Lewiston’s council voted to approve their $50,000 share a few weeks ago.  Auburn’s council approved their share last night.

Maine’s Department of Transportation (MDOT) produced a 100 page plus analysis of exactly the same proposed expansion in 2011.  You can find that effort here:

MDOT Aug 11 Portland to LA Feas.

We published excerpts from it in a recent post:

The 2011 study shows huge numbers to expand the passenger service to the L/A area.  And if you read the testimony for LD 323, you’ll find a statement that 22 trains a day will have to run between Portland and L/A to qualify for specific federal fiscal underwriting.

Last week, when we gave our talk to the MDOT Passenger Rail Advisory Council, as described here:, Rep. Golden, a member of the Council, after listening to our talk, avowed that his proposal for expanding service to the L/A area was ‘not about economic benefit,’ though he forgot to say what it is about.  Apparently he was a bit non-plussed by our hard data from the Brunswick area.


Now we have word that Claudia Knox, Brunswick resident, AAB Organizer, and active member of the Brunswick Downtown Association, wrote to the Auburn City Council Sunday to rave on and on about the economic benefits Brunswick has reaped from the Downeaster, and to encourage them to approve the $50,000 sum for the study, which would then allow it to move forward.  Presumably to overcome the dismal results of the 2011 MDOT sponsored effort, by engaging a consulting firm more compliant in generating the desired results.  For example, CNT, the Chicago consulting firm that did the idiotic 2008 study for NNEPRA, cited at the meeting last night by a member of the public.


Ms. Knox may have written because she learned that we sent a message to the Auburn council last week ourselves, including the presentation material we used in Augusta.  If you’ve looked at it, you know it has substantial data depicting Brunswick’s realities.

We might add that last year, when we attempted to convince the Brunswick Town Council to simply discuss the possibility of an actual study of economic realities in town resulting from the Downeaster, Ms. Knox chose to take an opposing view by citing the 2008 CNT Study full of bizarrely exaggerated economic benefit projections to our fair town as ‘evidence.’  Once again, reading our presentation of last week will give you all the info you need to see through the approach taken by the train fantasists, of which Ms. Knox is a leading example.

Here’s the letter Ms. Knox sent to Auburn:

Dear Mr. Mayor and Members of the Auburn City Council,

I understand that during the conversation about passenger rail at your most recent meeting, comments were made suggesting that the Downeaster experience in Brunswick had not been beneficial economically.  I write to share with you data that investments in our community are far enough along to validate the power of rail to drive economic development in walkable, sustainable, downtowns like Brunswick.

Below is a link to a case study prepared by Amtrak last year documenting some of the benefits of the Brunswick station.

As the study notes, the town estimates that public funding of $5.2 million in federal, state, and local funds, has generated private investments of $25 million in the community.  The valuation of Brunswick Station property itself went from $676,700 in 2008 to $6,725,400 in 2011, even in anticipation of Downeaster service which was initiated in November 2012.  Development spurred by the service is a source of valuable tax revenue to the town, and more importantly, the Brunswick Station development has created 97 new full time jobs.

As an active resident of downtown Brunswick and in my service on the Board of the Brunswick Downtown Association, I hear frequently from business owners who benefit from customers who have traveled here by train.   The Visitor Center operated by the Brunswick Downtown Association regularly assists Mainers who drive to Brunswick from towns to our North to board the Downeaster, or who have come to meet arriving friends and relatives. The benefit of passenger rail increases each year.

In addition to the economic benefits of the train, there are the less tangible benefits to families in our community. In Brunswick there are many people who travel regularly, once a month or more often, to Boston to augment or to complement the medical treatment available to them locally in Maine.  The advanced medical treatment providers in Boston offer van service to meet each train arriving, so the trip is easy and reliable, and well-suited to the needs of these patients.  Also in Brunswick, numerous semi-retired academics and others with distinguished careers in several fields commute to Boston to lecture as adjunct professors.  And the travelers come from the other direction by train too, as Boston-based professionals can arrive by morning train, check on elderly relations here, and return by late afternoon train.

I hope this information dispels any argument that the train has not been good for Brunswick.  Track improvements at Yarmouth Junction will optimize the service we now enjoy.  With wisdom, you can assure that passenger rail service to your town builds upon the strong foundation laid by the Downeaster and benefits your community and its neighboring towns.  


