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.

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