• 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 markhb
 
I realize that the streetcar system (and I'll use that term since that's how Councilor Marshall likes to refer to it) would likely be built in the downtown area, but the majority of Portlanders, and a larger majority of Portlanders who pay their property taxes directly (i.e., own their homes rather than rent), live in the off-peninsula neighborhoods, and they're likely going to be paying the tab for this if the city decides to build it itself.
Cowford wrote: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!
Looking strictly at the neighborhoods mentioned in the memo (it's not an announcement of anything by the city, it was a memo from the planning office to the TES committee and part of their meeting packet), and noting that not only are the off-peninsula neighborhoods omitted but the East End and St. John Valley as well, I'd say that the purpose of the streetcar would be to enable the fine citizens of Neal and Bowdoin Streets to get to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and the 2 Fat Cats bakery without having to sully their carbon footprint credentials by getting in a car. But I could be wrong.

So far as the underpants gnomes and ROI go, while the original suggestion revolved around making a streetcar connection from the train station to the waterfront, given the suggested neighborhoods in the memo the cynical side of me would tend to see:

1. Install streetcar line.
2. Attract new voters to the city eager to demonstrate how much they've reduced their carbon footprint by foregoing personal autos for the streetcar, and also to support "progressive" causes and candidates.
3. Profit!

But again, I could be wrong.

(Incidentally, I didn't attend the meeting last night... I'm quite sure the time I had making eye contact with my favorite Dancing with the Stars dancer at the Ogunquit Playhouse was far more fun than sitting through that would have been.)
  by markhb
 
The Portland Daily Sun covered the proposal. It doesn't look like the councilors who were in attendance jumped all over the idea.
  by 3rdrail
 
markhb wrote:I realize that the streetcar system (and I'll use that term since that's how Councilor Marshall likes to refer to it) would likely be built in the downtown area, but the majority of Portlanders, and a larger majority of Portlanders who pay their property taxes directly (i.e., own their homes rather than rent), live in the off-peninsula neighborhoods, and they're likely going to be paying the tab for this if the city decides to build it itself.
Cowford wrote: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!
Have been out of the Portland loop for quite a while now, so I'm not up on local hijinks (did have the eye opening experience of stumbling on two seperate mayoral misbehaviors, however). So, in spite of what the City Council recommends or doesn't, I believe that Portland would be a great city to re-streetcar. (By the way, Councillor Marshall is entirely correct regarding his useage of the word "streetcar" as that is exactly what it would be. If you are thinking that "light rail line" is more trendy, I might suggest to you that the only "light rail vehicles" who presumably travelled upon "light rail lines" were the Boeing-Vertol cars manufactured for Boston and San Francisco.) Another sad case of trying desperately to reclaim a fraction of what once was, Portland has what makes a city truely in need of such a service - and that is persons who are economically challenged, ie. poor. This should not be solely either a tourist shuttle or an elitists rare photo-op to show how green they are. If they can squeeze the aforementioned in, fine, but it needs to handle the poor as it's first duty towards it's citizens and it's largest cash cow.
  by markhb
 
I would think that the poor, particularly on the peninsula, would be better served by the bus system, to be honest. And it seems like auto-traffic reduction is more a priority of the proposal than helping underserved communities.

The Forecaster Portland edition had an article on the streetcar proposal this week.
Proponents see a future for streetcars in Portland
A few days before, the City Council's Transportation, Sustainability, and Energy committee had taken up a brief agenda item to discuss forming a task force on creating a streetcar system. Donovan, who works with the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, and several others attended the meeting to express support for exploring steetcars.

The committee declined to take immediate action on the item. Councilor Kevin Donoghue said he wanted to find funding for a feasibility study on streetcars before establishing a task force; Councilor Cheryl Leeman was skepticla that a form of mass transportation abandoned in Portland more than 70 years ago would be a viable contemporary transit solution.

But the idea is likely to be revisited in the coming months.
  by 3rdrail
 
markhb wrote:I would think that the poor, particularly on the peninsula, would be better served by the bus system, to be honest.
Historically, by way of study, that has not shown to be the case. There have been quite a few studies done that have compared the residual effects of bus vs. streetcar lines in neighborhoods. One thing that has been consistant is the fact that property values maintain themselves, it seems, when served by streetcars and decline when they are served by buses. I recall that it is believed that the streetcar line is supposed to denote a firm, permanent means of transportation suggesting a confidence in a particular neighborhood, whereas a bus line does exactly the opposite. Anecdotally, when I think of the systems which I am familiar with best (Boston, San Francisco) this has certainly been the case. Property values holding their own compounds good fortune in and of itself as crime doesn't thrive in good neighborhoods, both out on the street and inside your home. Additionally, a city like Portland would most likely also have the effect of lessening crime in surrounding areas if crime were dampened just in the Munjoy Hill area.
  by Cowford
 
"I recall that it is believed that the streetcar line is supposed to denote a firm, permanent means of transportation suggesting a confidence in a particular neighborhood, whereas a bus line does exactly the opposite."