Claudia Knox


In order to deal with her missive as efficiently as possible, we’re going to use a ‘bulletized’ response format, rather than our usual long winded style.  The order may not follow hers, but will follow the order in which the thoughts occur to us.

  • Her last paragraph includes these words: “Track improvements at Yarmouth Junction will optimize the service we now enjoy.”  She fails to mention that this project will cost $8 million plus, is the subject of a TIGER Grant application by NNEPRA in the current cycle, and in all likelihood will not be approved.  It would add, of course, to the $14 million or so being spent on the Layover Facility to “optimize the service we now enjoy.”
  • The document she links to as evidence of benefits to Brunswick demonstrates the level of propaganda passenger rail advocates are stooping to.  Amtrak is an entity operated by the Federal Government, with enormous annual subsidies, which as it turns out, are increasingly at risk.  Using a Federal Government ‘study’ to document the benefits of a Federal Government program is the height of deception, and frankly, irresponsible.  Ms. Knox should be ashamed of doing so, but those who look to Government to provide their every want, no matter the cost, don’t have the same scruples the rest of us possess.
    • The document is outdated, an embarrassment, and seems to repeat itself non-sensically.  The claims about one restaurant make no sense, since it was located previously just steps away and was as successful as its size would permit.  They have more room in the station building, but that has nothing to do with the train.
    • If the town claims more than $25 million in development, why has the property value only increased to $6.7 million?
  • She refers to “many people who travel regularly, once a month or more often, to Boston to augment or to complement the medical treatment available to them locally in Maine.”  Is she suggesting that Maine Medical can’t provide the necessary medical treatment?  We just had lunch with someone familiar with the advanced cancer research being conducted by MaineMed, and we were very impressed.  
    • That aside, is she suggesting that taxpayers should be happy to spend $60 million or more in capital projects, and millions a year in operating subsidies, so a few people can travel from Brunswick to Boston on a train, rather than ride a bus?   With far more schedule choices than the train offers?  Strangely, AAB members and many others seem as unable to utter the word “bus” as the Fonz was to utter the word “sorry.”
  • Ms. Knox also makes this statement: “Also in Brunswick, numerous semi-retired academics and others with distinguished careers in several fields commute to Boston to lecture as adjunct professors.” 
    • We’ll leave it to readers to challenge her on this, but given testimony on the record at various hearings, etc, we’re pretty sure that by “numerous” and “others” she means one retired diplomat and his spouse who have publicly stated they ride the Downeaster to Boston to the tune of 100 round-trips per year so he can teach, get medical care, and they can enjoy cultural events, dinner out, etc.  But who knows; maybe Mr. Knox is also commuting to Boston to lecture adjunctly these days.
    • Once again, how many millions are the many supposed to spend so the few in the carriage set can ride a limited number of train options, rather than numerous scheduled bus options?
    • At what point do we conclude that the subject couple, if they feel the need to travel 160 miles twice a week on the train for work, medical care, and amusement are simply living in the wrong place?  Or perhaps they’d prefer that taxpayers create a helicopter service that picks them up on their estate grounds and drops them off at their destination so shuttles aren’t necessary.  All on their own schedule.

The study Ms. Knox refers to is so much baloney, to be frank.  Yes, the Brunswick Station site was sitting there fallow and vacant for a very long time because of economic realities.  Surprisingly enough, it once held a train station for passenger rail, but that service was an idea whose time had passed.

Millions upon millions of taxpayer monies went into renovating the site and attracting a developer who would risk building on the site.  Brunswick itself invested millions.  The facts associated with this development are these…at least in enough detail for our purposes here:

  • Midcoast Medical is a hugely active developer of medical facilities in the Midcoast Region, and is essentially gobbling up one time competitors like PAMC.  The station building provided a ready place for them to locate right in the center of town, saving them the effort of building it themselves.  The train has absolutely nothing to do with their presence there or their viability as an enterprise in that location.
  • The majority of the ‘development’ at the station has absolutely nothing to do with Downeaster passenger rail service.  Anyone who thinks Midcoast Medical, Maine Orthopedics, the bank, Scarlet Begonias, Byrnes Irish Pub, Edible Arrangements, and Miracle Ear are in business because of the train, and would shut down if the train discontinued, is delusional.
    • Further, anyone who hasn’t noticed the vacant properties on Maine Street and elsewhere in town refuses to accept reality.
    • JHR, the developer of Brunswick Station, has abandoned the development of two phases of the project: 1) a building with 16 condos and retail spaces, and 2) an added office building that would subsume parking for the medical offices on the west end of the property, across from the McLellan building.
    • Meanwhile, JHR is pursuing development of condos in Bath.
  • Here’s a telling snip from the Amtrak ‘study:”


