• Portland Maine Passenger Stations

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England

Moderators: MEC407, NHN503

  by gokeefe
It is so ridiculous at times how far ahead of the curve NNEPRA is from the rest of us.
  by Cowford
GO'K, your enthusiasm for NNEPRA is admirable, if perplexing. My earlier questions to you will help me understand how "smart" they really are, so I'm hoping you'll provide your insight by addressing the issue of ridership. I think you'll agree that moving the station would not be smart, backup moves notwithstanding, if it doesn't spike overall ridership significantly.

About those outa-statahs needing the train to get closer to the tourist destinations. Has anyone considered the fact that maybe it's not the Thompson's Point station location, as much as scheduling that contibutes to a lack of out-of-stater ridership. The schedules are set to serve the ridership that exists, i.e., Maine- and NH-based folks going to Boston. As such, three out of the five trains into Portland arrive between 7PM and 1AM. First stop for a Maine visitor would not be the Old Port, but a hotel for check in. Assuming you don't expect folks to lug suitcases 1/2 mile uphill to the Holiday Inn, how is Commercial Street so much different than TP?

I had seem some past references to the yard 8 wye being rebuilt, but didn't pay attention enough to realize that NNEPRA paid for this. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the wye presently serves no purpose for NNEPRA. As such, in the obviously more rational "private" world, the wye wouldn't have been rebuilt unless Commercial Street-sited station plans were already locked in, including site, environmental impact, permits, funding, etc. I'd like to know more about the rationale/approval process for rebuilding the wye, if anyone can chime in.
  by gokeefe

I admire NNEPRAs ability to continue to maintain a political consensus, obtain large amounts of federal financing, operate the Downeaster to high standards of quality, and their disciplined focus on service expansion.

These attributes have enabled them to do more for passenger rail service in Maine than any other entity or individual, save Wayne Davis, in the past 50-100 years.

In regards to ridership I think they have strong reason to believe that having a location closer to Commercial Street ('walking distance') is going to make an impact on their ridership. I would strongly suspect they have internal data to back this up, probably in the form of customer feedback surveys and perhaps some other items that are more in depth.

As far as the scheduling goes they can't make any further changes at this time due to corridor capacity limitations. Until they can get additional passing sidings or in some cases double track on PAR I don't think they're going to be able to add the 'legendary' sixth roundtrip. Part of that is being addressed right now with the federally funded study which hopefully will get them further funding in a year or two.

In effect they're looking for a double or triple play, 1) build new station on Commercial Street to increase outbound (cruise ship tourists to Freeport) and inbound leisure travel (day trippers from Boston), 2) eliminate the backup and reverse move to Brunswick making Freeport a more feasble trip for a) cruise ship passengers, b) out of state daytrips, c)in state travel to Freeport (which would include seasonal residents) 3) get federal funding for improvements Portland to Plaistow, NH enabling the sixth roundtrip.

All three of these improvments will help the leisure travel market and maintain the base of commuter passengers. Now....if they can find a way to relocate Concord Coach with them into the new station then it's a grand slam. I agree with you that there should be some serious concerns about making sure that synergy is continued. But I also suspect they are getting strong enough feedback about the PTC to merit the current effort. Assuming their strength of focus is proportional to feedback they are getting very strong indications from 'internals' that this change needs to be made in order to go to the next level.

The Yard 8 wye was rebuilt entirely with Federal funds (FRA Grant $500,000) that went through around the same time that NNEPRA was still looking at taking out a loan for the Brunswick extension (about 2008). The case basis for the grant was primarily the need to turn trains every so often due to wheel wear issue. I would speculate that NNEPRA may have privately indicated to the FRA at the time of their possible future interest in using this wye to connect to a new station.

At the time myself and I think a lot of other people thought they were going to rebuild the 'northbound' (TT EAST) track from the Mountain subdivision to the PAR Main. We understood this to be a modification that was being made to enable Brunswick service. Some parts of the grant did in fact address this including rehab of the second track of the PAR main in order to allow northbound movement. The wye rehab was in the same package and I like many others completed missed what was going on. I also bought the wheel wear argument (which to this day is probably still true) and didn't realize they were laying the groundwork for a new station lead.
  by Cowford
"The Yard 8 wye was rebuilt entirely with Federal funds (FRA Grant $500,000)...The case basis for the grant was primarily the need to turn trains every so often due to wheel wear issue."

Not so according to FRA project summaries. Rather, the wye rebuild cost nearly $1.4 million, and the it was completed to "allow for increased passenger train speeds through the area, and will allow for passenger train equipment to be turned around on the wye. The reactivation of the wye is particularly important in situations where locomotives must be switched off of trains in the case of mechanical difficulties."