You're implying that buses serve no positive function and actually have a negative effect on neighborhood prosperity... C'mon.
  by 3rdrail
 
Well, no I'm not. First, I don't imply anything. If I have something to say, I say it. Secondly, I believe what I stated as when I compared the idea with what I know to be true, it worked. I believe that it all comes down to commitment of providing transportation (faith) in a neighborhood and a percieved image by many in the middle class that bus travel is for a class below them. I believe that many in mid class will take a streetcar, but when it comes to a bus, will rev up the Benz out of the driveway.
  by joshg1
 
I think my comments apply to most new passenger rail (heavy or light) route proposals in New England- Portland, Hartford, central NH.
One- where are the ridership numbers? Where are the passengers going now, in any manner? You can slap a few axle counting strips down on different streets, but that doesn't tell you where those axles are going.

Two- does anyone have data on population growth? The Northeast corridor as a whole boomed from 1945 ~2005, but how do we know if that is going to continue? And almost all of that growth was in sprawling suburbs and exurbs where transit equals long walks. More residential density will follow rail (if zoning allows it), but what about jobs? I haven't seen new jobs or new, as in not replacing an equal amount of square footage, construction outside 128 since 2008, Merrimack Outlets excepted. I admit this is anecdotal, but where are the numbers, the details?

Three- rail is fa-riggin expensive. Not only do you have to lay the rails, acquire/reacquire ROW, hire lawyers for the BANANAs and NIMBYs, then you have to maintain the tracks, something on which we don't have a great record. Washington is not coming through with the dough-re-me like they used to. The congressmen from the other 44 states don't care about us (and in NH they don't care about much at all). You want to improve transit somewhere or other? Buy a few buses, hire new drivers, done- the roads are on someone else's tab.

In conclusion, while it would be nice to ride on a train or a streetcar here or there, no one has a serious idea how many of us would use this nicety, never mind how to pay for it. An acquaintance asked me about the central NH commuter plan that was scotched. I told him we need to build ridership through more and better buses, and once the number of non drivers was high enough, transfer them to trains. Buses first. And better zoning.
  by Cowford
 
3rd rail, you said, "Portland has what makes a city truely (sic) in need of such a service - and that is persons who are economically challenged, ie. poor." And then you talk about buses not attracting the middle class?

Anyway, if you think the middle and upper classes don't take the bus, I suggest you come to Chicago and ride the 151. It's not called the "babe bus" for the female vagrants that frequent the service!
  by 3rdrail
 
Cowford wrote:3rd rail, you said, "Portland has what makes a city truely (sic) in need of such a service - and that is persons who are economically challenged, ie. poor." And then you talk about buses not attracting the middle class?

Anyway, if you think the middle and upper classes don't take the bus, I suggest you come to Chicago and ride the 151. It's not called the "babe bus" for the female vagrants that frequent the service!
...and you find a contradiction there ? With gas prices the way that they are, service employees who work all three shifts are going to be a staple of such ridership. However, for a system to be a success, it needs other factions as well. Part of these are the tourists, young kids out on dates, businessmen/women and even middle class manager types, secretaries, et al commuting back and forth to work - a sizeable ridership. You may get some on the buses. For the full enchalada, you add the streetcars which does that by pulling in an almost full cross-section of the city's residential and working population. I'll have to remember the babe bus for whenever I happen to find myself in Chicago. Remind me to wear plenty of Scent of Eros Pheromone Cologne for Men.
Thanks for the tip.
  by gokeefe
 
joshg1 wrote:Three- rail is fa-riggin expensive.
Yes, compared to buses on either an absolute or per capita use/service basis it is more expensive to build and operate.
joshg1 wrote:Not only do you have to lay the rails, acquire/reacquire ROW, hire lawyers for the BANANAs and NIMBYs, then you have to maintain the tracks, something on which we don't have a great record.
Not with streetcars. The right of way is already owned by the City of Portland as are the sidewalks. NIMBYs are a problem everywhere and at least in this case they wouldn't have the leverage of owning any portions of the proposed right of way.
joshg1 wrote:Washington is not coming through with the dough-re-me like they used to. The congressmen from the other 44 states don't care about us (and in NH they don't care about much at all).
"Washington" in the form of the Federal Transit Administration still has regular funding for transit, that unlike special appropriations for Amtrak has its own funding base. Amtrak may have problems with obtaining capital funds, approved transit projects, not so much.