Still in development?  If shown on paper several years ago means ‘still in development, we suppose.  But the facts on the ground are that after 3 years of train service, there’s no sign anything is going to happen, and JHR is moving forward on multiple residential buildings in Bath.  And $5.2 million in public funds “leveraged more than $25 million in private investment?”  Translation: the business owner wasn’t going to gamble on the opportunity without $5 million from the taxpayer.  Guess he didn’t think the idea would fly on its own merits.  Suppose you said you wouldn’t buy your house  unless the taxpayer gave you 20% of the purchase price?


So while we’re sure Ms. Knox and her friends love parades, we think they should go sell crazy somewhere else, because we already have enough in town.


It’s time for her and her fellow AAB’ers to realize this is Maine, not the suburbs of Washington DC.  Or Boston.  Or New York City.

And to stop demanding that the rest of us spend whatever they think it would take to make us so.  If that’s what they want, just move there and be done with it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Brunswick Schools: Not as great as we’ve been told? Housing values depressed accordingly?




    Vulnerable individuals advised to have smelling salts at the ready!

   Schoolies should take special precautions; articles of faith at risk in what follows!


After years and years of attending town budget sessions, we’ve become virtually immune to fervent testimony from the Mommy Mafia asserting that “Brunswick has the best schools,” and that “my child’s teacher is the best teacher ever,” which is a variation on “Brunswick has the best teachers.”

We don’t have children in the Brunswick Schools, but we’re pretty convinced you could hear the same words in just about every town in America.  Who’s gonna admit they moved to and live in a town with less than ‘the best’ schools?  Is any parent going to say, in a public setting like budget deliberations, that they send their child to anything less than ‘the best school,’ or has anything less than ‘the best teacher?’

We don’t think so, Tim.

In recent years, BCU has brought union-like organizing to the ‘best schools, best teachers’ annual 25 mommy march for more money.  And now that we have an experienced realtor on the town council, we’ve been assured that the reason most people move to Brunswick is ‘because our schools are the best.’  If only she could tell us the reason most people move out of Brunswick; what tales that might tell.

How real estate agents would know this is beyond us, since objective evaluations of schools so a comparison can take place are verboten.  We must rely instead on realtors to evaluate them when shopping for a new home town.  Surely they’re objective; it’s their stock in trade.  Look at those ads they write in the Sunday papers.  Every home is the best, and just what you’re looking for.  Even more, the home has been looking for you -  ‘awaiting your personal touch to bring it to fullness of life once again.’  Hence, when such a sales agent tells a prospect that “Perfect’s schools are the best,” said prospect can take that to the bank.

We understand very dedicated realtors actually convene at quarterly retreats to discuss school rankings in their territories, thus ensuring their testimonies in this regard are timely and accurate.  We were going to confirm this by talking to agents in towns with schools that are less than the best, but we couldn’t find any in time to make our deadline.

You’ll just have to trust our local realtors on this; they’re not like all the rest.

So what you are about to read may be a problem for many of you.  A ‘noted’ opinion columnist and free-lance writer moved to our fair town last year, from a nearby town about which he frequently frothed.  Under the circumstances, we’re not sure why he moved; it surely couldn’t be the Downeaster tracks close by his former property, and discussions about expanding service on those tracks to 22 trains per day.  If he did, it would be a deft play on NIMBY-ism, and he’s too common-good oriented to do that.


A few weeks back, the local free weekly ran an article on the joint council-school board meeting held to discuss the state of disrepair for Brunswick’s government owned, maintained, and operated schools.  The article included a comment section, and sure enough, the AII certified writer (Attitude Instruction Illuminati) to whom we refer posted a comment.

