• 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 Cowford
"Do you really think the station and track rehab to get to it, for sake of argument to the Yard 1 location, is going to cost tens of millions?"

When I stated that, I was, in my head, bundling in the Brunswick project. I had earlier took a stab in the dark that the cost would be $10-15 million for station alone. Again this is a total stab... I think I'm being pretty conservative. If Center St was chosen, it would appear to get hellishly more complicated. Considering that the wye rebuild cost $1.4 million, I'd imagine track-related work (which includes remote power switches, signaling, ripping up Commercial St, etc) alone would run well into the millions. Add in a parking garage, business relocations, etc. It could very well approach (or exceed!) $20M. Look at the Jetport expansion: $75 million... or construction of a more-or-less similar-sized rail stations in Martinez, CA: $35 million (in 2001) and Bloomington, IL: $43 million (underway). The PTC is a basic, sensible, no-frills facility... considering the reasoning behind the relo, I'd doubt the dreamers in Portland would stand for putting up a GE Modular building!
  by gokeefe
I've been meaning to post this but 'technical difficulties' got in the way...
markhb wrote:
Cowford wrote:Why do I suspect that there's a sinister idea lurking out there: Let's make the argument that the reason the DE doesn't have more traffic is station location. Once a Commercial Street station is open, then we can make an argument that the only reason we don't have more traffic is that we don't go all the way to India Street. Then once that is built, we can make the argument that the only reason we don't have more traffic is that we can't run over Back Cove trestle. Then once that is (re)built...
I honestly don't think that's the case at all, because, unlike (I think) GO'K, I don't believe that potential synergy with the cruise industry is a driver for the station relocation. I think NNEPRA feels that their schedule on trains that run POR-BRK will suffer due to the backup move required to get to or from Thompson's Point; they've made the point in many articles in the past that they don't want to stay there. IIRC, going back to the launch of the service (by which time the extension to BRK had already been floated), they were viewing the current location as temporary space. The city, OTOH, has always wanted to have the station on the peninsula; if I had to surmise an ulterior motive on their part, it might be that the pedestrians they actually want to have access are the various self-consciously car-free residents of the West End, who would be able to walk to a Commercial Street station more easily than they could Thompson's Point. The Exit 5 I-295 complex is widely viewed as a pedestrian barrier.

Although the cruise ship boardings initially seemed very attractive this was only on top of all the other 'natural' synergies that you mentioned. I think Cowford has more or less made the case that additional ridership from cruise ship passengers is really far off in the long-term until there is some kind of higher level of convenience and of course more frequencies.
  by gokeefe
Cowford wrote:The PTC is a basic, sensible, no-frills facility... considering the reasoning behind the relo, I'd doubt the dreamers in Portland would stand for putting up a GE Modular building!
I'm going to be perfectly honest...the thought had crossed my mind that the City would want to build a new 'grand entrance' or whatever...

That dark monolith lurking in the shadows at the back of the room is Portland Union Station (aka The Ghost of Stations Past). I would not underestimate at all the likelihood that the City of Portland would want to attempt to right one of the greatest wrong's in Portland's modern history by constructing a new 'Union Station' or its modern equivalent. If this project is locally funded with small or modest state and federal matching funds I don't see why this shouldn't be done. If it manages to consolidate all bus (including Greyhound) & rail service even better.

There's plenty of good reasons to argue, "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Unfortunately that argument clearly becomes less valid once the Brunswick service is initiated, hence the discussion of why the northbound leg of the Mountain Division wye wasn't restored in the first place. I would still maintain that NNEPRA is usually quite careful about these choices. I believe political pressure alone would not be enough for them to change direction. I would strongly suspect that they have solid marketing data as well that supports this change.
  by Cowford
There it is again! Federal funds - D'oh! If it's such a great idea, let Portand issue bonds for it. And I'd bet a nickle they DON'T have solid marketing data.

Do you think the bus companies would want to abandon their current locations in favor of a Commercial Street location?
  by MEC407
Cowford wrote:Do you think the bus companies would want to abandon their current locations in favor of a Commercial Street location?

That's actually a great question. On one hand, why would Concord want to give up what they already own in favor of paying rent somewhere else and having less-convenient access to the highway? On the other hand, maybe Greyhound wouldn't mind having a bigger/better location and having easy access to Downeaster passengers.

