• 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: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. ... I don't see commuter rail ever making it up there.
This has been more or less the line of thinking shared here, if commuter rail doesn't cover costs in New Jersey and Massachusetts how deep is the hole going to be here in Maine where the ridership is going to be
x% weaker.

Streetcars on the other hand .... :-D, have far lower incremental costs to operate and build, and would likely be a competitive proposal for FTA (Federal Transit Administration) capital grants.

At the very least perhaps the City of Portland or the legislature could commission MDOT to do a study on the matter. Up here (as is probably the case elsewhere) that really appears to be the key if you can get people to take a really good analytical look at the projected financials you can almost immediately get a good impression of whether or not the project is worth pursuing. NNEPRA did really well with the most recent study of possible service to Auburn by making sure their 'baseline' conditions were included as a requirement for service to L/A.
  by TomNelligan
 
With respect to streetcars, my comment above was with respect to a tourist-oriented "heritage" operation of the sort currently found in Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas, Tampa, and a number of other cities even including tiny Fort Collins, Colorado and more locally in Lowell, Mass. (I'm a regular visitor to Memphis on business and I love riding the Main Street Trolley with its ancient cars.) That might work along Commercial Street in the warm months. But as for year-round light rail transit, I agree that Portland is too small to justify the startup and operational costs. No US city its size has rail transit except of the tourist/heritage variety.
  by gokeefe
 
Cowford wrote:I'm struggling to understand what problem is it that streetcars would solve...
The primary issue that Rep. Chipman and his cohorts are attempting to deal with is the future growth in outlying areas of Portland. It is anticipated that there will be a very high rate of population growth in certain areas outside of Portland, to include communities along the "Mountain Division". It is appears likely that all of this growth would create very substantial congestion along the existing primary roads leading into Portland.

These individuals are insisting on addressing this problem with a heavy rail solution that would be doomed to failure from the beginning due to low ridership and the high cost of operation entailed in heavy rail.

Since they insist on looking at rail based solutions I continue to suggest that at a minimum they should be considering streetcars which would be cheaper and depending on route construction characteristics may adequately address the problem they are looking at. Chiefly, how do you reduce congestion on roads coming into Portland as the 'suburbs'/'exurbs' continue to grow (without widening roads)?

As Tom points out, at this scale of operations improved bus service may be far more appropriate.
  by Cowford
 
Given that rights-of-way no longer exist, I'm not sure how re-creation of a light rail (I'll refrain from using the term "streetcar" as it's archaic) network would be markedly cheaper than heavy rail (especially if it's electric).

If significant population growth is expected, I'm curious as to what initiatives Rep Chipman and Sen Diamond are proposing/have enacted to prompt geographic population concentrations favorable to rail/public transport, e.g., zoning-based limitation on housing lot sizes, gas tax/vehicle excise tax increases, restrictions on commercial construction to only those areas that could be accessible by public transport, etc. I'm guessing zero.
  by markhb
 
I never did get to writing Rep. Chipman (it's been an eventful couple of weeks for us), but it may be a moot point. While the Maine Legislature site entry isn't completely filled in, LD 1330 received an "Ought Not to Pass" recommendation from the Transportation Committee yesterday. As of right now, there is no indication of a split vote or minority report, and under the rules of the Legislature any bill that receives a unanimous ONTP in committee is effectively killed*. That somewhat surprises me given the list of co-sponsors of the bill, but also it's likely (to me) that it was seen as a "Portland bill" which tends to be a kiss of death up there.

I also discovered another measure introduced by Rep. Chipman, "An Act To Fund Commuter and Passenger Rail Transportation in Maine". The Summary of that bill reads,
This bill amends the distribution of revenue from the operation of slot machines at the casino in Oxford County. It strikes the percentage of revenue to be distributed to the Sire Stakes Fund and to supplement harness racing purses. The bill takes the 2% that would have gone to those 2 funds and dedicates it to the State Transit, Aviation and Rail Transportation Fund for the purpose of developing passenger rail service between points within the State and Oxford County.
The bill also adds a new charge to NNEPRA's establishing Act, which states
Sec. 3. 23 MRSA §8003, sub-§1-A is enacted to read:
1-A. Establishment of service between Portland and Oxford County. The authority is directed to take all actions that are reasonably necessary to initiate, establish or reinitiate regularly scheduled passenger rail service between points within the State and Oxford County. These actions may include, but are not limited to, the acquisition, holding, use, operation, repair, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, modernization, rebuilding, relocation, maintenance and disposition of railroad lines, railway facilities, rolling stock, machinery and equipment, trackage rights, real and personal property of any kind and any rights in or related to that property.
That one appears to have a divided committee report, but I don't know which way.

