News Brief

2017Memories...TrainRiders/NE Chairman Wayne Davis looks back on 
the Downeaster's Year-of-Success. Yes, it was a very good year!
Go here.

 

Important Winter Newsletter Now Available

TrainRiders/NE took on an important responsibility last year as we joined NNEPRA in their battle against the NIMFYs (Not in My Freight Yard). Their toxic opposition threatened to sabotage the much-needed Brunswick Layover Facility.

NARP New England Meeting on Saturday, March 12, 2016 in New London, CT

NarpNE15NARP New England members will be meeting at The New London Holiday Inn, 35 Governor Winthrop Blouevard in New London. It a chance to catch up on passenger rail progress and challenges here in the Northeast. Go here for your reservation - time is running out.

Marathon DEP Hearing on NNEPRA's Storm Water Runoff Permit

It was an all-day event as the DEP held extensive sessions on NNEPRA's Storm Water Runoff Permit request. The permit is required for the construction of the Downeaster's Brunswick Layover Facility. It began at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 8:00 p.m. (with some lunch/dinner breaks). This was the first such public hearing the DEP has ever organized for this type of permit. 

The evening public session, held at the Brunswick Golf Club, brought out nearly two hundred advocates - against and for the permit. Those against feared disruption of their neighborhood due to alleged pollution and flooding and those in favor disputed their fears and emphasized the economic benefits of the expansion.

The Portland Press Herald has a full article on the hearing as well as background information on what has become an intense political dispute. Go here.

February Report, Oversight Committee Audit & McEvoy Resignation

TrainschedulePerformance Report: Amtrak failed to get complete numbers to NNEPRA in time for a full report. Exec. Dir. Patricia Quinn did state that February was a "bad month."  Available February numbers showed 29,317 riders, down 23% from the same period last year - 38 trains were cancelled in February due to bad weather. Remarkably, revenue is down but 1% year-to-date, due in large part to lower fuel prices and lower payments to PanAm because of cancellations.

NNEPRA Modifies Downeaster Schedule

DE ConductorNNEPRA has decided to modify the Downeaster's schedule, beginning on March 30th, in an effort to, among other things, improve the service's on-time performance.

Freeport and Brunswick are expected to benefit by the change as the time between daytime arrivals and early evening departures is cut nearly in half.

The second evening train out of Boston (#687) will depart at 6:05 p.m. instead of 5:40 p.m. Overall, good moves. http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/16/amtrak-tweaks-downeastser-schedule-to-give-more-time/

Legislature's Oversight Committee Will Investigate NNEPRA

GerzofskyIt's now official. The Legislature's Oversight Committee will investigate NNEPRA's management of the Downeaster. But that opening sentence fails to capture the animosity that has now gone public thanks to Senator Stan Gerzofsky. He vehemently opposes the Rail Authority and Executive Director Patricia Quinn; the siting of the proposed Brunswick Layover Facility in a freight yard next to complaining neighbors; and the idling of Amtrak engines.

Chairman Wayne Davis of TrainRiders/Northeast suggests the senator's actions are more personal than previously revealed.

More from MPBN:http://news.mpbn.net/post/legislative-watch-dog-panel-probe-agency-oversees-amtrak-downeaster-service

 

 

Portland Press Herald editorial calls on Augusta not to turn the investigation into a "witch hunt": http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/19/our-view-impartial-leadership-key-to-rail-audits-integrity/

Sen. Gerzofsky Takes Aim at NNEPRA...Again and Again!

Senator Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick) is at it again - asking the Legislature's Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to conduct a full audit of NNEPRA operations - he did this two years ago but it went nowhere. He has also reintroduced a bill restricting passenger trains to 30 minutes of idling time (keep in mind that diesel engines need to idle during cold weather in order to prevent freezeups). The Bangor Daily News reports on his latest effort to investigate the Downeaster and its Executive Director, Patricia Quinn.

http://bangordailynews.com/2015/03/12/politics/
brunswick-senator-seeks-probe-of-downeaster-railroad-operations/

 

NARP New England Membership Meeting at UNH on March 14th

NarpNE15The National Association of Railroad Passengers is holding its New England Membership Meeting on Saturday, March 14th from 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at Holloway Commons-UNH, 75 Main Street,  in Durham, NH.

A TrainRiders/NE Editorial: Brunswick Facts Outweigh Misleading Statements

A Response to Senator Gerzovsky's
Letter of Complaint to NNEPRA
by Wayne Davis, TrainRiders/NE Chairman
(Editor's Note: Sen.Gerzovksy's letter can be read here.)