I'm curious to know more about the wheel wear... NNEPRA was asserting that the repeated runs caused uneven wear on the wheels?

Turning the trainset would be quite an effort, considering the cabbage and power would have to change ends. And how often is this done?
  by gokeefe

To avoid further error on my part could you please post the link to the FRA project summary?

My understanding was that there had been an assertion that repeated runs without turning the trainsets was causing uneven wheel wear. We're not talking about two or three runs but months or a year at a time with the same end of the train facing the same direction (e.g. NPCU forward southbound, P42 forward northbound). Depending on the route characteristics this would at least seem possible. I don't have sufficient techinical knowledge to say with any authority.
  by Cowford
Here's the link:

http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Resear ... sFinal.pdf

Possible? Yes. Plausible? I'm wanting to call BS on this one. Possibly someone else can comment on the subject... to my knowledge Acelas are never turned.

I'll grant you that NNEPRA does run a good service and is politically astute. I'm prejudiced by the sheer audacity of their frequent misrepresentation of facts. It sounds like the wye rebuild is another case-in-point: Any "wink wink, nod nod" complicity by FRA / MDOT doesn't excuse the behavior considering taxpayer dollars are in the balance. Anyway...

Your comments on train starts got me to thinking this appears like a crack addiction. Four RTs were not enough, so a fifth was added. Now five RTs are not enough, add a sixth (which will require another trainset, which will provide surplus capacity, so then there will be an argument for a seventh, etc). On average today, ONLY 19 percent of the seats are occupied leaving/arriving Portland. Think of that: Over 80 percent of the seats are empty, and the plans call to spend millions more to build MORE capacity? Capacity expansion would probably only have a more substantial payoff Dover or Durham west.

About those baseball analogies... is NNEPRA at bat in those plays?

Cruise ships - Portland is scheduled to get ~60 in 2011. About 40% of those ships carry fewer than 100 passengers, so scratch those and look at the big ones. In June, July and August, there will be only one large vessel call per month (the same vessel on rotation). Only two months, Sept and October, see frequent calls. Now these vessels dock for only seven-nine hours... not a lot of time. Most would opt for a tour of Portland, or shopping in the Old Port. Otherwise, having buses meet the boat for a shuttle to Freeport would be much more convenient, flexible (these vessels call at different times - hardly practical to tweak train schedules from day-to-day), and time efficient. Cruise traffic doesn't look very encouraging.

Out-of-state day trips - refer to my earlier comments on schedules. How will ridership potential improve if there are no schedule changes in the offing? It should also be noted that most "inbound" potential is extremely seasonal and of limited potential.

In-state travel to Freeport - I've made past comments on the proposed schedule... it's awful! (And I do not fault NNEPRA - it's the best they can do with the existing trainsets.) This is essentially a non-starter.

Edited for clarity
  by gokeefe

Thanks for the link...I had missed/forgotten that State of Maine/PAR contributed to this project. FRA grant was $500,000 but it didn't cover the complete cost of the project.

I agree that there's a lot of capacity out of Portland but there is also a lot of crowding on some morning trains once they get into Boston as they progressively fill up heading south. Furthermore a lot of the additional capacity has been taken up as it has been added. Certainly we can say that at ~485,000+ riders/year the service is doing well and using a good deal of the seats that are being run. I don't know what their exact load factor is but on certain runs M-F its quite high (anecdotal evidence indicates sold out with standees on some occasions).

I don't know that there is a question of whether or not the roundtrips 'as is' are 'enough'. They are more than sufficient to serve the ridership as it stands right now. However, most data on corridor services indicates that the relationship between frequency and ridership is not linear, meaning in effect if you have enough frequencies at the right average speed (assuming good quality service that runs on time) then you will have a non-linear increase in ridership meaning higher farebox revcovery and more service for roughly the same or similar subsidy levels. That means expenditure of all of our tax dollars is more efficient and effective because we are serving more people for the same money. That's good for all of us. Not to mention improvment on the return on investment made in capital expenditures.

I do think NNEPRA is attempting to find solutions that maintain current ridership and allow for an increase in other ridership that is not currently served by the service. They appear to have concluded that leisure and casual travel would be better served by a station relocation (in addition to the extension to Freeport and Brunswick). Hopefully they will carefully plan for any changes to the service in a way that will maintain the commuters that they already have.
  by Cowford
"...there is also a lot of crowding on some morning trains once they get into Boston as they progressively fill up heading south..."

