Monday, December 14, 2015

TRNE Chair: “I wish I had never brought the train to Brunswick….”

Be patient, friends.  You’ll have to read the whole story to get to the really juicy part.
You may have seen a so-called response last week in the Press Herald, by a TRNE groupie, to our Maine Voices column of 12 November, posted here:

We just posted this response, a few days later than we would have liked, but getting over the nausea caused by Menair’s words took longer than expected.  Here it is:

I authored the November 12th Maine Voices Mr. Menair is responding to in his essay of December 9th. Further, he was in attendance when I briefed the Passenger Rail Advisory Committee in Augusta (  Much of his second paragraph is clearly aimed at myself and my colleagues, who have become the first spirited opposition to Maine's passenger rail advocates. If you look into things, you'll quickly realize that all Menair has is airy platitudes to make his case, because the facts on the ground do not support his position.

Menair's offering is so full of fantasies and claptrap that I hardly know where to begin in responding. If nothing else, he makes it clear why modern day passenger rail advocates like he, TrainRiders Northeast (TRNE), All Aboard Brunswick and the rest are increasingly referred to as 'foamers' nationally and in Augusta. But I've got to begin somewhere. So in no particular order, here are comments of the moment:
  • Anyone who wants to hammer us with the term 'urban planning' here in Maine immediately disqualifies himself. Urban is best translated as 'citified,' and with the possible exception of Portland, I'm not aware of any city or region in Maine that wants to be labeled as 'citified.' People don't move to Maine or remain in Maine to have a citified lifestyle. If that's what Menair and his friends want, they should move (back) to Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, or wherever else they came from or aspire to. Brunswick for one has a large contingent of retired bureaucrats and related career types who moved here for the rural life style Maine offers. Stop trying to project your old lifestyle, or your vision of big city 'benefits' on a state that wants exactly the opposite, and isn't in the least adaptable to such 'planning.' If you want three times an hour traffic reports 'from the sky' on your radio or TV, go find them elsewhere; there are more choices than you might know.
  • Putting the interests of less than 40 round trip riders who choose the Brunswick Downeaster runs daily, and 400 or so Mainers overall, ahead of hundreds of thousands of local residents who don't, isn't putting 'people before cars.'
  • Oil prices influencing the trade-off? The Downeaster budgets $10,000 a day for diesel fuel, of which much is burned sitting and idling, going nowhere. World oil markets have the potential to seriously effect it's operation accordingly, since this accounts for 15% of operating expenses.
  • If “urban planning” means federal authorities steam-rolling over Municipal Zoning Regulations due to pre-emption, we should want no part of it. If forward progress means federal and state authorities trampling over the domestic tranquility of hundreds of families, while being exempted from environmental regs they instituted, then we have lost our collective sense of behaving responsibly.
  • Since TRNE is one of the charities to which NNEPRA regularly donates, we should expect no less in the way of advocacy from Menair and them. Recently, their Chairman, Wayne Davis, told a reporter that the Brunswick 'business community' donated $50,000 to them to help pay for 'legal fees.' We'd sure like to know which businesses that would be, since we can't think of any besides Brunswick Taxi that are prospering because of the Brunswick Downeaster service, transporting Amtrak crews back and forth between Brunswick and Portland twice a day.
  • Menair's reference to Brunswick Station is hollow. Take the medical offices away, which have nothing to do with the train, and you have nothing left but a bank and a few other small businesses that have nothing to do with train travelers. Unless you believe people take the train to Brunswick for Guinness and a burger, or to get hearing aids. "The Inn" is a gift to Bowdoin; and the other structures simply took advantage of land lying unused for years, that could have been developed in other forms with the same encouraging “gifts” from beleaguered town taxpayers.  The planned housing is a distant memory no one brings up.
  • One of the comments to Menair's piece praises him for summarizing 'the very strong reasons justifying this action well,' and describes the 'benefit for the many, and the environment, that will result from the layover facility.' That doesn't pass the most rudimentary smell test, even with the help of a clothespin. Passenger rail is first and foremost a clear cut case of the many paying for a boutique service for the few in the carriage set, and in the case of the Downeaster, is certifiably a detriment to the environment. The reference to living near the railroad is also bogus, since long established zoning regs would not allow this heavy industrial use or a building of this size. But when the government comes to help us, such details are irrelevant.
  • As a friend remarked, “the rebuttal to this nonsense is to imagine Maine without the Downeaster and nothing but roads to get around. How does that work? Now, imagine Maine with no roads, but trains going everywhere. How would that be an improvement? Trains or no trains, Maine's future and America's future has cars (or some other form of PERSONAL mobility) and roads in it.”
  • Another friend added “When is a train like a ship? Answer: When its capacity far exceeds its market demand and the excessive cost of providing service results in unjustifiable and intolerable financial losses. The Portland-Halifax “Nova Star” is the marine equivalent of the Portland-Brunswick ”Downeaster” (two years and $41-million of losses, albeit shared by the cruise operator).”
A few pithy quotes seem appropriate here. From Ayn Rand: “You can ignore reality, but you can't ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” And then: “Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one's emotions.”

That last one seems perfectly matched to Menair and TRNE. But you might prefer this headline from a recent print article in another state: “Tomorrow's dollars to pay for yesterday's ideas.”
As a last point, if Menair and TRNE believe the Brunswick service and the Brunswick MLF are so vital, why was Wayne Davis heard saying recently “I wish we had never brought the train to Brunswick?” Or was it “I wish I HAD NEVER....” which would be more in keeping with his and TRNE's self-anointed role as NNEPRA's creator and Svengali.

We can guess at why he wishes so: because the train and the MLF are a dumb-ass idea?  Or is it because it’s given us a glimpse of what lies down the Downeaster rabbit-hole of Patsy in Wonderland?  And opened up a Pandora’s box of scrutiny, analysis, and visibility behind the cheery facade, including an OPEGA audit?

Which leads to the following questions:  When NNEPRA announces that the Brunswick MLF will be named the “Wayne Davis Memorial Passenger Rail Layover Facility,” will said Svengali decline the honor?  And does NNEPRA still plan on adding Sleeper cars to every Downeaster train set?

Come to think of it; given all the empty seats and time spent going nowhere, perhaps the train could be used to provide a warm place to sleep for the homeless of our state when space is available.


And that’s the news from Wayne’s World.  Party on, Garth.  (The photo above is from an earlier faze in Wayne’s career; his countenance has changed markedly, as has that of his blonde friend.)

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