Maine Senator Stan Gerzovsky’s letter to NNEPRA strongly opposing the siting of the Brunswick layover facility just south of the current Brunswick station clearly reflects the concerns of some of his constituents who have chosen to live beside the train yard at which the facility will be located.

Currently, no indoor layover facility exists in Brunswick, which means that, the Downeaster diesel engines must be kept running to prevent the diesel fuel from congealing and becoming unusable when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Given the Downeaster’s current schedule, at least one Downeaster locomotive must remain idling several hours a day in Brunswick. Idling would not be required if the locomotive could be indoors. The Senator and some of his constituents, however, feel that one of two other proposed sites would be preferable if for no other reason than that they are not located in their backyards.

Facts Outweigh Misleading Statements - A TrainRiders/NE Editorial

waynespirotitleA Response to Senator Gerzovsky's
Letter of Complaint to NNEPRA
by Wayne Davis, TrainRiders/NE Chairman
(Editor's Note: Sen.Gerzovksy's letter can be read here.)

Maine Senator Stan Gerzovsky’s letter to NNEPRA strongly opposing the siting of the Brunswick layover facility just south of the current Brunswick station clearly reflects the concerns of some of his constituents who have chosen to live beside the train yard at which the facility will be located. Currently, no indoor layover facility exists in Brunswick, which means that, the Downeaster diesel engines must be kept running to prevent the diesel fuel from congealing and becoming unusable when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Given the Downeaster’s current schedule, at least one Downeaster locomotive must remain idling several hours a day in Brunswick. Idling would not be required if the locomotive could be indoors. The Senator and some of his constituents, however, feel that one of two other proposed sites would be preferable if for no other reason than that they are not located in their backyards. In doing so, the Senator and his constituents both ignore the disadvantage of these other sites and misstate many facts, which include the following:

1.         The letter states that the facility will be built near tracks that were “never used-nor ever intended to be used-for this purpose”.

           WRONG! The proposed site has been used as a train yard since the mid to late 1800’s. As recently as the 1970’s, the site consisted of numerous rail sidings with a capacity of up to 95 cars and also included a railroad office, a crew quarters, and equipment storage buildings. brunswick-feight-yardMore importantly, the site has been, and continues to be, zoned for rail and commercial use by the Town of Brunswick, and location of a rail layover facility at this site is consistent not only with applicable zoning requirements, but also with the Town’s comprehensive plan for development. The site has been, and continues to be, a site for interchange of freight trains between the Rockland rail branch operated by the Maine Eastern Railroad, and PanAm Railway’s rail line going south from Brunswick to Portland. A larger version of the postcard from the 1920’s is available online.  As one can see, this train yard has historically been very busy. Even today, the site contains numerous active tracks. Those tracks, plus the ongoing activity in the yard and the available uses under applicable zoning requirements, should have shown even very unobservant potential purchasers of nearby residences that the yard was being used, and would continue to be used, for railroad purposes.

2.     The letter indicates that the “proposal is to put an industrial-use facility in a residential neighborhood”.

            WRONG! For well over a century, the yard has been utilized for rail purposes. The real question is why a residential neighborhood was expanded near what has, for over 100 years, always been an industrial site.

3.       The letter indicates that choosing this site for the layover facility is “an irresponsible use of taxpayer money, especially when several alternate sites were proposed that would’ve had a far lesser impact on residents.”

            WRONG! Choosing either of the two other sites proposed for the layover facility in Brunswick would itself have been irresponsible. Using the alternate site, located in the Brunswick Industrial Park, would have required filling what is now essentially a huge hole in the ground in an area which included wetlands. The cost of preparing that alternate site would have made the project unaffordable.

Using the second alternate site, located in the Cook’s Corner area north of downtown Brunswick, would have been inconsistent with Brunswick’s zoning requirements and its Comprehensive Plan. Perhaps more importantly, however, this site is located on non-signaled track which would have required over half an hour of additional travel time for each train between Brunswick station and the layover facility, resulting in several hours’ worth of additional fuel, equipment use, and crew time each day. This, plus other operational shortfalls, would have translated into another unaffordable project. In addition, if this site had been chosen, it would have resulted in added motor vehicle idling time as trains crossed one of the busiest high-volume highway crossings in the state. To have chosen either of the alternative sites would have increased taxpayer costs in significant and adverse ways. Clearly, in choosing the proposed site NNEPRA acted responsibly to minimize taxpayer cost and ensure the survivability of the Downeaster service.

4.          The letter indicates that noise and air pollution resulting from idling of trains for upwards of five hours a day will result in decreased property values and increased health risks.

