Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2015/10/mr-side-goes-to-augusta.html, 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.

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