Saturday, November 21, 2015

Non Sequitur nails the “Transit Oriented Development” modus operandi

Years ago, a frequent wave off in the bizarre crowd in which we ‘grew up’ was ‘see you in the funny papers.’  It seemed ever so much more sophisticated than ‘see you later, alligator,’ which was memorialized in song.  By Bill Haley and the Comets, wasn’t it?.

Over the years, we came to learn the lesson that good comedy almost always has an element of truth in it.  And that the best of the ‘funny papers’ is very good at poking fun at us, our lives, and those things we consider important.

Shoe, Pebbles, Peanuts, Zits, and any number of other strips often make us chuckle.  Non Sequitur does sometimes, but other times leaves us totally cold.

In recent days, the well known strip offered this insight:

Studies R Us

“Studies R Us.”  Geez!  Why didn’t we think of that when we reviewed the scandalous incompetence and wasted dollars represented in the “Transit Oriented Development” studies we’ve told you and others about?  The ones that have driven the ecstatic support for passenger rail spending (‘investment’ to zealots; speculation in reality) in the hundreds of millions of dollars here in Maine and nearby states to create the Downeaster.  Among other marvelous achievements of Government.

We’ll remind you of one of our favorite projections promulgated by one of these charlatans, willingly paid for with YOUR tax dollars, with no challenge to the assertions:

EDRG Table 6.1

Judging from the cartoon strip above, Wiley Miller is familiar with the efforts of CNT and fellow members of the Consultant Industrial Complex.

Now he needs to take on the gullible and unconcerned bureaucrats who sponsor and then accept the results of such folly, using them to justify irrational spending demands.

To forward their careers, and that of others.

Is this a great country or what?

Don’t answer that, please.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

PPH Maine Voices: Rerouting Downeaster funding to critical priorities


Selected passages:

When complete, this will put total capital expense for the Downeaster in the $150 million-plus range. Add operating deficits since inception, and taxpayers will have kicked in $250 million so far and will keep doing so at $13 million (and growing) in annual operating subsidies alone.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s extravagance brings to mind troubling excesses uncovered at other state authorities: the Maine Turnpike and Maine State Housing, which share the same accountability and transparency flaws.

You can read the entire column here:

You probably need the practice on opening links anyway.  Be sure to read the comments; they offer great insight into the public ‘mind-set’ on these matters.  (We hate terms like mind-set, but that’s a topic for another time.)

            Ladies of Brunswick


We’re hoping our friends at All Aboard Brunswick and ChoochooRidersNortheast chime in soon; we trust they find the position put forth to be enlightening, and more importantly, in the ‘greater community interest,’ which is sacred to them.  They do care about the rest of us, don’t they?

                   Amish horse and buggy

Which brings to mind the theological aspects of transportation in some communities.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Unsustainability, thy name is “Legacy Passenger Rail”


An assertion that the Amtrak Downeaster excursion on the imaginary axis is a $250 million experiment in legacy transportation is credible and supportable with facts on the public record. 

Even more credible are these passages from the Maine Central Railroad 1959 Annual Report:

 MCR 59 snip page 9

  MCR 59 snip page 10

“….conclusively destroying any concept of public necessity.”  We love that phraseology, from the year of our High School graduation, when common sense and rational thought were more in fashion than they are now.  Sadly, a preference for such things is ‘so yesterday.’

Regardless, we thought we’d bring you this latest ‘draft operating budget’ from NNEPRA, the operator of the Amtrak Downeaster.  It’s in two sections because of production issues, which offer us a chance to insert comments along the way.


The budget segment just above shows (in the highlighted entries) that NNEPRA projects operating revenues for the current fiscal year to be less than the projected operating revenues for the prior fiscal year.  Specifically, projected ticket sales are down by $300,000.  They can’t blame this on harsh winters and other deflections.  These are PROJECTIONS.

On the other hand, Amtrak is raising their “rental fees” by $2 million, or 17%!  This is a clear indicator of Amtrak fiscal challenges nation-wide, and it’s sure to continue as the political and economic underpinnings of the Amtrak pipe dream erode. 

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop" is known as Herbert Stein’s Law.  Unless, of course, you’re able to print as much money as you need, like they do in Washington.

Moving on:


We take issue with the term “Total Capital and Operating Expense.”  Nothing in the way of capital expense is shown in this budget document. 


Not even the cost of the Brunswick MLF.  Nor are peripheral operating costs, such as the cost of the Brunswick Taxi contract (~$200,000 per year), or the municipal expenses for operating/maintaining local stations and “visitors centers.”  This must have been an oversight.  Or perhaps an inadvertent error in transparency.  Thank you, Dr. Gruber.

Ignoring those minor ‘clerical errors’ for the moment, we can’t help but notice that the operating subsidy required for the current year is up by 23% over the actual amount last year, or nearly $2.5 million.  Wow; sounds like awards and bonuses are called for all around!

