BostonUrbEx wrote:One thing to keep in mind, the Lower Road has three major river crossings, and I'm guessing all three bridges are perhaps as old and questionable as the Back Road's one major crossing. The Back Road's bridge could probably be replaced immediately next to the existing bridge for minimal disruption of service. It may not be worth replacing three Lower Road Bridges. Again, just something to keep in mind, for all I know the Lower Road's bridge could be in great shape.
Ultimately it doesn't matter. Neither Back Road past Danville nor Lower Road past Brunswich are 286K-rated, and with what passes for Guilford-era state-of-repair that means big $$$ to upgrade bridges on either route before Waterville can see anything heavyweight. You're talking splitting-hairs difference on which route's bridges are in worse shape or costlier to repair. 286K is the default for a line rebuild, as it was for the DE Brunswick extension. So ultimately the passenger investment is probably going to be leading those freight considerations by the nose. Ditto on height clearances. Because Yarmouth-Danville is cleared for double-stack and Yarmouth-Brunswick is not it's a few more bridges on the Lower Road to undercut or raise...but otherwise the total overhead structure counts Danville-Waterville vs. Brunswick-Waterville are almost a draw. Therefore...which route gets the passenger investment is going to lead that one by the nose too, since it's a hell of a lot easier to fix the clearances on a virtually inactive line while you're ripping it up real good for a full rebuild than it is to maintain daily traffic during a massive clearance project.
Even if PAR has to self-fund Augusta-Waterville on both the clearance and weight-limit counts it's so many fewer miles and so many fewer structures than floating Danville-Waterville by their lonesome that this decision almost makes itself. I mean...they've got so much work to do getting the Western Route and Ayer-Rigby to DS clearances after
PAS's currently in-design clearances get upgraded that's the be-all/end-all freight upgrade for them over the next 10 years. Other than halting the further erosion of basic MEC state-of-repair there is no self-funded "upgrade" north-of-Portland that matters until Rigby (and by proxy Danville) have maximum line capacity for the very biggest and most profitable types of intermodal traffic. And that 10-12 years' initiative pretty much is the entirety of the time in which the state is going to be digesting the costs of the DE Brunswick extension, increasing their Western Route capacity and reliability, and starting the pre-funding conversation on Augusta. So PAR is not going to be ready to enact a long-range capacity enhancement program for the MEC until--serendipitously--it's put-up-or-shut-up time on whether the DE has a future in Augusta. The way it times, and with just how daunting an expense 286K + DS to Waterville is going to be...this decision almost makes itself. I mean, it's not like there's any new business that's going to crop up between Leeds Jct. and Waterville; Madison isn't coming back without millions in state-funded upgrades of dubious ROI, and Hammond Lumber in Belgrade is the only former on-line customer past Leeds that they could attract back (and that siding doesn't look equipped for more than a half-dozen cars at a time). Does it really matter if Brunswick-Augusta has no customers when 286K, Class 4 signaled, and possibly clearance-enhanced makes Waterville-Rigby doable in half a crew shift at less-than half the self-funding cost it would take to pull Danville-Waterville out of the maint hole to equal capacity and ops cost savings?
Eh. In a perfect world maybe they'd continue preferring the Back Road like they did when that conscious re-route decision was first made. In the real world they don't have that luxury, and passenger fun bucks are the only things that will put a complete high-capacity mainline in their reach to Waterville and NMJ within 20 years, since they have such huge holes to plug elsewhere on the system and nothing matters until Rigby-south is the highest capacity RR it can ever be. And that forces the decisions it'll force, for better or for worse. Yarmouth-Danville obviously retains its critical strategic value. Danville-Leeds just needs to be kept from falling into the maintenance crapper...but it works as a properly maintained 263K "super"-Rumford Branch for the locals. Leeds-Waterville may have to go, along with future prospects in Madison. MEC traffic has no potential to rebound to past levels where segmenting the traffic is necessary or a few passing sidings aren't plenty great for keeping 79 MPH passenger service from getting bottlenecked by 40 MPH freights or pinched in the long-term in a way more passing sidings wouldn't take care of. Downtown Augusta may have to get used to some freight traffic at their crossings, with the 'yuppie' complaints that entails if they want their passenger service. My guess is they want their passenger service bad enough to compromise. And life will go on in Northern Maine with a miles-shrunken but substantially capacity-enhanced freight network better than the sad-sack stick that crawls with such spectacular inefficiency today.
I don't even think that's wishful thinking. It's just the way fate is most likely to match up. For the good of PAR they have to take their efficiencies where they can get them, and this is the only difference-maker where enough outside money boosts their efficiency to be able to make a go at self-funding the rest of the capacity enhancement to Waterville and NMJ. I doubt there'll be too much hand-wringing in Billerica when that day comes. Or at whichever vastly more competent outfit owns Billerica in a couple years. Frankly, I'd worry more about MEDOT getting all Mountain Div. starry-eyed about Leeds-Waterville + Madison and refusing to let go than I would freights being flexible to ensure their own future survival and growth.