            WRONG! Construction of the layover building will eliminate the need for long-term idling of trains since they will be housed indoors at that facility. A study performed for NNEPRA (available at NNEPRA's website, www.amtrakdowneaster.com/projects/brunswick-layover-facility) estimated that even after the service is increased to six roundtrips per day (only two such trips occur now), utilization of the layover building would result in no more than 30 minutes of total idling time each day, and that this idling time would be inside the facility. That same study concluded that health risks and air pollution associated with the service would be insignificant.

5.          The letter intimates that NNEPRA’s choice of the proposed site somehow undermines the credibility of government and exacerbates the erosion of faith in how government agencies function.

            WRONG! After becoming aware of local opposition to the chosen site, NNEPRA reached out to the community and held three separate public meetings in Brunswick to discuss the potential sites. NNEPRA’s Board of Directors then held a later public meeting at which it accepted the recommendation from its consultants and staff to move forward with the development of the layover facility at the Brunswick rail yard. NNEPRA then formed an advisory group which included several Brunswick residents, representatives from the Town’s government, and others to discuss the facility. NNEPRA went above and beyond both its legal obligations and normal practice to ensure that the positions of all parties were presented and considered. That NNEPRA, its consultants, and its staff did not finally agree with those who opposed the chosen site does not constitute a failure of government or in any way; instead, it only means that NNEPRA, after due consideration of all the facts, disagreed with Senator Gerzovsky and those of his constituents who objected to having the layover facility cited in what they considered to be their back yards.

NNEPRA took several years, and invested much time, money, and energy, in carefully choosing the rail yard site for the layover facility. To disagree with that choice is certainly the right and privilege of every citizen, be they elected officials or merely interested parties. To base that opposition upon misstatements, however, serves no one and did not and cannot aid anyone in making an appropriate decision. The misstatements contained in the Senator’s letter are so significant and numerous that it adds nothing relevant or appropriate to the discussions about this facility. Instead, it would appear that NNEPRA’s careful consideration of the matter has resulted in a choice which, on balance, is beneficial not only to Mainers, but also to all others who use or will otherwise benefit from Downeaster service to Brunswick, including those constituents of Senator Gerzovsky who live near the chosen site. Introduction of the misstatements contained in the Senator’s letter seems to be the product of Not-In-My-Back-Yardism at its worst.

waynesig{jcomments on}

NNEPRA Board Approves Moving Forward with Phase 1 of the Brunswick Layover Facility Project

The NNEPRA Board voted to move forward today with Phase 1 of the Brunswick Layover Facility expected to cost $12 million. The board...

  1. Approved a cooperative agreement with MDOT to fund the construction - Commissioner David Bernhardt, a member of the NNEPRA board, has identified federal funds available for this project.
  2. Authorized NNEPRA to proceed with Phase 1 - preliminary engineering work for the development of a $12 million indoor train layover facility in Brunswick, with the award of the design-build contract to Consigli Construction Company of Portland.

This followed an extensive discussion with two members of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition who once again requested that other sites be considered, based on noise and pollution concerns, and that public input would be part of the BLF process as it continues. The board and Executive Director Patricia Quinn assured them that there would be ample opportunity for public comment.

NNEPRA Board Meeting Details First Half of FY 2013

peformancehalffy2013The numbers continue to grow as NNEPRA reported the results of the first half of FY2013.

The chart shows ridership increased 10% over the same period of FY2012 - revenue increased 17% and On Time Performance was at 82% in the first half of FY2013, as opposed to 74% in FY2012.

Rider Profile:

  • 59% of riders travelled to or from a Maine station generating 69% of ticket revenue.
  • 30% of riders travelled between NH stations and Boston generating 24% of revenue.
  • 30% of total riders travelled using multi-ride passes, generating 15% of total revenue.

These statistics reflect the expansion of service to Freeport and Brunswick.

NNEPRA Board Meeting - March, 2011

A review of February performance numbers demonstrated continued upward growth. Executive Director Patricia Quinn reported:

  • downeasterlogoFeb, 2011 ridership was 35,927 or nearly 6% above Feb of 2010.
  • Feb, 2011 revenue was $493,674 or 4% above Feb of 2010.
  • March ridership is expected to exceed 40,000.
  • On Time Performance was 72.66% (slow but steady improvement as the weather moderates). March to date is in the 80s.
  • Overall Customer Satisfaction Score was 94% - Amtrak's was 82%.

