The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Today's NNEPRA Board Meeting
The Downeaster has had more than a decade of uninterrupted, successful growth. However, these past few months have reminded NNEPRA that setbacks come with heavy-handed results. Let's get the 'ugly' out of the way first.
The recent spate of slow orders, the PanAm right-of-way rehabilitation of a road-bed that was pummeled by the harsh winter AND the ongoing construction of the Haverhill bridge finally showed up in the numbers this month. April's On Time Performance registered 35.6% with no train making it into the 80% category. May's OTP was 8%!
There were additional factors that all combined to see 4,500 fewer regular passengers on the train ( group numbers-3,400 were withdrawn for this calculation): May saw some 24 trains annulled (cancelled), two trespassers struck, two fire department 'holds' due to grass fires (one of them was a false alarm) and no Bruins/Celtics playoff games in North Station's TDBank Garden.
Currently, PanAm is in an urgent tie-replacement triage that will eliminate some of the slow orders, but requiring the annulment of train #686 Wednesday, Thursday & Friday of this week. Some 2,400 inconvenience vouchers were issued to customers during the April-May period.( Must have been the right move because Amtrak has asked NNEPRA for details of this program with an eye to implementing it in their national system.)
The Town Manager of Brunswick spoke on behalf of a unanimous Brunswick Town Council decision that NNEPRA address the diesel soot and fumes emanating from idling Amtrak engines at the Brunswick Station. In addition, a local resident testified to the impact she experienced living just a block and a half away from the station. Both the town manager and the resident expressed support for the Downeaster and encouraged NNEPRA to quickly address the problem. The NNEPRA board thanked both and Chairman Marty Eisenstein requested that the staff expeditiously present the board with recommendations - from head-end 480v power to reducing the amount of power used by the idling train set (power is needed to keep the Cafe Car refrigeration 'on' and for light cleaning of the coaches). In the winter, the engine has to idle outdoors in order to keep critical systems from freezing. It was pointed out that the Brunswick Layover Facility will resolve this issue but construction has yet to begin and is expected to take at least 18 months.
The Federal Railroad Administration gave the go-ahead for NNEPRA to begin construction of the Brunswick Layover Facility. The FRA accepted the environmental assessment - prepared by NNEPRA and its outside consultant to FRA standards - by issuing A Finding of No Significant Impact. The West Brunswick Neighborhood Coalition had led a fight against using the 130 year old freight yard for the Brunswick Layover Facility. Executive Director Patricia Quinn commented that funding would now be committed and a construction schedule developed. Once this is done, the Community Advisory Group will be reconvened and briefed.
Patricia Quinn reported on the 3rd quarter of FY2014. Year-to-date some 411,498 passengers have been carried from July of 2013 through March of this year. FY2013's comparison was 386,910 passengers. Revenue numbers were similarly impressive: $6,557,559 for FY2014 and $6,123,664 for FY2013. One more quarter to go in FY2014.
As the meeting ended. A cake was brought out to celebrate Wayne Davis' birthday.
Wayne thanked everyone for singing "Happy Birthday" to him, but reminded everyone that this week marked a far more important anniversary - the creation of NNEPRA by the Maine legislature in June of 1995. This was the result of Wayne's steady hand on the throttle of this grass-roots organization.
Best to acknowledge both!