The article and comments can be found here:

The learned opinion of the celebrated transplant from Yarmouth to Brunswick is this:

EABeem20 days ago

They don't build them like they used to. Portland High School was built in 1864 and is the oldest continuously operating public high school in the country. Of course, tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the years renovating and updating it, as I assume has been done in Weehauken (sic). Investing in our schools is the best investment a community can make. Not only do the school system and the facilities represent an investment in the future and reflect the values of a community, but tax dollars spent on education translate into higher home values. The house we bought last year in Brunswick would cost $150,000 more in Yarmouth, principally because of the quality of the schools. Yarmouth residents spent $20 million of their own money (no state help) to improve their school buildings in 2001.

The emphasis, as you might guess, is ours. 


Shocked is an understatement.

We’re filing this report for two reasons.  First, so local realtors can be sure to modify their endorsements of Brunswick schools.  Second, so the upcoming revaluation process can be sure to take this into account when comparing housing values between the two towns.  According to our neighbor the pundit, Brunswick housing values are hundreds of thousand lower than Yarmouth’s.

And we have a Downeaster train station!

Where’s the community justice?  Where’s the fairness?  Where’s the economic benefit?  Where’s the TOD driven housing demand, driving our prices ever upward?  Where’s the common good?

We despair; what else can one do in the midst of such cognitive dissonance?


Now you can’t call us sexist, can you?  And if you don’t mind, we’ll opt for a fairly well known adult beverage with which to console ourselves in the midst of such tragic revelations….on the internet for all to see, no less!!                 


OK, wait!  Stop the presses at Side’s printing subsidiary.  We may have to start prepping a story that says ‘Local AII Pundit to Reap $150,000 Windfall Profit; Thanks School Board.’


We feel moved to call upon the dusty crystal ball we keep in the bottom of the trash barrel here at our offices.  This is what we see, feel free to challenge our ‘vision.’  (It’s been a while since we had it checked, thank you.)

A plan to spend $35-40 million on Brunswick school assets will suddenly emerge as the only viable option, especially when you consider ‘the children.’  The referendum on bonding to cover this amount will conveniently align with the results of the town-wide revaluation.  The bond issue will be promoted as ‘partially offsetting the major reduction in tax rate that resulted from the assessment update.’

Timing is everything, it is written.  And this is timing at it’s most convenient for elected town officials, and the professionals who guide them “to do the right thing.”  The last figure I had for our tax rate for this year is $28.36.

Advice to the consultants who do the work may well end up lowering that rate to say….oh perhaps $23.00 or so.  But because we need to spend $35 million or more on physical school assets, it may have to grow to $25-26.00 or so to cover debt service.

See how it works?  Headlines will read that “even in the face of a huge new construction program, Brunswick leaders were able to keep the new tax rate lower than before.”

It’s magic, we say, especially if you pay your property taxes via your mortgage impound account,  which can make your head spin when the annual reconciliation statement arrives.


You’ll suddenly find that your house is worth $150,000 more (gosh, Mable, our investment is paying off!); your tax rate has gone down (just like they promised!).  Now if we could only figure out why our mortgage payment is going up so much.  Oh hell, it’s been happening year after year forever; we’re use to it.  Still, remind me to look into it and call ‘somebody’ to figure out what happened, will you hon?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mr. Side Goes To Augusta

In the last year or so, we’ve become fans of Turner Classic Movies (TCM.)  There’s a refreshing innocence and simplicity to the movies they run.  We’ve even come to appreciate the artistic merits of B&W movies.  Color movies offer visual ‘reality;’  B&W is far more creative because it is not visual reality.  Mrs. Side is not convinced, but we are.

    Mr Smith goes to Washington

Take a look at this still from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  A Jimmie Stewart classic for sure, and it wouldn’t be nearly as ‘artistic’ if it was shot in color.

Enough of this creative mumbo-jumbo.  Playing off the Stewart role, your correspondent, Mr. Side, went to Augusta today to brief the Passenger Rail Advisory Committee jointly chaired by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.  Or as they’re called in casual conversation, MDOT and NNEPRA.

The Governor was there for most of our presentation, and the Commissioner of MDOT was there for the entire meeting.  Besides the “Council” itself, a number of passenger rail Illuminati were also there, including three members of All Aboard Brunswick; Tony Donovan, the founding principle of Maine Rail Transit Coalition, and various others.

