Friday, December 2, 2016

All Aboard: The Ostrich Version

Your long absent correspondent had this item appear in The Ostrich earlier this week.  It responds to a front page item they ran a week earlier, which we trust you will search for on your own if you have any interest in what they have to say.

Here’s a snippet of our item from their web site, followed by the link:


So many people haven’t called about the appearance of the column that we’ve lost track of who they aren’t, or we’d give you the list.

To make things easier for you, here’s the original items as we submitted it:


To the Editors:

“All aboard in Brunswick,” appearing on the front page of the 22 November Times Record, merits a response on several points, starting with this passage: "Sen. Angus King’s office said that Amtrak’s Boston-to- Brunswick rail service set ridership and revenue records from July to September."

Sen. King's office likely echoed the PR propaganda provided by NNEPRA. One doubts the Senator is aware that NNEPRA does their ridership 'projections' in house using undisclosed methodology, making it highly likely they 'regularly exceed projections.' Reporting from Amtrak show that ridership from Portland to Brunswick has already peaked, and in it's highest year, was 33% below projections.

For clarity on how Amtrak reports 'revenues' to embellish their fiscal profiles, look here:

King added these comments: “It really knits our community together,” he said. King lives not far from Brunswick Station. “I hear that train whistle at quarter of seven in the morning, and sometimes at night,” King said. “It just feels right, it just feels like we’re connected.”

Absent a tangible example of what 'knitting our community together' means, this is a fine example of the hollow platitudes typical at public events celebrating deficit spending, on projects of which the officials speaking have virtually no detailed understanding.

Former Town Councilor Margo Knight repeated her frequent sentiments regarding the Downeaster: “It’s a big economic engine for this area.” I've asked before for her to provide specific corroboration for this claim, but none was ever received. So I'll ask again that she provide it for TR readers to study.

And ask her as well to explain why when a suggestion for a 'town & gown collaboration' was made to the Town Council to conduct a study of such economic benefit, I couldn't find two councilors to 'bring it to the table' as an agenda item for discussion, let alone approval. Read about this in more detail in a previously published TR item:

Her husband added this: “traveling the Downeaster has it benefits. It’s just a very relaxing way to get to Boston,” he said. I wonder how relaxing it would be if passengers were charged the full cost of their travel, which from Brunswick, would surely be more than double the current fares. Not to mention the relaxing travel experiences we've had on Concord Coach to Boston, enhanced measurably by driver assistance with our luggage, and drop off and pickup curbside at our airline terminal, among other options.

Now take these words in the article: “The expansion of service is possible thanks to a $13 million layover facility in Brunswick that will service Amtrak Downeaster trains overnight. The facility allows late-night trains to Brunswick to remain there overnight and head south again the following morning, rather than returning to Portland to overnight.”

By all accounts, the actual facility cost is in excess of $15 million, with $1 million in new annual operating costs on top of that. Hence total capital spending on 'stretching' the service 27 miles from Portland to Brunswick currently stands in the vicinity of $60 million, with another $20 million plus planned to 'optimize' the service. Yet the MLF cannot support required FRA safety inspections since it lacks pits to look beneath the trains.

Experienced railroad professionals assert the new schedules are designed to justify Brunswick MLF construction, rather than stimulate economic benefits to Maine, and will push non-Maine ridership over the 50% threshold. They clearly prioritize the needs of those heading south from Maine points to spend discretionary dollars in the Boston area, rather than those in Massachusetts and New Hampshire heading north to Maine locales, including Brunswick and Freeport, to fuel local “economic engines.”

Hence prevailing “economic tradewinds” continue out of the Northeast, and beg the question of why New Hampshire and Massachusetts aren't contributing to the annual cash subsidies required to keep the Downeaster operating.

There is more than enough here to concern responsible oversight authorities in Augusta, especially when it comes to paying one's 'fair share' of operating deficits as they relate to economic benefit. We can only hope the ongoing investigation into NNEPRA's operation of the Downeaster seriously examines such inequities.

Locally, fervent fans pooh-pooh worries about such things when 'knitting our community together,' and revving the local 'economic engine' are involved, even if no one can substantiate either, or will even try.

As they see it, believing in the dream should be more than enough.


Which brings the Beatles tune to mind….for those who favor dreams.

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