I'm not going to speculate on whether or not a street car loop on the peninsula in Portland would get approved or not. I think there are plenty of people who could make a very legitimate case that it wouldn't meet FTA standards. On the other hand, if Portland continues to be successful in its efforts to develop residential spaces and increase population density on the Peninsula, this can only make their case stronger.
joshg1 wrote:You want to improve transit somewhere or other? Buy a few buses, hire new drivers, done- the roads are on someone else's tab.
Currently funding for buses (transit) or streetcars (transit) comes out of the same pool of money at the federal level. Streetcars are on someone else's tab as well if there's state or federal money involved (which would likely have to be the case for this project to go forward).
joshg1 wrote:In conclusion, while it would be nice to ride on a train or a streetcar here or there, no one has a serious idea how many of us would use this nicety, never mind how to pay for it. An acquaintance asked me about the central NH commuter plan that was scotched. I told him we need to build ridership through more and better buses, and once the number of non drivers was high enough, transfer them to trains. Buses first. And better zoning.
I'm sure there are plenty of commuters from New Hampshire that would love to be able to take the train into Boston. Go to Haverhill sometime and start counting NH license plates in the parking garage.

Unlike Portland, New Hampshire doesn't have a ridership problem. They likely have a population density of sufficient critical mass along the proposed corridor (at least between Manchester and Boston) to successfully support commuter service.

Portland has a ridership problem, New Hampshire has a political/fiscal problem.
  by markhb
 
Cowford wrote:Anyway, if you think the middle and upper classes don't take the bus, I suggest you come to Chicago and ride the 151. It's not called the "babe bus" for the female vagrants that frequent the service!
Route and schedule, please :)

Those who read the Forecaster article on the streetcar suggestion may have noticed that it said "Providence received preliminary approval for a two-mile, $126 million streetcar loop from the Rhode Island transit authority in March." I just did a little digging, and the "preliminary approval" apparently means the transit authority said 'OK, yes, the streetcar seems like the best solution," but with absolutely no funding attached. So all that exists right now is a bunch of pretty PDF's.

That brings me to a question: is $60 million/mile a reasonable rule-of-thumb for new light rail construction? I just worked out the walking distance from the Portland train station to Commercial & India via Fore River Parkway and Commercial (seems like a likely route if the biggest market will be tourists), and that came in at a little over 3 miles... so $180 million if the estimate is sound, and that for a line that would essentially help shuttle tourists around the waterfront. I'm pretty sure even the Portland City Council wouldn't have the audacity to seriously propose that, particularly on top of the sewer shortfall that users are going to have to make up.
  by MEC407
 
Yikes. That's a lot higher than I would have imagined. But I suppose it makes sense if we're also talking about rolling stock, overhead wire, a maintenance facility, personnel, etc. Still... ouch. :-\
  by jaymac
 
At the risk of getting tarred and feathered and ridden out of Portland (the next time I visit there) on a not-yet-installed section of street rail and/or getting KEN PATRICK and/or ken patrick involved in this thread, let me argue -- in a nice way -- against street rail in Portland. The fiscal and political costs of installing and maintaining both street rail and overhead in a community with a heavy motor vehicle presence and with less-than-boulevard-wide streets were among the reasons contributing to the MBTA's Greater Boston streetcar operations now being reduced to primarily island-running. Portland's streets -- only marginally younger than Boston's -- have many of the same issues plus changes in elevation heading away from Commercial Street that need a rubber-on-asphalt coefficient of friction instead of steel-on-steel. At least two regional transit operations in Massachusetts -- Montachusett and Worcester -- are getting equipped with non-belching buses. I grew up damaging my high-frequency hearing riding Boston's Boylston Street curve in Type 5s and PCCs and am not now nor ever will be fan of buses, but they do make more sense than putting in place street-running streetcars and their infrastructure.

Why did I get involved in this? I have a new scanner that seems to require an MS in MIS for its programming, and I needed to convince myself that I could input words if not numbers.
  by markhb
 
I'm a Portland taxpayer; I'll protect you :-) .

Honestly, the street-width issue per se may not be that bad, as many of Portland's avenues (Forest, Stevens, Brighton, Washington, Park, as well as Commercial and Congress Sts.) retain their widths from the original streetcar days. However, returning some of that pavement to streetcar use would probably mean losing lanes, on-street parking, or both, and that would deliver a political hit. That's why I suggested the PTC-waterfront routing; it could be accomplished with minimal street impact since there's room to run a line between the Fore River Parkway and the water, and West Commercial and Commercial streets have decent amounts of room if you take out the concrete things in the middle of the street. The big question there would be what the rules are around light rail crossing heavy rail (Yard 8), and I have no idea about that. Once you get to India Street, you can use the to-be-surrendered MNGRR /GT ROW to get around to Bayside with no vehicle impacts at all, and from there the DOT reservation along I-295 plus the remaining Union Branch gets you to St. John St. That leaves navigating the Pan-Am FML area to complete the loop and wye to the PTC. I just tried it out in Google Maps and that route as far as Hadlock Field is 6.7 miles, which gets us past $400 million dollars at the $60M/mile rate and would do ALMOST ZERO to achieve stated goals of reducing automobile traffic into the city. I've seen other estimates of $20M/mile, but if startup costs result in $120 million for the first two miles and it's 20M/mile thereafter, we're still over $200M for just that part of a loop. So yes, it's utterly unrealistic.
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