We think a few quotes from our archives are appropriate to set the stage for your own review of the material.

Ben Franklin observed, "One of the tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts.“

Winston Churchill complained, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.

Here’s the cover chart to our presentation:

Title Chart

You can access the entire PowerPoint pitch here:

We think it’s fair to say that the reaction to our presentation was ‘mixed,’ to state it mildly.  A few folks clearly showed body language and various other signs of distress over our pronouncements.


That didn’t stop them from diving into the Frosty’s  Donuts we brought with us, however.

Various forms of back-pedaling were also observed in response, such as “this really isn’t about economic benefits” from the main legislative sponsor of the $500,000 “study” to lay out plans for rail expansion to the Lewiston/Auburn area.

We could go on and on, but Frank Lee, after weeks of working on the pitch, we’re Mental Lee weary at the moment.  So we’re gonna go for a quick close.

                                    Image result for mr. grumpy pants

We know for a fact that certain members of the Brunswick Town Council like to refer to us as “Mr. Grumpy.”  We’re quite pleased about that, actually.

On the other hand, we know that the vast majority of our readers think of us as Mr. Nice Guy.


After today, we expect the gossip around town will be that we no longer deserve that affectionate moniker.


We hope, however, that at least a few of you will continue to think of us as a ‘puddy tat,’ and we hereby give the Booch and her lady friends permission to take the image above and applique it to their poodle skirts for the next Sock Hop at the Brunswick Station Departure Center.

We sincerely hope that our presentation today doesn’t spoil the fun at tomorrow’s Annual TrainRiders Northeast Gala Banquet in Portland.  After all, isn’t full and open discussion how we figure out which best ideas win?

Monday, October 12, 2015

New Maine Dictionary plans to add ‘bus’ to lexicon; Betke ‘byte’ adds illuminating commentary

     Ladies of Brunswick

Those of you who follow the mystical magical unfolding of passenger rail resurrection in our region, and in particular, as the unaffordable, unsustainable second coming reveals itself in Brunswick, know that the All Aboard Brunswick demographic is largely unaware that other transit options exist.  Some even use the same Departure Center at Brunswick Station used by the riders of the Downeaster.


So we’re shocked to find out that another option has been created, in contravention to the local consensus.  See it here:

The above photo shows what accommodations on this new mode of transportation, called a ‘bus,’ will look like.

Compare it to these Downeaster accommodations, designed to bring economic benefit to Maine communities:


The Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics are Maine teams, aren’t they?

Our friend George Betke, from whom we’ve posted guest columns in the past, sent us these observations regarding the new bus service:

Don’t look now, folks, but Harry Blunt of Concord Coach Lines is making fools of  those enthralled with the notion of instituting Amtrak train service between Portland and New York City via Worcester and Hartford sometime in the distant future. He’s doing it now, non-stop, with deluxe equipment, valued amenities, superior transit time, a market-based price, and without asking taxpayers for a dime. His only subsidy will be the one you and I already provide to maintain highways for use by all motor vehicles.

Harry’s initiative reflects the competitive spirit and risk-taking propensity of American business. Identify a product or service that people appear to need and take the chance of overlooking something that could prove otherwise. He’ll know in a few months whether a viable market exists and if it could warrant a second daily round trip. If it doesn’t, there’s no need to abandon a huge investment in the special-purpose infrastructure that is problematic for any small-market railroad endeavor.

The bus is our most flexible mass-transit technology, well-suited for testing potential patronage. Without a fixed guideway, it can turn left or right at any intersection and stop anywhere along its route. Service can be as frequent as demand warrants, and elaborate stations are superfluous. I challenge proponents of passenger rail to identify any popular inter-city route that was not previously served by bus – and most likely still is.

The most interesting aspect of the Portland-Boston travel corridor is that Concord Coach has the lion’s share of patrons and makes money, even though its round-trip fare is 52% higher than the train, while the underutilized “Downeaster” generates operating losses from a supposedly superior experience in terms of comfort and amenities. One reason – 27 daily round-trip buses to multiple Boston destinations (with departures spanning 20 hours a day) versus five trains to North Station.

And we found this related promo on the Concord Coach web site:


We don’t expect the luxury bus service to last.  The legacy transportation fans……

                     Amish horse and buggy

… “All Aboard Brunswick,” and “TrainRiders Northeast,” will see it’s creation as just another act of the ‘no it alls’ who can’t see the irrefutable logic of passenger rail.

