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.
"...And then I thought, every time some company creates a more powerful locomotive does Superman become more powerful as well or is he stuck at 1938 locomotive power levels?" - A friend of mine elsewhere
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