Friday, November 10, 2017

$10 million here, $10 million there; pretty soon someone should start complaining….or asking WTF is going on??

More than once we’ve posted about the utter wastefullness of spending millions of dollars on a siding just a few miles above an existing siding.  With the same results as just about every one of our posts. 

Still, we enjoy banging our head against whatever wall is handy.  We did so less than two weeks ago in this post:

in which we included this graphic to give you the context on our issue in this post:


We’re happy to report that the cost of the proposed siding has increased from $9 million to $9.4 million, as reported in this project update:

Royal Junction Siding

Status Update:

Earthwork has begun on the Royal Siding Project.  Construction crews have begun clearing brush and preparing the ground for construction of the new track.  All work is being completed within the railroad right of way.

Track installation and grade crossing work will commence in the spring of 2018.  The project is expected to be complete late in 2018.

Project Overview

Royal Junction Siding will provide additional track capacity necessary to enable more frequent and efficient daily operation of Downeaster trains and freight trains between Brunswick and Boston.  This passing siding removes a key bottleneck for the Downeaster that will create more options for the travelling public while improving the financial and operational efficiency of the service.

Royal Junction Siding with be constructed within the mainline railroad corridor owned by Pan Am Railways.  It will begin just east of CPF-185 (Royal Junction) and extend 21,700 feet west to a point approximately 1,000 feet east of MP- 189.   Generally, this second track will be installed between Field Road in Falmouth and extend just past Greely Road in Cumberland.

The key operational benefit of the capacity gained from constructing the passing siding is that it increases the potential for trains operating on this existing stretch of single track to pass in opposite directions, as well as allow a faster passenger train to overtake a slower freight headed in the same direction.  This change improves the overall capacity of the track and allows for an increase in the frequency of Downeaster service connecting the communities of Freeport and Brunswick to the other Downeaster stations including Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Saco/Biddeford, Wells, Maine; Dover, Durham, and Exeter, New Hampshire; Haverhill, Woburn and Boston, Massachusetts.

The Amtrak Downeaster currently makes ten one-way revenue-generating trips each day between Portland and Boston, yet only six of those trips currently extend to Freeport and Brunswick. The number of trips is limited because most of the connecting railroad is only single track, constraining the back and forth movement of trains along that segment. 

The existing limited frequency of Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick restricts the potential Downeaster ridership and revenue growth along the I-295 corridor, one of the busiest traffic corridors in the State of Maine. The limited schedule also constrains tourism and other transit-oriented economic development initiatives in the communities of Freeport and Brunswick and creates operational and financial inefficiencies in the Downeaster service.

Royal Junction Siding will provide the capacity necessary to enable Amtrak to operate all Downeaster trains between Brunswick and Boston, providing more transit options in the region, and improving the efficiency of the Downeaster operation.  The additional frequencies between Brunswick and Portland will be operated as an extension of the existing core Downeaster service, increasing the efficiency of the Amtrak crews and equipment already in place.

Project Elements

The Royal Junction Siding Project includes the construction of an approximately four-mile second track adjacent to the Pan Am Freight Mainline.  The Siding will begin approximately 1,000 feet east of Field Road in Falmouth, cross Woodville Road and Muirfield Road in Falmouth, as well as Longwoods  Road (aka Rte 9), Tuttle Road and Greely Road in Cumberland.  It will terminate just east of Royal Junction, located northeast of Greely Road.   In railroad terms, this “passing siding” will be begin just east of CPF-185 (Royal Junction) and extend 21,700 feet west to a point approximately 1,000 feet east of MP- 189.   All construction work will be performed within Pan Am Railways existing railroad right-of-way with no additional environmental impacts anticipated. A Categorical Exclusion (CE) worksheet has been prepared and has been submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for concurrence.

Royal Junction Siding will be constructed as a double block passing siding to allow "at-speed" meets of two trains traveling in opposite directions.  This will allow both passenger and freight trains to move through Royal Junction concurrently, and without conflict.  In addition to new track, the new siding will require communication and signal upgrades such as a new mainline control point (CP-Cemetery), modification of an existing control point (CPF -185), new mainline automatic signals and three grade crossing AHCP conversions for double track.   The Communication and Signal upgrades required of these types of infrastructure improvements will be designed and installed by Pan Am.

Project Budget & Schedule

The total Project budget is $9,370,084.  Eighty percent (80%) of the project is being financed using federal funding sources, with the State of Maine contributing the remaining twenty percent (20%) match.

No doubt by the time it’s complete, it will reach the $10 million mark.  But hey…what’s a half a million among friends?

The worsts part of this all is that a siding already exists that could serve the purpose of allowing trains heading in opposite directions to pass each other.  But that would be too easy, especially if you’re the government, both federal and state, looking to spend as much taxpayer money as possible.  Or, as they like to say, “invest it.”

The diagram above was generated by a lifelong railroad manager  He thinks with far greater clarity than bureaucrats looking to build empires, and perhaps engage in a quid pro quo with those who agree to allow passenger trains to run on their privately owned rail system.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as they liked to say on the old Seinfeld show.

But can’t someone, in federal government, or in state government, or on the Joint Transportation Committee, or in the Department of Transportation, stand up and say “wait a minute!”

“We need you to tell us one more time why you can’t do what you need to do with the existing passing siding, and why you have to spend $9.4 million in money we don’t have to create a new siding?”

Why is it so damn hard to see things in this light?  And to demand accountability?  And to require a peer review of the proposed project?

In the absence of which, we can’t help but suspect there is hanky-panky afoot.  Is it too much to expect that our “public servants” convince us otherwise before spending such huge sums on a passenger rail service that is an abject financial disaster?

Apparently it is, unless we see something happen real soon.  But don’t worry, we won’t hold your breath.

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