What else would we expect from NBIMY’s?

Sorry….that’s not a spelling error; we’re talking about the “No Bus In My Yard” troops.

Check back with us soon; we’ll have some exciting news in the next few days.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Say, there Bandstanders, we have one more question for those cool kids over at AAB to answer….

You may have already forgotten yesterday’s post in which we published this graphic:

Brunswick ridership chart

We used it to make a point in these passages:

Betke’s piece caused us to review some things.  First, the most recent number publicized for the Brunswick MLF is $13.8 million, though we understand from the NNEPRA web site that the contract price has not been finalized.  Second, NNEPRA’s 2015 TIGER Grant Cycle Application, submitted earlier this year, says the estimated cost of the Royal Junction Siding needed to “optimize” the Portland North Service is $8.5 million.  You can find the info here: TIGER 7 Grant Application - Royal Junction Siding Project | Amtrak Downeaster

Those two numbers add up to $22.3 Million, a rather princely sum, even in these days of printing money when it suits our needs.  We’re confident the REAL costs will be substantially higher, but this is big enough to make our point.  That point being $22.3 million to do WHAT???

You can see our takeaway; even before the numerous problems with track repair this year, an average of 34 riders per day travel between Brunswick and ALL points to the south.  And for Freeport, an average of 10 (rounded) per day travel between that shopping mecca and ALL points to the south.  And no one can prove that these are new travelers, instead of travelers diverted from using other alternatives (auto, bus).

When we think of spending $22.3 million to support this ridership, we can only ask what it is NNEPRA, AAB, and the others who support this idea are thinking?

We extended an offer to the ‘kids’ to submit an explanation for publishing here, or to The Ostrich.  We’re pretty sure they can figure out how to reach either of us.

As we notoriously do, we had afterthoughts about this issue, and they derive from the ridership graphic above, combined with these items, taken today from the NNEPRA web site:

DE Northbound Schedule

DE Southbound Schedule

The salient points to notice from these schedules are that 1)  Saco/Biddeford is serviced by 5 round trips per day (5 trains southbound, 5 trains northbound);  2)  Saco/Biddeford is about an hour and fifteen minutes closer to NH and MA points, including Boston, than Brunswick is; and 3)  Brunswick is serviced by 2 trains southbound and 2 trains northbound per day.

Now cast your eyes upward to those ridership figure tables.  In the June 2014 summary, you’ll note that Saco had 2,626 riders, compared to Brunswick with 2,021.  This is about 600 more for the month, or an average of 20 more per day.  But spread over five Downeaster round trips instead of two round trips.  This works out to an average of 10 more round trip riders per day, spread over those five round trips.

Keep in mind that Saco/Biddeford are in a far more densely populated region of the state than is Brunswick, and is, as we noted, an hour and fifteen minutes closer to destinations to the south, making it a far more reasonable trip from a convenience perspective.  Yet they average 44 round trippers per day, compared to 34 for Brunswick.  Spread over five round trips, that means they average nine round trip riders per train loop.

45 Round trippers per day with five choices on each train, compared to 34 round trippers per day with two choices on each train.  From stations that are one hour and fifteen minutes apart. Brunswick north of Portland, in the thinning out population area; Saco/Biddeford south of Portland, in the more concentrated population area.

So here’s the new question we pose to our friends at AAB, hoping they will respond with a credible explanation.  The ED of NNEPRA stated at a recent “Rally for Rail” in Auburn that her goal is to have 6 round trips a day between Portland and Brunswick, and 5 round trips a day between Boston and Brunswick.

We asked yesterday why anyone would want to spend $23 million plus to increase service to Brunswick and Freeport. 

Now we add to that the documented experience in Saco/Biddeford with far more amenable scheduled service, and a far shorter ride to points south, and ask how anyone can look at the data on the record and credibly assert that doubling or even tripling the service to Brunswick (and Freeport) will drive a massive increase in Downeaster patronage?


Frank Lee, we just don’t get it.  But perhaps the keener minds at AAB will help us sort through things.  And buy the house a couple of rounds of Kool-Aid shooters.

We’re waiting for your answer, friends, and holding column space in reserve for your answer.


Other Side