• Maine Commuter Rail

  • 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

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  by gokeefe
 
kilroy wrote:
gokeefe wrote:I don't know where Representative Chipman is getting his information or developing his opinion that, "Portland is big enough to support rail", but I don't think its very well thought out.

Heavy rail seems to be pure fantasy. Street cars on the other hand not so much. Why, oh why, this alternative doesn't come up is really beyond me.
Are you thinking of building inter-urban lines out to surrounding areas? I don't see how that would be more economical. The cost of acquiring the ROWs would be more than heavy rail subsidies for many, many years.

If you're thinking of running DMU's on existing tracks, that's not going to happen. Light rail DMU's can't run on heavy rail tracks unless they are grade separated (which there may not be enough room for without acquiring more land) or time separated. That would mean no Amtrak or freight service on the lines during commuter operating times.

Sorry, I don't see anything but heavy rail for commuter service in Portland. They did the DMU time separated operations here in New Jersey on the River Line. It works well because Conrail only runs one or two locals a day over the tracks and they can usually get their work done during their overnight window of operations. But because of the success of the light rail, there is a desire to expand the operations later into the night and now they can't because the tracks belong to Conrail and they want to service their customers.
Actually, no. I don't think there needs to be the purchase of new right of ways. I do in fact understand what you're referring to with the inter-urbans. Its not what I had in mind.

Street cars run on the street, hence there is no need for puchasing a new right of way as its already publicly owned.

Perhaps more importantly street cars are considered 'transit' and are therefore eligible for transit funds through the FTA. Heavy rail commuter projects likely would be as well, if they're done correctly. However when the costs are compared to the benefits I don't think a project out of Portland, ME would be competitive against anywhere else in the country that likely would be submitted proposals for heavy rail work, as all other areas would be larger by population.

That's why I think streetcars are probably the right answer. I think they're on the right scale for Portland, ME. Heavy rail is exactly that, too much train for too little demand.
  by 3rdrail
 
I agree. This is my suggestion: Petition the State to not construct any new public ways or facilities for 10 years within Portland, and instead put that money towards a streetcar network. Portland is an ideal candidate for a streetcar line with it's hilly terrain, modest traffic, and off-center railroad entrance. Start with an elongated cross - east/west along Congress St. all the way from the Jetport to the Eastern Promenade, north/south Deering Forest Ave./Congress to Commercial. Run it 7-11. That's probably about all that you're going to need. I believe any thought of heavy-rail to be ridiculous.(Make each run have a mandatory Portland cop on board at detail rate. :-))
Last edited by 3rdrail on Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by TomNelligan
 
Heavy rail is exactly that, too much train for too little demand.
I'm only an occasional visitor to Portland -- heading up for a Sea Dogs game next weekend, actually -- but given the size of the metropolitan area I believe you're quite correct. You Maine taxpayers may want to suggest that Rep Chipman read up on the short-lived rail commuter operations in the relatively small metropoli of Burlington, VT, and Syracuse, NY, in the last decade. Both quickly expired due to minimal ridership to a downtown that wasn't big enough to support them except during special events like Syracuse University football games.
  by 3rdrail
 
* A bring back due to Tom's post had me notice that in my first sentence, I typed "disagree" rather than "agree". It was a typo. Sorry. Edited/amended.
  by gokeefe
 
TomNelligan wrote:
Heavy rail is exactly that, too much train for too little demand.
I'm only an occasional visitor to Portland -- heading up for a Sea Dogs game next weekend, actually -- but given the size of the metropolitan area I believe you're quite correct. You Maine taxpayers may want to suggest that Rep Chipman read up on the short-lived rail commuter operations in the relatively small metropoli of Burlington, VT, and Syracuse, NY, in the last decade. Both quickly expired due to minimal ridership to a downtown that wasn't big enough to support them except during special events like Syracuse University football games.
I would suggest couching the issue in terms of sustainability. That's a concept and phrase likely to be familiar with Representative Chipman, especially when it comes to talking about fiscal responsibility.