I could see it potentially being a big win for Greyhound. For Concord, not so much.
  by gokeefe
Cowford wrote:There it is again! Federal funds - D'oh! If it's such a great idea, let Portand issue bonds for it. And I'd bet a nickle they DON'T have solid marketing data.

Do you think the bus companies would want to abandon their current locations in favor of a Commercial Street location?

I'm only suggesting a nominal match (less than 20%, 10% state, 10% federal). It will be up to the City to determine what they want to build. I've always had the impression that NNEPRA studies their ridership very carefully. I haven't got any reason to believe the contrary. Some of their initiatives over the years in particular cooperation with UNH seem to be strong evidence of this to me. Their public statements also show a great deal of sensitivity to their market.

As far as Commericial Street goes I don't think it's all that inferior (if at all) to Commericial Street because of the easy access to the highway via the lightly traveled Fore River Parkway.

The real reason any of these companies might consider moving is 'in the money', low/no rent facilities at a new ground transportation center just might do the trick. Portland could make some of the money back via a usage based passenger facility charge of some kind. Portland might very well end up with better bus service as a result of the lower costs associated with the new facility.
  by Cowford
407, I agree with you... there appears to be a lot of upside for GH, but the risk is downside for Concord. A "neutral" station would (unfairly?) put GH on equal footing with Concord, so they may view a relocation more favorably. Also, I don't know if they own or rent on St John St, but their terminal costs there are largely fixed. To GO'K's point, I'd imagine access fees to a new station would largely be variable, i.e., $X per passenger. This would certainly benefit GH over CC given their smaller traffic base.

GO'K, regardless of funding sources, do you agree that there must be some objective measure(s) needed to justify a station relocation, the most obvious being improvements in ridership or reductions in ongoing operating cost? (Others, such as resulting development, etc. are subject to too many smoke and mirrors... I'm still waiting for the Children's Museum of NH in Dover to put "getting there by rail" directions on their website, considering NNPREA's Ms Quinn contends that their relocation from Portsmouth was due to the DE - hahahahahaha!) Assuming a very modest $10 million cost estimate, what would you apply in this case?
  by markhb
I am going to diverge from the station relocation debate to go back to the original thought behind this thread: historic Portland train stations. I just discovered this photo on Facebook, of the old Portland & Rochester station that was, or was connected to, Preble St. Station. Gokeefe, is this the photo you had seen that you linked to in the original post of the thread?


Image courtesy of the Facebook page Portland Maine History 1786 to Present. They have a lot of older photos, including a lot of train shots... even some MEC gear street-running on Commercial St :)
  by gokeefe

No it wasn't. But what a great find!


Sorry for the delay in answering your question... . Yes there needs to be an objective measure for justifying a station relocation. In theory NNEPRA already has this (assuming the City of Portland is the station owner). While NNEPRA is certainly never reluctant to seek capital funding increasing the burden on their operating budget has never been part of the answer. The logical course of action is find a solution that does both (decreases operating costs and improves ridership). I am still of the opinion that they have proven themselves in the past to have a very thorough understanding of their market. Therefore I find it credible when they say they have market oriented reasons to believe that a new downtown location would help ridership.
  by MEC407
Back on the first page of this thread, we talked about possible station locations, as well as possible re-uses of existing buildings. I love the Post Office idea -- such a beautiful building, and it has the "wow" factor that a grand train station should have.

To that list -- and I know this may not be practical, but humor me -- I would like to add the Maine Central Railroad headquarters building on Saint John Street. As many of you know, this building is next door to where Union Station used to be. It's a very attractive building, it obviously has a lot of railroad history, and it looks like it was designed/built to last several hundred years.
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  by MEC407
And here's an even crazier idea: how about the Custom House? Rumor has it that the government wants to sell it because they don't need all that space and they can't afford to properly maintain it.

It would require either an extensive amount of street running, or perhaps something more radical like an elevated line or a tunnel... but there's no denying the appeal of the building and the location.
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  by markhb
The neat thing about the MCRR building is that those doors on St. John St. are really more like back doors; the nice central lobby and big entrance is on the rail-facing side.

Also, the city council Transportation Committee meeting that NNEPRA is going to discuss the station at is this Tuesday at 5:30. The Committee's page is here and NNEPRA still didn't submit any background materials (but then, neither did MDOT for their portion, perhaps due to their not having a Commissioner until late last week).
  by markhb
I went to the city Transportation Committee meeting tonight; it was a fairly full house, which I doubt is the norm, but apparently a lot of attendees were interested in a snow-removal agenda item that I didn't stay for. Having said that, the NNEPRA presentation did get the most comments of the first few presentations (Me Turnpike Authority and MDOT being the other two; the MDOT guys were specialists in roads and bridges and didn't discuss rail at all).

