gokeefe wrote:Rail projects have some unusual aspects about them in terms of cost-benefit and payback timelines. One of the first factors that I usually have foremost in mind is the fact that the rails and ties do not deteriorate in the same fashion or manner that other types of infrastructure would (even if unused). Rail and ties that have no trains on them have the potential to remain in place in "like new" condition for years if not decades.
Umm...no. No. There is not something so precious and otherworldly about the rail mode that defies all conventional norms of business cost-benefit logic. This is a head-in-clouds statement.
Also, what difference does it make that exactly 4 miles of MEDOT-paid ties were laid and are still sitting there with minimal weathering and new #115 rail. 40 miles
of the corridor is still #85 stick with rotted ties that haven't been replaced since the MEC was an independent company, and 1 mile has no rail at all. Does 91% of the inactive corridor to Fryeburg somehow not exist??? That is some lopsided selection bias right there.
I strongly agree with the concern and criticism of waste. However I do not agree that government should be using the same business case parameters that the private sector would. Making investments in transportation infrastructure in underserved communities with little potential for payback in terms of immediate (within 5 years) increases in rail traffic is not how government planning should work and that is doubly the case for rail infrastructure which has truly unusual lifespans (50 years is a floor not a ceiling) in terms of capital expenditures.
Again...the differences are not so otherworldly as to behave under entirely different laws of physics. It takes an unusually strict and inflexible economic philosophy to demand that a public body's ROI metrics be indistinguishable from a private concern's ROI metrics. Of course a for-profit corporation has to be able to pin the payback on costs directly to its P&L statements, and of course that is different from payback on a government investment where subtler macroeconomic impacts in multiple sectors projected across a whole region drive the ROI. But it is a strawman that anyone here is actually equating the two in nihilist fashion; all that's being stated is that there has to be 'a' payback identified. What is wholly universal and not at all otherworldly for any investing party is that there has to be some
metric for amortizing the investment over time? Amortization metrics are how government scores itself! The problem with the Mountain Division restoration to Fryeburg is that it whiffs on even the loosest public standards of cost amortization by so many orders of magnitude that there is no conceivable optimistic scenario where the current business opportunity will return enough macroeconomically to pay off a $100M single-use transportation project in a bottom-ten population state in enough decades to stay inside 'chaos'-uncertainty timelines (i.e. not more than 30 years). It's not even close. It's not even close on the private side for PS, and closer but still in different time zones on a public-private investment deal.
As I said before, until you can plot the cost-benefit calculus on a graph where REAL NUMBER approximations start to approach a convergence point...and
you can make empirical predictions about how to close any remaining gaps...it is not a proposal living in the real world. Tagging the whole thing 'otherworldly' to basic economic behavior to nullify the very meaning of numbers is no less fantastical than "I just got a feelin' in my gut" wishful thing. It's just substituting one debunked fantasy world for another. Same with selective citations of facts like what drop-in-bucket share of infrastructure is new amid a 45-mile sea of ancient infrastructure. Quantify, quantify, quantify it. At least with general trending that helps close the cavernous plausibility gap. But certainly not with claims of 'otherworldliness' as if there's some equally valid 2 + 2 = 5 parallel-universe mathematics in use here not seen anywhere else in the world.
The "business" case for the State would also need to take into account the impact on state expenditures and revenues that increased employment would bring. What impact on benefits and social assistance ("welfare") programs would increased employment have? What impact would increased employment and property values have on state aid requirements for local schools? If you have even minimal impact on any of these major line items the "business" case for state government starts to make a lot of sense much faster than it would as a traditional railroad business case.
This is not to say that every investment is justified because something "might" workout "eventually" within the next 50 years. But it is to say that something like the Mountain Division is much closer to being viable than a rehabilitation of the line to Anson or Madison.
This statement is missing a whole paragraph or five in-between that actually provides the numbers for bigger economic impact in Fryeburg vs. Madison, plotted against the extremely higher cost of reactivating 45-mile line to Fryeburg that hasn't been used in 30+ years vs. de-embargoing the 29-mile line to Madison that was last used 3 years ago. Or which explains in numbers the differing regional employment and rail carload characteristics of a prospective water bottling operation vs. an actual large paper mill being reactivated to some share of its former capacity. Or the ancillary users of the less expensive embargoed line that had 2-3 active customers upon last use vs. a single-customer reactivation where the '07 Mountain Div. study crunched out a hard ceiling of $2M annually in cumulative prospective other customers if every single business prospect between Westbrook and PS turned up rainbows
...which the study concluded was nearly unattainable in the real world.
Follow through on your own stated metrics in that first paragraph to produce the empirical evidence that reaches the conclusion in the second paragraph. That is not a skippable step.
If I were to choose any project to criticize it would the rehabilitation of the Lewiston Industrial Track. I find it objectionable on multiple levels to include the fact that the state did not acquire the whole right of way, the few existing freight customers (Knight-Celotex and Grimmels) were employers with marginal economic impact to the area, the route would have stub-ended any future passenger service in Lewiston and not allowed through trains further to the north (again ... long term thinking not "tomorrow"), and (perhaps worst of all) the investment did nothing to support through freight traffic on the existing main line.
The project "is what it is" and I hope that Grimmel's, Pan Am and MaineDOT can make the best of it. But I would not prioritize that branch for investment of any kind any time soon, if ever, again.
I don't disagree with this, but on the flipside...Grimmels is providing *some* amortization of MEDOT's investment whereas that 4 miles of disconnected rail they laid at the same time on the Mountain has paid back nothing since then. And those 4 miles of re-laid track do nothing to close the gaping hole in the cost-benefit convergence we need to prove at timetables before the heat death of the universe for PS...not when the other 91% of the corridor has gotten no work. Not to be too Captain Obvious about it...but one of those criticism-worthy spendings has factually paid back something on its investment 10 years into its amortization while one has not. Neither may reach goal of full amortization, but can you truly call one past-tense decision empirically worse than another when something cost-recovered >> nothing cost-recovered a decade in? Amortization-by-decade is, after all, one of the metrics public investment proposals try to self-hold themselves to. If 'otherworldly physics' apply here, somebody needs to explain that first to all levels of government who use those amortization-over-time metrics ploys as the chosen physics their ROI is supposed to obey to distinguish good investments from bad.