You're hitting on a reference I made earlier: That capacity, if needed at all, is probably needed NH west. The problem with this all, of course, is that it doesn't make sense for ME to provide further support to NH and its Boston-based commuters. Probably what makes the most sense is to extend MBTA operations beyond Haverhill at least to Exeter. But that would require a little more interest on behalf of the state of NH... and any drain of ridership from Amtrak to MBTA would have a significant negative impact on the Downeaster's viability.

Completely agree with you about the plausity of a non-linear relationship between frequency and ridership, though I'm not familiar with all the theories behind it. I'd suspect that other issues come into play, e.g., schedules, and that the law of diminishing returns kicks in at some point, as there is only so much demand. Interesting to note that the fifth departure increased total departures by 25%... this bumped ridership by a similar degree - about 30% - which has stagnated since. The concept of more frequent schedules improving farebox recovery has to consider that the cost associated with capacity augmentation is not linear, either. Added departures eventually stress trainsets to the extent you need additional equipment. (Freight guys LOVE more business... until it requires a new train start!) The challenge in front of NNEPRA is exactly that: Adding one new departure will require another trainset. Operating just one additional RT BON-POR (or BRU) will underutilize the added equipment, spiking equipment cost per available seat-mile (by as much as 33%?); adding service to run the wheels off the equipment will spike operating cost per available seat-mile. As such, farebox recovery will DECREASE unless the extra service generate an inordinate increase in passenger-miles.
  by markhb
I honestly have to agree with the idea that cruise-ship business to Freeport is a non-starter... the runs that were mentioned as probable in the Press Herald article last year essentially attached Brunswick runs to 682 and 686 SB, and 681 and 687 SB, plus the early and late stub runs between BRK and POR. By times:
Code: Select all

Train:         6821*       681      687
Boston          N/A        9:00A    5:40P
Portland       6:00A      11:35A    8:10P 
Brunswick      6:50A      12:30P    9:10P

Returns as:     682       686       6872* 


Train:          682       686       6872*
Brunswick      7:00A     1:00P       9:30P
Portland       8:00A     2:35P      10:20P
Boston        10:30A     4:30P       N/A
* - I made up the 4-digit train numbers for simplicity.
The PPH article didn't give any times regarding Freeport, and I didn't try to interpolate them. But if this is the schedule they go with, day trips to Freeport or Brunswick are really out of the question unless you don't mind only having an hour (at most) to shop, or you can make the early or late train (which cruise pax can't).

So far as relocating the Portland station goes, ISTR that NNEPRA and the city have always held the opinion that the current location at TP was considered temporary, to be replaced once the Brunswick extension became a reality. NNEPRA wants to move because they perceive the current location as both inconvenient to the main line and unable to provide them room with a second boarding track which they seem to feel will be important. The city would like them to move because they feel on general principles that the train station should be closer to the urban center (and if you think that's foolish, read this and remember that "Bayside Trail" = "Where the Union Branch was between Elm St. and the sewage treatment plant, including the old rail yard"). It's also possibly worth noting that the City Council's Transportation Committee is currently made up of the 2 district councilors that represent the peninsula (now heavily populated by progressives who think cars are ipso facto bad) and the councilor that represents the Libbytown and Stroudwater neighborhoods, where the Mountain Division runs. As I said in a prior post, most of the Downeaster stations are owned by the city they are in, and so my hunch is that the city would be willing to help build a new station in what they see as a preferable location.

Where would a 6th R/T go on the schedule? If the goal were to boost day trips to Portland from Boston, then a later departure from Portland would be in order; 10-11 PM would make it possible to catch a Sea Dogs game and hop back to Mass. after. However, that would mean either basing a trainset at North Station, or else running a 90+% empty train back BON-POR at 2 AM. I don't care if the guy playing at the Purple Shamrock has a guitar that spits gold doubloons at people, there aren't enough people looking to go to Boston to get hammered to make a run that late viable.
  by gokeefe
I agree that adding a sixth roundtrip at present travel times doesn't work.

Is it possible to get six roundtrips with two trainsets if speed improvements are made BON-POR?

I think this may be one of NNEPRAs lines of strategic thinking at present. If they can get the necessary improvments done to the line then they can get a sixth roundtrip without adding a trainset. I've always felt they were getting the best value for invested money by improving tracks without the need for additional personnel and rolling stock from Amtrak. If they are considering this idea along with changing locations from PTC to a new station at Commercial Street then maybe we/they have an answer to part of the problem.

