Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Somebody make us stop…please!!!


Impulsive member of the chatting class that Side is, we just sent off another memo to our elected and appointed town leaders, and our print media contacts.  The subject is the Workshop pictured above held on 14 November.

Before we post it for you, we wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, with the best ever feast of whatever sort you prefer, and good health to enjoy it in.



I just sent off the item below to the Town Council, TM, and the local print media.  Dave - thanks for helping me clarify my thinking, and I hope I didn't mess up too bad.  I'm sure what I included was way too much of any of our leaders to understand and "reason together" on, but it's now off my chest.

Happy Thanksgiving all...




I have had more thoughts and discussions re the 14 November "workshop" you held with rail officials, and the details associated with their answers and the "next steps" mentioned and briefly discussed.

Along the way I had discussions, both by phone and email, with a retired railroad professional known to us, and who is familiar with the situation in Brunswick.  His background includes a Bachelor's degree from Cornell, and over 40 years total in various levels of railroad management.  He was the superintendent of Maine Central Railroad for 10 years.  He was a qualified locomotive engineer for nearly 30 years.  And he spent nearly 15 years as the Superintendent of Operations, Safety, and Security for Virginia Railway Express, a passenger railroad with a route of roughly 90 miles running between downstate Virginia and Washington DC.  Their ridership exceeds 4 million per year, more than 8 times the ridership of the Downeaster.

For a number of years, he oversaw VRE's contracts with Amtrak for train sets and their operation. VRE eventually changed train providers.  So this professional is well aware of how Amtrak performs, behaves, and operates. It's clear this gentleman has real life railroad experience well beyond anything present at NNEPRA.

Specific comments:

1)  It was stated at the Workshop of 14 November that the Cedar Street wye is used at times to turn trains around.  Clearly, this requires operating switches for the wye, and grade crossings at Cedar Street, where there are no crossing gates.  Also, the train would have to cross Pleasant Street, where there also are no crossing gates.  So the whole safety issue emphasized by the Amtrak rep is especially significant when it comes to these unprotected in town crossings, and should require numerous additional horn soundings.

2)  Per the failure to make use of MLF east end access doors and related ladder tracks, the Pan Am rep at the workshop mentioned that all it would take is "an interlock" on the east end to resolve the problem, and that should be done in a month or so.  From this premise, one immediately must focus on the overall responsibility of Patricia Quinn and NNEPRA for all things Downeaster and MLF.

a) Apparently, this is not a problem at the West End, which has no interlock on the ladder tracks, yet the West End access is regularly used.

b) Was the design of the east end switching and ladder tracks deficient?  Should they have known before starting construction that an interlock would be required?  Or was it called for by the design documents, but not included in the contract, or if it was, not complied with, and just discovered now, a year later, after the issue surfaced in public?  Anyway you look at it, Ms. Quinn, as the ED of NNEPRA, had the helm on all aspects: design, contracts, construction, and compliance inspection of the finished project.  So the buck stops at her desk for this deficiency, regardless.

c) Some suspicion exists that the ladder track configuration on the east end is incompatible with Downeaster passenger cars design, which are very long, and that the radii and turning rates of the ladder array are outside the accepted range. This buck would also stop at NNEPRA, since she was responsible for seeing to it that competent designers were employed, that they had access to all necessary design parameters for the train sets, and that a fit for use design was constructed, inspected, and tested for acceptance.  The only way to dismiss this suspicion is for a train set to immediately test the switching array that routes it to each of the 3 east end doors.

d) The professional referred to above has vast experience with railroad crews and how they use their personal "judgment" to "simplify" their operations.  I won't bore you with the specific details he related, but he walked me through the differences between using the two different ends of the facility.  The train sets are over 400 ft long, depending on configuration, and who has to get off and change over a manual switch depends on what the operation is and which way the train is headed.  The colder or nastier the weather, and the more switch freezing that might have occurred, and the natural tendency of crews, the "human nature" element, if you will, is to make the job as easy as possible if the same final result is achieved.  Even if more movements, crossings, and horn blasts are required.

e) Especially if no formal, detailed operating procedures for the facility and related train movements are in place and enforced.  Other than cafe personnel, it was confirmed that only Amtrak personnel man and operate the MLF and the trains.  So once again, if the operation is not as NNEPRA planned and anticipated, Ms. Quinn has the buck on her desk.  Perhaps affordable video surveillance cameras, linked to NNEPRA  headquarters, or broadcast on their web site, would be helpful in this regard.  It would also foster a sense of participatory oversight for local residents.

Long story short, in my view, the show of participation at the Workshop last week was the opposite of what it should have been.  Ms. Quinn should have been the focus of all questions, and she should have called upon Pan Am or Amtrak personnel as appropriate.  FRA is the overarching regulatory agency, but has no responsibility for Downeaster operations in any sense.

It should be clear that it will be impossible to reach acceptable resolution for the numerous issues afflicting Downeaster presence in Brunswick, which will only increase if the Rockland extension moves forward, unless a single point of responsibility steps up for the entire enterprise.  And we must not forget the expansion to five daily round trips, independent of the Rockland extension, which just tow short years ago, was categorically outside the planning vision.

Years of experience show that Ms. Quinn/NNEPRA will avoid doing so to the extent possible, and if pressed to step up, lacks the necessary real life railroad experience to get things right. Further, she has a record of obfuscation, misrepresentation, and promises unkept.

In summary, Brunswick now has itself on the horns of a dilemma, and things, as I said in prior writings, are only going to get worse.

As the old saying goes, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.  I'm not aware of any official, elected or otherwise, willing to say the town made a huge mistake. 

But at least one was willing to publicly say "shame on Brunswick," and I can only imagine how much private scolding was heaped on her for doing so.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Pem Schaeffer


And just for fun, a parting visual….


Cause when you come right down to it, the Workshop was kind of a “turkey,” wasn’t it?


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