News Brief

2017Memories...TrainRiders/NE Chairman Wayne Davis looks back on 
the Downeaster's Year-of-Success. Yes, it was a very good year!
Go here.


From Wayne Davis:

The letter below was sent to the editors of the multiple newspapers that printed "Downeaster does not merit $16M investment" by Bob Morrison - a member of the small but noisy group of citizens who live adjacent to a large piece of state-owned property that has been used as a "railyard" since the 1860's.  Anyone who has been following this issue for the past two years should find the response of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority's Executive Director, Patricia Quinn informative and refreshing after all of the misinformation  and "noise" that's been circulated since the FRA issued its "Finding of No Significant Impact" and directed the Rail Authority to proceed with the process.

Wayne Davis

====Letter from Patricia Quinn of NNEPRA below===

Aug. 15 — To the Editor:

The Letter to the Editor published on on Aug. 11 titled, "Downeaster does not merit $16M investment" uses distorted data and inaccurate assumptions to challenge not only the construction of a train layover facility in Brunswick, but the merit of Downeaster service and the credibility of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority that manages it. The author, Bob Morrison, lives in the neighborhood adjacent to the railroad in Brunswick, and is chairman of the group opposing the construction of a train layover facility planned to be built in the former rail yard site located across the tracks. As the executive director of NNEPRA, I believe it is important that information regarding the layover project, the Downeaster service and NNEPRA is presented accurately and in proper context.

Contrary to Mr. Morrison's accusations, the basic rules of business are at the forefront of every decision made by NNEPRA, including the decision to construct a $12.7 million facility (not a $16 million facility as reported in the editorial) on a site zoned mixed use, industrial railroad corridor, in Brunswick. The Brunswick layover will improve the operational efficiency, cost effectiveness and economic impact of the Amtrak Downeaster service by converting the two non-revenue equipment moves that currently operate between Portland and Brunswick each day to revenue trips between Brunswick and Boston. It will also enhance the safety and efficiency of the layover operation and improve the reliability of the entire service.

The Downeaster service is one of the most highly regarded in the Amtrak system, based on ridership and revenue growth and customer satisfaction. Currently, 10 Downeaster trains run daily between Portland and Boston, with only four of those trips extending to Freeport and Brunswick. Despite the constraint of limited service, ridership to Freeport and Brunswick is strong, exceeding projections by nearly 50 percent. When the layover is built and equipment moves can be converted to revenue trips, passengers will have more travel options, ridership and revenue will grow, and Mr. Morrison's observation that the schedule needs to be more convenient will be addressed.

Claims that "there are not many customers" and "there seems to be enough product to meet demand," are not accurate. The success of the Downeaster service certainly cannot be determined from the perspective of one station. Freeport and Brunswick are just two of 12 station communities located along the Downeaster's 146 mile corridor. Two of the four trains that now serve Freeport and Brunswick operate at peak travel times and frequently sell out all available seats. As a result, passengers are sometimes turned away, even though it appears there are empty seats when the train arrives or departs a station. The additional Downeaster trains made possible once the Brunswick layover is built will increase the overall supply of seats available between Brunswick and Boston, helping to meet unmet demand and attract new travel markets. Incidentally, ridership on the two off-peak trains that serve Freeport and Brunswick has increased an average of 40 percent since service to those communities began.

Mr. Morrison further suggests that federal dollars be concentrated south of Portland, where "ridership numbers are high," asserting that, "on average, the train pulls in and out of Brunswick Station four times each day with only about 35 people on board." That statistic is derived by dividing Freeport/Brunswick annual ridership of 52,000 first by 365 days and then by the four trains that serve those locations each day. When that same logic is applied to ridership to/from Saco or Wells, the average is 14 passengers per train per day; when applied to Dover or Durham, the average is 17; when applied to Portland, the average is 52. So what does all that mean? It means that each station contributes ridership to the system as a whole. Ridership patterns vary and each Downeaster train appeals to different markets in different station communities on different days.

The relevant fact is that riders from all station communities combined support a passenger rail system, which transports an average of 1,420 passengers the equivalent of 117,000 miles each day. The Amtrak Downeaster provides mobility to our residents, stimulates our tourism industry and encourages economic development in each and every one of our communities. In fact, the Brunswick Downtown Association recently wrote a letter lauding the contributions the Downeaster has made to the business community.

While Mr. Morrison asserts that NNEPRA has "total disregard for efficient management of taxpayer dollars," the financial performance of the Downeaster demonstrates something quite different. NNEPRA has consistently met and exceeded budget goals by seeking innovative ways to increase revenue, reduce expenditures and improve efficiencies. The seven-member NNEPRA staff has completed tens of millions of dollars of capital projects on time and on budget and is nationally respected for its commitment to fiscal responsibility and operational efficiency. Those principles are exactly why NNEPRA has proposed to build a layover facility in Brunswick. The Brunswick layover will reduce operating costs by more than $600,000 every year, provide more train service to the public and eliminate outdoor train idling in Brunswick. The delay of layover construction is what truly disregards the efficient management of taxpayer dollars and constrains economic growth.

Lastly, as mentioned by Mr. Morrison, the NNEPRA board did congratulate staff for operating the Café with a net cost of only $160,000 last year because, in addition to other benefits, the Café made it possible to collect more than $300,000 in incremental Business Class revenues, an 88 percent return on investment.

Now, that's the way to run a railroad.

Patricia Quinn
Executive Director
Northern N.E. Passenger Rail Authority