In regards to New Hampshire ridership I think this is one of the few areas where Maine is getting a good value from New Hampshire. The NH commuters are making service to Portland viable (or at least 'less subsidized') that would otherwise be unavailable without the NH ridership. Even without a sixth roundtrip continued improvements in speed would very likely drive ridership to Boston from Maine higher. The question is would this be regular weekday commuting or and we have already established that ridership from Maine to Boston is largely 'casual' travel on the weekends.
  by Cowford
Can't agree more that ME/Downeaster needs NH ridership more than the other way 'round. Without NH riders, DE operating deficits would explode. Today's schedules reflect the needs of those riders; tomorrow's schedules will, too.

Ok, onto scheds. Without consideration of departure time requirements, but assuming the trainsets require servicing daily, present transit time allows for a theoretical seven maximum RTs. However, when demand is added in, practical RTs max out at five. (The only way to add a sixth would be to run an additional evening RT. To markhb's point, justifying that would be a stretch.) If schedules improve to a 2hr trip, a theoretical maximum of eight RTs are possible. However, those pesky NH commuters throw a wrench in the works. The problem is with the rush hour schedules: Rush hour departures (AM from Portand and PM from Boston) have to be protected. Even if minimum layover times were also reduced to 30 mins (now 35 mins), the need to cover both morning and evening rush hours would only permit five RTs prior to evening runs. Two RTs could be run in the evening... but again... why? If transit time was decreased to 1:48, another daytime RT could be squeezed in, but the schedule bunches. Today, overall ave speed is 46 mph, excluding station stops, 55 mph; going to a 2:00 hr trip would require 58 mph/72 mph; going to 1:48 would require 64 mph / 82 mph. We're talking a fundamental rebuilding of the entire route. And of course, this is all moot, as extending the run to Brunswick throws all these calculations out the window. A third trainset - and lower farebox recovery will follow. Tying this back to the topic of POR stations, esp in light of the Brunswick fantasy... a Commercial Street location wouldn't materially help vs. the present location. You want to save transit time? Then reconsider a location that won't be stub-end and is adjacent to the main track, i.e., the old Union Station area.

Anyway... I've attached a roughed out schedule of what a two trainset cycle looks like today and what it could look like with faster transits.


NOTE: the system's not letting me upload the aforementioned schedule. I will do so when possible.
  by gokeefe
Even though the train has a stronger orientation to NH commuters at present I still have to wonder if route speed improvements would increase ridership out of Portland. Of course if the schedule gets any better into MA then theoretically NH ridership would go up as well. Interesting situation. Might call for more cars as opposed to more trainsets.

It also appears from discussion that if another trainset is added with a schedule that focuses on peak travel we'll quickly reach the point of diminishing returns. This would point towards speed increases and capacity increases (as needed) in the form of extra coach cars. At least in the meantime speed increases would have beneficial effects on ridership without increasing operating expenses (and demands on subsidies as a result).
  by gokeefe
We have already discussed the substance of this article in depth but I think it would be useful to have the link posted for the record.

The Forecaster, January 11, 2011, "New train station eyed in Portland; former ferry terminal to be upgraded" by Mr. Randy Billings
PORTLAND — The operators of the Amtrak Downeaster will meet with the city's Transportation Committee next week to discuss a variety of initiatives, including a new passenger rail station on Commercial Street.

Along with state plans to improve the International Marine Terminal, the project would bring new vitality to the city's western waterfront.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, on Tuesday said the details of her Jan. 18 presentation to the committee have not been finalized.

But Quinn suggested she would present a general update of the group's efforts to extend the Amtrak Downeaster to Brunswick, as well as outline concepts that will be addressed in a report focusing on improving operations.
http://www.theforecaster.net/content/p- ... ion-011211
  by Cowford
A $750k grant for another study? Nice. Reading all the linked articles makes it apparent that the station planning process is thoroughly politicized... reminds me of the old saw: What's the definition of a camel? A horse built by committee. Only worse, in this case.

"At least in the meantime speed increases would have beneficial effects on ridership without increasing operating expenses (and demands on subsidies as a result)."

It's safe to assume that any action taken to reduce transit time, save elimination of station stops, will cost money. Lots of money. Let's not ignore that fact. And while reduced transit times may increase ridership, it will also increase total operating expenses. How farebox recovery would be affected would be determined by the relative changes in both those factors.

Looks like the schedule file attached...
  by gokeefe

I'm assuming your reference to increases in total operating expenses is in relation to the addition of a sixth roundtrip or are you referring to increases in fuel costs due to higher speeds?

In regards to the schedule I thought it was interesting to note how difficult it would be to schedule a third PM rush hour 'pre-rush' departure in the 4 o'clock hour (maybe somewhere between 4:15-4:45pm).
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