* - I believe it takes a 2/3 majority in each house of the Legislature to resurrect a bill that received a unanimous ONTP, but that is essentially an emergency brake that's never pulled.
  by B&M 1227
 
I agree that Portland is likely too small for a commuter operation. That said, were they to begin service, what are the costs of operating rehabbed RDC's like Texas, and formerly Syracuse. There are numerous ones scattered around, and would likely be the most cost effective based on traffic density.
On another aspect, should Portland go ahead with a commuter rail initiative, what would ultimately make or break it, would be how well they could integrate it and make it useful to the average commuter. Conveniently located stations, with a connecting bus acting to funnel commuters to the train would be necessary. Additionally, the Portland Transportation Center is not as logical a terminus as some politicians may think. I can't say the NIMBYs would agree, but were they to re-extend service down Commercial Street with 1 or 2 key stations on that route, they could create a more desirable option for commuters and day trippers. How many would give up a door to door drive through traffic, when the only alternative option would be to drive to a station, take a train to an outlying terminus, and then board a bus to bring them where they ultimately would like to go. The downtime of waiting would kill travel times and ridership.
I guess what it comes down to, is if Portland wants to have a transportation system that works, they will need to greatly increase spending to completely overhaul existing bus schedules, add additional bus service in "suburbs," create better integrated stations, and provide routes that people want to take and actually go somewhere, compared to the current nowhere.
  by markhb
 
According to the Maine House and Senate Calendars for tomorrow, the houses will receive communications that LD 1330, as I thought, received a unanimous Ought Not to Pass recommendation from the Transportation Committee and is therefore dead.

No word on the Oxford Country funding measure, and no sign of the contents of the divided report.
  by canobiecrazy
 
I could see a very small Light Rail system in Portland.

According to Wikipedia, the smallest town with a Tramway is Konotop, Ukraine. It has a population of 93,500 and an area of 40 miles. Portland has population of 66,000 and a land area of 21 miles.

Population density ratios
Konotop : 2337.5
Portland: 3,142.857143
Boston: 12,866.54167
Washington DC: 9864.311475

The DC streetcar is an extensive system.
Image
Something 1/4th the size of the Washington DC System would easily be feasible. I'm not too familiar with Portland, it seems like 7-10 miles of track would be more than enough.
  by markhb
 
I'm not sure at this point if this should go here, in "L/MD Main rail,," or in the Downeaster thread, but the "Act To Fund Commuter and Passenger Rail Transportation in Maine" lands back on the House calendar tomorrow. The majority report of the committee was "Ought Not to Pass," with a Minority report amending it to say "if any of special designees x, y or z gets money from any other gambling enterprise, then their percentages of the Oxford casino money will be devoted to the STAR fund" with no special bias towards Oxford County rail service. The minority report was only signed off on by Rep. Chipman and Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland's East End), so I think the ONTP (killing the bill) is a fairly safe bet and that the Senate will concur.
  by markhb
 
The Portland City Council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee has on its agenda for this upcoming Wednesday (7/18) the following item:

"Recommendation to Create a Task Force to Discuss the Feasibility of a Streetcar"

From the supporting letter from the Public Services (Parks & Public Works) Director:
The purpose of the Task Force on Streetcar development is to evaluate the possible corridors and areas of the City that would be best served by this form of public transportation. Consideration of candidate corridors, travel routes, land use opportunities and impacts, opinions of costs, and funding options would all be elements included in the work of the Task Force. Membership on the Task Force would be from a wide group of interested stakeholders including downtown, real estate, regional transportation, and neighborhood association. The Transportation Sustainability & Energy Committee recommends to the City Council the establishment of the Task Force.
I find it interesting, if not perturbing, that the list of potential stakeholders includes representatives from several Peninsula neighborhood councils, but none from the off-Peninsula neighborhoods. :-(
  by gokeefe
 
markhb wrote:I find it interesting, if not perturbing, that the list of potential stakeholders includes representatives from several Peninsula neighborhood councils, but none from the off-Peninsula neighborhoods. :-(
I think for the moment the development of a core "loop" system is likely the focus. Extensions off the peninsula would be a natural outgrowth that would follow eventually (ridership dependent etc.).
  by The EGE
 
Precisely. With the exception of DC - which already has an established metro system - almost every new streetcar system out there is focused on the downtown circulator first. People see it every day, maybe hop on it when they don't see their bus coming. Hey, that was pretty neat, and I like it. I'll ride it again. Bam, new rider. Get enough of those, and then you can start thinking about radial lines.
  by 3rdrail
 
That's pretty much the way that it has always been. That growth pattern fits Boston and most other areas that I can think of. The only ones that don't fit into this category are the "special targets", such as company's, installations, or carnivals which would set up a line for the sole purpose of serving their own interest. Even the interurbans were really servicing downtown locations by bringing folks in and out. It was an extra that they also enabled persons in small towns without access to long distance travel on their own to gain an independence that they had not known previously, but just that - an extra.
  by Cowford
 
Classic. No mention in the city announcement with consideration to market need or what they're trying to solve for. Another Maine government initiative that scarily mimics the South Park underpants gnome's business plan: Step 1. Collect underpants. Step 2: ? Step 3. Profit!
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