The board approved the purchase of 8.15 acres of land in Brunswick owned by Pan Am Rail for $265,000. The property will be the site of the Downeaster's all-weather maintenance building. For the past nine years, the Downeaster trains have remained outdoors 24 hours a day making maintenance particularly difficult in the winter.

Ms. Quinn annouced that NNEPRA is applying for two federal grants totaling $59 million which would be used to add passing sidings along the Pan Am route and lay double track between Wilmington Junction and Lowell Junction on the MBTA line. This will allow for reduced travel time and help facilitate better Downeaster service.

Old Orchard Beach service will begin On April 18th.

MDOT Discusses Study for Amtrak Service to Lewiston-Auburn and Beyond

The Maine DOT has been studying the cost of extending Amtrak Downeaster service from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn, Bethel, South Paris and eventually on to Montreal. A report on the study can be viewed at Mainebiz.com. The actual DOT study is expected to be released in April.{jcomments on}

Commuting Cost Comparison - Auto vs.Train

From Steve Piper in Dover. The cost/mile figures are from the IRS which reflect the real cost of driving to work.

If Dover is 65 miles from Boston, here's the monthly calculation.

By car:  130 miles (roundtrip) x $0.51/mile (IRS reimbursement rate - includes fuel, wear & tear on vehicle & ownership costs) x 20 work days = $1,326.00 + Tolls of $77.20 ($3.86 x 20) = $1,403.20 + Parking = $350 (low estimate) = $1,753.20 per month to commute to Boston.

Monthly Downeaster unlimited use pass:  $299.00!!!

    

The above video was produced for the Downeaster in March of 2009 as gas prices approached $4/gallon. While the pump prices are now worse, the commute by car remains the same - frustrating, tension-filled and to be avoided at all costs!{jcomments on}

Exeter Voters Agree to Fund Amtrak Downeaster Station Building

bobhallEarlier this week, Exeter citizens voted on 35 funding issues - only one was approved - a $71,000 appropriation for the acquisition of the baggage section at the old train station. Led my TRN board member and Exeter Station Committe President Bob Hall, Article 25 won approval by a vote of 1,127 to 657. Bob called the result, "exciting, big news." The town money will now unlock a federal grant of $280,000. The building will be the first enclosed structure for Exeter passengers since Downeaster service began on December 15, 2001.

Mad Men Plot Ad Campaign for Trains in 1965!

Can trains sell themselves? Rich Sommer of TV's Mad Men is confident that they can, and that "our leaders always make the right investment." Unfortunately, in today's political environment, we can take nothing for granted. Watch this video, sponsored by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, then call both of your U.S. Senators today.

{jcomments on}

2011 Annual Meeting

am11-1

Our 23rd Annual Meeting was, like the Downeaster's nearly 10 years of service, a great success!

Held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, members, friends and invited guests celebrated the continued growth of the Downeaster and Amtrak.

Our keynote speaker was Joseph McHugh, Amtrak’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, who brought us up to date on the Obama Administration’s plans for Amtrak including new locomotives/passenger cars and the nationwide Museum Train Tour to celebrate Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary - it will stop in Freeport.

NNEPRA Executive Director, Patricia Quinn, detailed the Downeaster's positive numbers - ridership, revenue, passenger miles traveled and the countdown to expanded service to Freeport and Brunswick.

Press Herald Says "Rail Over Trail" on Mountain Division

Sections of the old Mountain Division rail line have been used by walkers, joggers and bicyclists in recent years as the no-longer-used tracks awaited resuscitation.

The line runs from Portland to Fryeburg and MDOT is about to lay down new rail along portions of the line so that it can eventually be used for freight and possible passenger service. Trail advocates have opposed these improvements - coexistence with train traffic in some locations along the trail is both dangerous and impractical.

The Portland Press Herald, in an editorial, examined the issue and determined that rail should be the priority. Read it here.

Exeter Requests Federal Funding to Expand Station

The Exeter Planning Board has requested of the NH DOT CMAQ funding to  purchase the Exeter train station's former baggage building in order to construct a transportation center for Downeaster and bus service. Currently, Exeter has only a platform to handle the large number of daily Downester passengers.

Train Committee Chairman Bob Hall, long-time TrainRiders/Northeast board member, notes the the federal funding would pay 70% of the anticipated $400,000 cost.

More details at: Seacoastonline.

Exeter Voters Approve Capital Fund for Train Station Improvements

Exeter voters said 'yes' to the establishment of a reserve fund that would install a parking payment system, acquire additional land and make capital improvements to a train station building  (Exeter lacks a station building for Downeaster passengers).