The only other thought occurring to me in this whole process is that, for whatever reason, Maine DOT doesn't seem to be fighting this effort all that much. I can't figure out if that's because its their right of way that they would like to see used or if they aren't permitted to attempt to lobby or directly influence the policy positions of legislators. Either way I wish Maine DOT would steer these well-meaning folks towards a streetcar oriented solution. I suspect that's who they're looking towards for guidance on this matter and apparently that's who they're listening to.

Mark,

If you're watching this latest thread you'd probably have better standing than any of us to 'chime in' to Rep. Chipman's office or email. Perhaps you might encourage him to peruse the contents of this thread. If he's really 'net-centric' he might be responsive to the idea.
  by markhb
 
3rdrail wrote:(Make each run have a mandatory Portland cop on board at detail rate. :-))
Is someone looking for some easy money? :-D
gokeefe wrote:Mark, If you're watching this latest thread you'd probably have better standing than any of us to 'chime in' to Rep. Chipman's office or email. Perhaps you might encourage him to peruse the contents of this thread. If he's really 'net-centric' he might be responsive to the idea.
I've never met him and I'm not in his district, but I'll try to drop him a note this weekend. It'll be interesting to hear what he's actually thinking of regarding this service.
  by kilroy
 
gokeefe,

Sorry for the misunderstanding of what you meant. Guess I'm ultra thick as I still don't get the arguements on trolley v. heavy rail. Heavy rail would be to bring commuers into Portalnd from outlaying areas. A street based trolley network would move people within the city. Two different problems.

What problem are you guys trying to solve here?
  by gokeefe
 
kilroy wrote:gokeefe,

Sorry for the misunderstanding of what you meant. Guess I'm ultra thick as I still don't get the arguements on trolley v. heavy rail. Heavy rail would be to bring commuers into Portalnd from outlaying areas. A street based trolley network would move people within the city. Two different problems.

What problem are you guys trying to solve here?
kilroy,

There are multiple questions that we are tyring to answer in this thread but at present the biggest of these are proposals by certain members of the legislature to run heavy rail operations over the former Mountain Division into Portland. We believe that these proposals are fiscally unrealistic based on our somewhat informed opinions and knowledge of the costs of running passenger rail. Some of us are in fact merely educated spectators. Others who post here have very substantial and ongoing experience in the industry. Regardless there's a pretty strong consensus here that heavy rail operations over the Mountain Division would in fact fail due to the low levels of rider patronage, relative that is to the required level of ridership to obtain 'reasonable' farebox support for the service. 'Reasonable' in this case is generally understood to be about 40%-60% of operating expenses. There are some here who feel that the cost recovery at the farebox should be much higher, 80%-100%+, but they are generally in the minority, however they are also some of the best informed members of the forum.

In short we are seriously concerned that this proposal as it stands is entirely unsustainable. Passenger rail projects in Maine live and die together. In particular we would not want an unsuccessful attempt at commuter rail service in Portland to doom future attempts at other forms of passenger rail service in the State of Maine to include possible future proposals by NNEPRA for other forms of 'inter-city' rail passenger service in or from the State of Maine.

As far as streetcars go they can be used in multiple forms depending on how the routes are structured. Generally they're best for downtown 'circulator' routes or point to point transit from transportation hubs and a central business district. Longer distance routes usually need to have the right of way separated from traffic in order to provide for ideal operating times.

Although I can't speak for others, I can say for myself that Portland's issues with commuters and how to provide some form of rail based transit strongly resemble a problem that would benefit from a streetcar or light rail based solution set. Some have indicated that MDOT doesn't want to convert the Mountain Division to light rail use. This is perfectly understandable and in my opinion wouldn't be necessary. As long as the proposed solution utilized existing space on public roads I think you'd be able to put it more or less where you wish. However, this answer may not be something MDOT is comfortable with as it might potentially create even more congestion on already clogged public roads. The whole problem is very difficult to analyze at this level. But one thing I am sure of is if the situation isn't studied with a mind open to 'alternative' rail solutions then none will emerge. Although studies at times can seem wasteful, when used properly, they can offer an opportunity to investigate some very deep questions at a level of detail that otherwise would be impossible without using a 'trial and error' approach, which is exactly what I think we do not want to see. Maine's rail passenger services can't afford to be a laboratory for experiments in urban transit.