We also note that in line 3, state match, there is no mention of New Hampshire or Massachusetts chipping in, even though nearly half of Downeaster ridership occurs exclusively within those states.  Can we all take a deduction for subsidizing their train riders; this is an act of ‘charity,’ is it not?

Let’s review the takeaways from the foregoing.



We recognize that some members of our vast readership, and in particular, the ladies of AAB, are unable to grasp the magnitude of numbers like $12.9 million, since the largest number they encounter in an average day is the price of a double decaf latte with extra cinnamon and vanilla syrup and three cherries at a trendy local coffee house.

  Ladies of Brunswick

We’ll help them this way.  $12.9 million is $1.075 million per month.  That equates to  $35,833 (plus change) per day, or $1493 per hour.  All year round, every day, every hour.

So what; that’s only $25 a minute or so.  What’s the big deal?

Here’s another way to think of it. Brunswick accounts for roughly 7% of Downeaster ridership, so on a pro-rata basis, we account for $903,000 of this year’s operating deficit.  That’s more than $17,000 per week and nearly $2,500 per day.  To carry 17 riders on an average train.  Not including local subsidy costs.

We trust Our Ladies of Brunswick will write once they have a chance to absorb these ‘figures,’ and construct a counter-narrative based on whatever it is they consume to dream up their fanciful ‘community-based’ justifications for throwing public money down a public rat hole.

We won’t bother you tonight with our estimate of $250 million in speculation on the Downeaster.  Speculation is the right word, and any time you hear someone use the word ‘investment,’ tell them to talk to your hand, if you can find it in your heart to do that.  As for us, we’d use a slightly less civil word than hand.

We won’t tell you about the $75 million or so on basic Downeaster start up; the $75 million or so on extending service north of Portland; or the $100 million or so in annual operating subsidies so far.

But we do want to make sure we’ve got things straight, if you’ll forgive the use of a ‘trigger’ word.  We mean no micro-aggression.

Ticket revenue declining by 3%, and rental costs for train equipment increasing by 17%.  Taxpayer subsidy demand up by 23%.


And you want us to believe this is a sustainable enterprise model?  What do you think we are?  Gullible taxpayers?


Oh wait; that’s EXACTLY what we are, isn’t it?

Monday, November 9, 2015

A “Plan B” for Brunswick….your Monday Night lagniappe

Last week we composed and disseminated a ‘presentation’ inspired by recent transit sector happenings in the Auburn area, juxtaposed against the well known passenger rail silliness that has descended upon Brunswick. 

We’re not going to go through the usual listing of our prior posts on the subject and the related links.  We assume that if you’re a regular reader, and interested in the subject in general, you’ve read our prior items, but if not, will have no problem finding them in the index area to the right side of our page.

Here’s the cover page of this latest composition:


You can find the rest of it here:

If you do follow up and look at it, be sure to look at the last page, especially if you consider yourself a realist in economic matters.  It should provide much fodder for critical thought.  You should be able to rotate the budget summary view to the normal reading position by using your pdf viewing options.

If not, have no fear.  In the next day or two, we’ll be providing a detailed commentary on this one page.  Why?  Because it summarizes the folly that is NNEPRA and the Amtrak Downeaster. 


Unless you think money grows on trees, and we should be providing carriage level transit for the few at the expense of the many, while much higher priorities in the common interest go unaddressed.


On the other hand, this is what makes modern day America what it is.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

“futurely right:” the last refuge of a foamer caught in the headlights

Our text for this homily: Ben Franklin observed, "One of the tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts.“                     


In past posts over the years, we’ve used images like the one above as a metaphor for gushing over-reaction towards a variety of causes.

Only recently did we learn that the term ‘foamer’ is in widespread use for a more specific circumstance.   We learned of it from a colleague, and passed it along in this post:

We provided a link to this video:, which seems to us the quintessential example of a foamer captured live in a moment of railroading rapture.

As phate would have it, our recent letter published in the Forecaster, which we told you about here, flushed out a local example of a foamer from these parts.  He shows himself in the comments that resulted from our letter. (


Foamers are those who have moved beyond Kool-Aid quaffing, to a more advanced stage of irrationality, and can no longer contain themselves when the object of their affections is questioned.

In the case we’re bringing before you, we suspect that TrainFoamersNortheast, a clandestine coven consisting of ‘selected’ members of TrainRidersNortheast and All Aboard Brunswick, has decided to display their intellects and twisted ethics in public.  Why we’re not sure, but we’re glad they did.

Perhaps the Grand Wizard of TRNE has sentenced them to exile on shady acres somewhere..if he hasn’t, he should.  They add no luster to a group sadly in need of it.

Here’s a look at the comments we’re referring to; ‘farmertom2’ was the first to post a comment:


Note the reference to the “antiplanner” web site.  We’re quite familiar with it; they should think about adding an “antifoamer” subpage to their site.  Next in the comment thread came a discourse on the realities of motor coach vs.Downeaster fuel consumption:


This provoked the best that ‘farmertom2’ has in reply:


As they like to say out in the pasture, ‘holy cow!’