The Train Station Committee is led by long-time TrainRiders/Northeast board member Bob Hall. Don Briselden, a new member on our board, noted, ""There is a real economic opportunity here on the rail corridor."

A full article is available at Seacoastonline.

Brunswick - a Town in Transition to Welcome the Downeaster

Earlier this week, NNEPRA's Patricia Quinn spoke to a group of civic leaders in Brunswick where the new station is awaiting the Downeaster's eventual arrival.  Federally-funded track improvements are expected to begin in June. Those upgrades will allow for Amtrak passenger rail service between Portland, Freeport and Brunswick thus connecting the mid-coast with Boston. More on this from the Portland Press Herald.

NNEPRA Board Meeting Hears Encouraging News

The NNEPRA board heard encouraging news from Executive Director Patricia Quinn. 

  • February ridership was up 5% over February of last year and that was in spite of the fact that a hateful late February storm wiped out service on what was to have been a fully-booked weekend. Overall ridership is down 3% so far in FY 2010 as compared to FY '09, but at one point is was down 5%...slow and hopefully steady improvement.
  • Ms. Quinn reported that she is talking with Maine and NH officials to establish the Downeaster on a priority list for the resumption of power following destructive storms. 
  • Ridership, revenue and passenger miles increased from January, 2010.

Maine DOT Ponders Bus or Rail?

Maine DOT is in the process of determining how best to extend mass transit to cities and towns beyond Portland, according to an article in the Portland Press Herald. The Downeaster currently serves communities in MA and {jcomments on}NH along with Maine stops in Wells, Saco, Old Orchard and Portland. Downeaster expansion to Freeport and Brunswick has been approved and funded by a federal grant. 

One bus proposal is to dedicate the breakdown lane on I-295 to narrower tram-like bus traffic. Go here for the full article.

Surface Transportation Board to Hold Hearing on N. Me. Rail Abandonement

The STB announced that it would schedule a hearing in Maine before the end of May to address the application by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway to abandon 233 miles of rail line in Aroostook and Penobscot counties.

Senator Collins had requested of DOT Sec. LaHood last week that his department examine how, working with the state, it could prevent the loss of this important freight transportation link. (See earlier article on this website).

The date and location have yet to be identified. Here's the press release.

LaHood's Advice to Airline Industry: Don't Fight Hi-Speed Rail

The US Sec. of Transportation, Ray LaHood, offered a bit of  advice to an FAA meeting in Washington this past week: "Don't be against hi-speed rail." His reasons are contained in an article in Trains Magazine. Go here.

NARP Meeting in Boston Highlights NE Passenger Rail Successes

The National Association of Railroad Passengers held its annual northeast meeting in Boston on Saturday with NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn delivering the keynote address. Ms. Quinn praised the public/private/government partnerships which have enabled the Downeaster to thrive. Various reports from northeast rail organizations were presented throughout the day.

TRN board member Christoper Parker of the Vermont Rail Action Network informed the 100-person gathering how community action saved the Amtrak Ethan Allen from elimination. His organization's accomplishment was warmly applauded. TRN Chairman Wayne Davis emphasized how building a consensus among various constituencies was the primary function of any effective grassroots organization.

Exeter to Vote on Establishing a Train Station Fund

Longtime TRN Board member Bob Hall has had the Exeter Downeaster riders in mind for many years. First, he worked tirelessly to help TrainRiders establish passenger rail service in Exeter, now his Train Station Committee is one step away from establishing a capital fund that will help acquire the current variety story (Exeter's original station) as its new station.

A new article is in Seacoastonline. Go here.

Sen. Collins Secures Commitment from US Transportation Secretary to Help Save Northern Maine Freight Rail Line

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, today secured a commitment from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to work with her, state, and local officials in an effort to keep the important Maine, Montreal & Atlantic (the former Bangor and Aroostook Railroad) Railway operating in Northern Maine. Secretary LaHood pledged to send the Federal Railroad Administrator to Maine to work on a plan to keep the railway operating.

The hearing video is available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPVlw3Y8nFM&feature=email

Downeaster Back on Schedule

The Downeaster is now back on schedule after four days of service disruption due to right-of-way power losses in NH. An early check on #680's progress Tuesday morning showed, thanks to 'Julie', that it was running 8 minutes early into North Station.

Our thanks to the many folks in Maine and NH who worked tirelessly to bring the service back. 

Downeaster Service Resumes

The Downeaster resumed service from Portland to Boston on March 1, with #688/689.

The recent heavy weather in New Hampshire brought all train traffic through that state to a standstill. Passenger service began to collapse late Thursday evening at the height of the storm.