Note: I am not a professional reporter, and as I forgot to grab a pen I had to use a note-taking app on my phone. Since I am not the most dexterous thumb-typist, feel free to consider this report an exercise in the use of the literary device of the unreliable narrator.

Apparently NNEPRA didn't finish their materials for the meeting until 4 Pm, but they did submit them and the committee's staff member said she would have them scanned and on the Committee's meetings page (linked above) in the next few days.

Notes from Patricia's presentation:
  • She noted that they've attracted 60,000 visitors to Portland with their "Take the Train to Maine" campaign that's plastered all over North Station. I'm not sure if that was in the past year or over a longer period. In response to an audience question, she also gave some impressive figures regarding growth in January ridership (they had 40,000 riders last month, but I didn't get exactly what she compared that to. NNEPRA's site lists just under 30,000 riders in 1/08, and using their % increase from that report gives c. 25,000 riders in 1/07).
  • So far as the extension project goes, they have 4 miles of rail yet to install, and 13 (or so) grade crossings to improve. She promised they would stagger the grade crossing improvements so a whole bunch wouldn't be tied up at once.
  • They budget $275,000 annually for the Portland Transportation Center (i.e., rent or whatever it is). The PTC is the only station on the route that is not provided by the host municipality, and it is the second-heaviest boarding station (after BON and ahead of Exeter). The challenges they face at PTC are the ones we've talked about here: the station isn't walkable to anywhere the visitors want to go, the single track for boarding constrains potential usage expansions, and backing up the trains to the main line to go to or from Brunswick will itself take 10 minutes. The only parking problems they have at PTC are during February and April school vacation weeks; if I had to guess, I would say it's likely that many of those parkers are actually using Concord Coach to get to Logan.
  • They are embarking on a $750,000 study (c. $600k from a federal grant, the rest local matching funds) regarding service improvements with an aim towards reducing travel time to Boston, adding round trips and also the potential Portland station move. Adding the northbound wye at Mountain Junction is still on the table. It's important to note that they are very early in the study process, and have just (or are about to) issue a RFQ for consultants to work with them. They feel the study process will take 1 year.
  • In response to an audience question, the issue of Positive Train Control on the PAR lines will be factored into the study (once they get above 12 passenger trips per day, then PAR is out of compliance with their FRA waiver and they have to come up with a PTC implementation plan that says something other than "we aren't going to do it.")
  • Since they haven't really begun the study process, firm discussion of a new station location is premature. Apparently, the artwork that appeared in The Forecaster was the result of a) someone at PAR mentioning that they owned this land (Yard 1) that could potentially be used for a new station, and then-Governor Baldacci hearing and asking NNEPRA to come up with a picture of what that could potentially look like. They did so (since he was the Governor), took the art to a meeting and a photographer from the Forecaster took a picture of it.
There was a good-sized line of citizens there to make points and ask questions. There were several people who work on the western waterfront, for Sprague (who now own the former Merrill Marine Terminal) and Cianbro, and at least one other member of the Propeller Club, all of whom were concerned with conversion of deep-water harbor frontage to this kind of use, as well as potential conflicts with the bulk terminal (one speaker made that the point that, aside from the paper mills, Merrill's is probably the largest rail customer in the state). Concerns about congestion on Commercial Street and heavier use of the grade crossing on West Commercial. Finally, the Committee chairman said that they'd like to have NNEPRA come back after they had selected their consultant. I think Patricia and the man with her were a bit surprised by the reception they got when they haven't even really gotten started on the study yet.
  by Froggie
Thanks for the update! It's good to hear that people are interested, even if it's apparently a little early to speculate about the final outcome. :D
  by markhb
No problem! I left out one other point, which led into that final note about asking NNEPRA to come back to the committee after they select a consultant. The committee chairman, Kevin Donoghue of District 1 (East End/Downtown), spent a couple of minutes asking Patricia what opportunities there would be for public input into the study process (I'm not sure whether he was talking about station replacement in particular or the overall study), apparently looking for a stakeholders committee, a public hearing process, or something similar. She seemed unprepared for the question, or at least didn't have a satisfactory reply at hand, which is what led to the invitation for them to return.

As of tonight NNEPRA's materials have yet to appear on the city website.
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