Based on his incisive comment, we’re guessing that ‘farmertom2’ lives somewhere south of Never Willbe, a town ‘that time forgot’ as the old saying goes, and that most of us try not to visit anymore than we have to.

Here’s the costume we suspect he wore for Haloween.


We shouldn’t be too harsh though.   When you can’t find a place in Reality, where else are you gonna put down roots?  Never Willbe doesn’t have very good schools, which is probably why ‘farrmertom2,’ in addition to his other shortcomings, isn’t much of a speller.

We’re sure he meant to identify himself as ‘foamertom2’. 

We’ll close with this zinger:

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

We’ve used it before.  So what; we own this ‘publication.’.

Not pastly, not futurely; but nowly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

“AAH;” Should Downeaster service be extended to Harpswell?


Harpswell issues furtive plea for help from AAB; asks whether funding for railroad bridge from Freeport Station to Harpswell Neck and Bailey Island can be found.


Presumably our award winning friends at AAB are contacting the Oppem Sisters to inquire about funds, but so far, results have not been published.

Here is the referenced article:

HARPSWELL — Ridership is low as the town’s first public transportation system heads towards its six-month mark.

As a result, the service may be discontinued during winter.

From the last week of May through the second week of October, only 41 people rode the bus connecting Harpswell Neck to Cook’s Corner and Maine Street Station in Brunswick, according to ridership data from service provider Coastal Trans.

Twenty-one people rode the bus connecting Cundy’s Harbor to Brunswick in the same time period.

The two buses run on Wednesdays, and make three runs between Harpswell and Brunswick each day. There is no charge for the service.

Ridership numbers show that some weeks saw no riders; for two consecutive Wednesdays in June, for example, nobody rode either bus.

Harpswell signed a contract with Coastal Trans, a Rockland-based nonprofit, for the transportation service in May. The company also operates the Brunswick Explorer bus service.

Coastal Trans draws state and federal funding for its operations, but requires a 40 percent local match.

The town appropriated $9,000 for the match at town meeting in March, which is to be paid in two six-month installments.

The funds are a prepayment for the service; actual costs will be tracked and any unused funds will be reimbursed to the town, according to the contract.

In an interview Wednesday, Selectman Elinor Multer said she was not surprised by the initial ridership.

“I always felt that it would be small, and that it would take more than a year to build up anything. … These kinds of things just take a lot of time,” she said. “People are not used to it, many may still never have heard of it.”

Multer said she wants to see how the service performs in the spring, when the weather warms up again.

There is a question, though, of whether the bus routes should be continued in the winter months.

Multer said she is concerned that continuing service through the winter might “waste money.”

“And it is a significant amount of money,” she added.

On the other hand, discontinuing the fledgling service, if only temporarily, may set it back in terms of public recognition.

“I’m not anxious to abandon (the service entirely),” she said. “But the question of whether to run it during the winter is a tougher one.”

Selectman Kevin Johnson on Wednesday said he thinks the Board of Selectmen may shut service down for the winter.

“If ridership is down this fall, there’s no sense keep it going through the winter,” Johnson said.

But, like Multer, he supports continuing the schedule next spring and summer.

“When we signed onto this, we kind of made a commitment to give it a year or two, and not just fold up the tent … if it didn’t work out well,” Johnson said.

Selectmen are scheduled to discuss the public transportation service at their Thursday, Oct. 29, meeting.


So, on at least 45 runs each, the service averaged way less than one rider per run.

Yet note the utter failure of ‘officials’ to conclude it’s an unworthy idea that just doesn’t work.

Those behind the good intentions will do anything to prove they were well-founded, no matter how much it costs, regardless of ‘wasting money.’

It’s exactly what AAB and the other elite boosters of Downeaster service do.  Not enough riders?  Solution: run more trains. 

Not enough revenue?  Solution: deepen ticket discounts. 

Not enough economic benefit?  Solution: dredge up long discredited projections as ‘proof.’ 

Arguments so shallow they make soap bubbles seem sturdy? 

Solution: concoct new fantasies and projections, and hire more experts.


In so many words, dig in your heels and stick up your chin. 

Because in our increasingly corrupt society, it works like a charm.

Letter: Bus may serve Brunswick better than trains


The above letter recently popped up on the Forecaster web page, and will, we assume, appear in the print editions later this week.  It makes reference to events unfolding in the Lewiston-Auburn area, about which we’ve kept you informed.  The closing passage in the letter is this:

Perhaps the same approach should be used for expanding round-trip service to Brunswick, rather than spending an additional $22 million or more in taxpayer funds to meet unknown demands. Such an expanded bus service might even bring Bath and Topsham into the fold, making use of the bypass off Route 1. If the ridership support isn’t there, the service can be terminated with little lost; if it exceeds projections, it can easily and quickly be expanded.

“Perhaps.”  A profound word in certain circumstances, though it can easily be tossed aside by the illuminati if the hypothesis does not meet their wishes.  You can ponder its relevance here as you gaze at the relevant geography in this image: