Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ride your pony, Downeaster lovers! And don’t forget to bring some dog treats!


We don’t know if you’re aware, but Brunswick’s Town Council will hold a Workshop in council chambers at the McLellan tomorrow evening (Monday, October 30th) at 7 pm.  A “workshop” means town officials and their invited participants can speak, and we can’t.  The public’s job is to sit, behave, and listen, unless spoken to by officials with a request to answer a question or clarify a point under discussion.

The subject of the workshop is the collected noise complaints received regarding operation of NNEPRA’s Amtrak Downeaster.  This includes the use of horns and bells for road crossings and other operations, other miscellaneous noises associated with operation of the recently constructed MLF, and train movements within Brunswick town limits.

We posted a formal complaint regarding violations of Town noise ordnances in this recent item:

While this workshop ostensibly relates to that compaint, it will not, as we understand it, formally respond to that complaint or how it will be adjudicated.  It turns out that numerous other complaints have been submitted to the town via emails and such.

Here’s the agenda as posted on the town web site:

Brunswick Town Council
Workshop with Rail Officials
Town Council Chambers, Brunswick Town Hall
Monday, October 30, 2017, 7:00-9:00 PM


Noise from Train Operations


  • Identify existing safety regulations and practices that involve use of train horns, bells andwhistles at railroad crossings and within the Brunswick rail yard and on the adjacent wye
  • Identify measures to reduce their use: quiet zones at crossings and other means
  • Identify measures to reduce noise from other train operations
  • Define next steps with timeline

7:00   Welcome and introductions

7:05   Presentation of constituent concerns by the Town Manager

7:15   Presentation on safety regulations and operations by Rail Officials followed by clarification questions from Councilors.

  • 1.  At railroad crossings
  • 2.  In the rail yard and on the adjacent wye
  • Clarifying questions from Councilors

7:45   Discussion of measures implemented in other communities to reduce train noise and potential for replicating in Brunswick, as well as potential measures that would be unique to Brunswick

8:40   Define next steps

  • 1.  Continuing activities by parties at the workshop
  • 2.  Timeline for implementation and/or reports

9:00   Adjourn

Identified participants in the carefully designed agenda include the following:

Town Council Workshop with Rail Officials
List of Expected Participants

Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA

M. William Hollister, Amtrak

Cyndi Scarano, Pan Am

Ryan Ratledge, Central Maine & Quebec Railway

Norma Jean Griffiths, Federal Railroad Administration

Jim Healey, Federal Railroad Administration

Nate Moulton, Maine Department of Transportation

Brian Reeves, Maine Department of Transportation

Randy Dunton, Gorrill-Palmer

John Eldridge Town Manager

Charles Frizzle, Facilitator

David Watson, Councilor, District 1
Steve Walker, Councilor, District 2
Suzan Wilson, Councilor, District 3
John Perreault, Councilor, District 4
Dan Harris, Councilor, District 5
Jane Millett, Councilor, District 6
Sarah Brayman, Councilor, District 7
Alison Harris, Council Chair, At Large
Kathy E. Wilson, Councilor At Large

As we see it, the gathering has all the ingredients necessary for success in the bureaucratic sense of that term.  A facilitator, which in our experience, ensures lots of diversions and counseling to play well with others; yellow stickies all over the place; and walls covered with flip chart paper covered with magic marker scribbles.  Along with self-esteem building compliments.  “Great idea, Mergatroid!”

Plus, we’ve got initialized first name and three name Federal bureaucrats.  Clearly this is a gathering of high stature where appropriate protocols and dignified behavior will be expected of all participants, and most importantly, public attendees.  Let it be remembered that participants don’t work for us.  Or do they???

The Agenda Packet, in addition to the info above, includes a list of more than 70 questions “on noise and operations.”  The list is too long to bore you with here, and will presumably be provided on a handout as you enter the meeting.  It’s clear that a two hour meeting will not be able to address such a lengthy list, so other than putting them in the official record, we’re not sure what the listing of the questions will lead to.  You can find the entire packet here:

Now let’s talk about related issues.

First, should the eventual outcome of these deliberations result in the creation of Quiet Crossings, or a change to MLF design and operations, or both, rest assured that the costs will be borne by town taxpayers, state taxpayers, and most likely both.  If NNEPRA or any of the other involved players in Downeaster operations are found at fault, it’s virtually inconceivable to expect they alone will have to cough up the shekels to fix things.  They don’t have any shekels unless they take them from us.

Second, be advised that NNEPRA is now considering expanding Downeaster operations for summer season weekend trips up the coast to Rockland.  This sounds very much like the excursions that were run for several years by the Maine Eastern Railroad (MERR,) until they could no longer operate the service on a viable business basis.

But here’s the magic in this situation.  MERR is a private enterprise, and can only operate if the business case is viable.  NNEPRA is a government enterprise, both state and federal, and economic viability of the business case is irrelevant.  NNEPRA currently runs an annual deficit in the $8 million range, so what’s another losing extension of service, especially if it results in bragging rights about the wonders of passenger rail?  Amtrak annual deficits?  One can only imagine the magnitude.

Clearly, the proposed expansion would markedly increase train movments within Brunswick and neighboring towns to the North.  Not to mention bringing into play a number of road crossings, including Maine Street, Jordan Avenue, Cooks Corner, and Old Bath Road, among others, that are not currently subject to Amtrak Downeaster crossings.  Curiously, when we inquired of a then NNEPRA Director why the MLF could not be constructed at the “Crooker Site” in East Brunswick, he explained that the enormous cost of upgrading these crossings to appropriate standards would be prohibitive.

Funny how that works.  If it would be a benefit to town citizens, it’s unaffordable.  If it would be a benefit to NNEPRA, it’s no problem; just a minor detail.


Far be it from us to remind you that in an April, 2015 pitch to our town council, the NNEPRA ED, Ms. Patsy Quinn, stated that there were no plans to expand Downeaster service beyond Brunswick.  In her defense of course, she didn’t say there would NEVER BE A PLAN; only that in April 2015 there was NO PLAN.

Far be it from us to remind you as well that in an Affidavit of July, 2015, the same Ms.  Patsy Quinn affirmed that (BLF is Brunswick Layover Facility):


So, if by chance you are hearing Downeaster trains moving early in the morning or late at night in Brunswick, you must be imagining things.  And all those complaints submitted to the town and included in the materials for the Workshop must represent the ill-considered thoughts of those who don’t recognize “the benefits associated with increased Downeaster service frequency” enabled by BLF construction.

You can trust NNEPRA and Ms. Quinn on these claims, because she isn’t like all the other government bureacrats who issue promises here, there, and everywhere to tamp down whatever objections are raised by unenlightened citizens.  Public servants are noted for their honesty, don’t you know.

Last and not least, we feel an obligation to remind you that NNEPRA is in the process of spending roughly $10 million of your money to build a Royal Siding in the Yarmouth area that has been proven unnecessary by a knowledgeable and very experienced train operations veteran.

You can find the details here:


Be advised that to the best of our knowledge, no TIGER grant was ever approved for the project.  Funds have instead been gathered from a variety of OPM (Other Peoples’ Money) sources, which means you and everyone else are paying out of your pockets to fund a new pork-barrel project that doesn’t do anything the existing siding a few miles south can do.

Such is the magic of government projects.  No second opinions, no oversight, no accountability, and no questioning or objections by sitting NNEPRA Board Members, who you would think, have their job to look after our interests. 

Yah, sure!  You’d think so, but the record proves you wrong.

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