Treating them as such places all the progress made thus far with the Downeaster at great risk. It could turn another generation of Mainers against passenger rail (again!) for the rest of their lives and destroy the 'North-South' consensus that has even allowed this service to exist in the first place.
  by b&m 1566
 
One thing that I have notices about this discussion is that the Mt. Division seems to be the main focus for commuter rail by state leaders (aka – the train to know where), with very little being mention about the bigger population centers in the state. Common sense would tell you to start with the bigger population centers first!
  by ericofmaine
 
b&m 1566 wrote:One thing that I have notices about this discussion is that the Mt. Division seems to be the main focus for commuter rail by state leaders (aka – the train to know where), with very little being mention about the bigger population centers in the state. Common sense would tell you to start with the bigger population centers first!
I'd have to agree with B&M on this point. The unfortunate thing at this point is that the route that would have had the best chance at gaining the most ridership would have been the old Sanford and Eastern alignment. It hits the "big" (for this area) centers of Westbrook, Gorham, and out towards the outlying communities of Buxton and Hollis. The hearts of these communities, for the most part (unlike the Mt. Division that is outlying at best). Unfortunately, the ROW is long since gone (thank you Bill Clark Drive) and you would still have the problem of actually getting somewhere once you're in Portland...

Eric
  by MEC407
 
In regards to streetcars running on existing roads, I'm sure some people will bristle at the idea because it might require the roads to be widened... but what about using narrow gauge streetcars? The passenger cars used by Maine's historic two-foot gauge railroads were wide enough to provide four-abreast seating (although, admittedly, the center aisle was a bit narrow, and waist lines were smaller in those days). How about three-foot gauge? That wouldn't require as much road widening as standard 4' 8.5" gauge, and would still be able to comfortably accommodate four-abreast seating. You could use smaller/lighter/less-expensive rails, and the cars could take tighter curves too.
  by gokeefe
 
MEC407 wrote:In regards to streetcars running on existing roads, I'm sure some people will bristle at the idea because it might require the roads to be widened... but what about using narrow gauge streetcars? The passenger cars used by Maine's historic two-foot gauge railroads were wide enough to provide four-abreast seating (although, admittedly, the center aisle was a bit narrow, and waist lines were smaller in those days). How about three-foot gauge? That wouldn't require as much road widening as standard 4' 8.5" gauge, and would still be able to comfortably accommodate four-abreast seating. You could use smaller/lighter/less-expensive rails, and the cars could take tighter curves too.
Those designs were not ADA compliant, hence they aren't a possibility today. I agree that roads getting widened would potentially cause issues but remember this would only be necessary in areas where you're setting aside dedicated RoW. Otherwise the streetcars intermingle with traffic using the same lanes. Perhaps the most important part of this entire potential investment would be timing traffic signals to allow the trains to proceed through intersections with minimal delays.
  by MEC407
 
There might be ways around the ADA thing, though. At least one of MNGRR's cars is wheelchair accessible. On the other hand, maybe off-the-shelf standard gauge streetcars (if there is such a thing as off-the-shelf streetcars in 2011) might be less expensive in the long run.
  by gokeefe
 
MEC407 wrote:There might be ways around the ADA thing, though. At least one of MNGRR's cars is wheelchair accessible. On the other hand, maybe off-the-shelf standard gauge streetcars (if there is such a thing as off-the-shelf streetcars in 2011) might be less expensive in the long run.
Yes, OTS streetcars most certainly do exist. A lot of them are built in Europe, for example the streetcars in the 'other' Portland were built in the Czech republic more or less according to the factory design.
  by kilroy
 
Thanks gokeefe, I guess I wasan't following the thread closely enough to realize multiple transit problems were being discussed.

We have a numerous commuter lines down here in NJ and I can tell you the only one that does a good job in the farebox recovery stat is the NEC. While I don't want to drive 95 at rush hour (I hate it enough during the off peak hours I've driven it around Portland) you have nowhere near the cars and people we do. We don't see an 80-100% recovery rate for our system so there is no way any line up there is going to come close to breaking even.

Given the "ain't no body gonna tell me when I can come and go" attitude of some of the Mainiacs I know, I don't see how any mass transit operation is going to make it up there. Unless you've been completely overrun by the Massachusetts ex-pats at this point, I don't see commuter rail ever making it up there.
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