May, 2015 - NNEPRA Board Meeting

Patricia Quinn, Executive Director of NNEPRA, summarized the current Downeaster service this way: "It's pretty much a mess."

Track Work:

By the end of this month, some 276 trains will have been cancelled in FY2015 due to track work. The work to replace some 22,000 ties on the PanAm line has seen 8,750 replaced and another 13,600 remaining. So far, ties have been replaced on 22 miles of track but only three of those miles have been tamped properly for normal speeds. Tamping equipment has been the Achilles heel of this ongoing project. PanAm had sent one of their machines out for rehab in anticipation of a May 1st start - unfortunately, it came back three weeks late! Amtrak has now joined the battle and is supplying a tamper. It had been delayed due to the Philadelphia train wreck.

Performance Report:

PRMar15FY2015 to date has been the Downeaster's "most challenging year yet," said Ms. Quinn. Ridership declined as travelers made other transportation plans and as a result, revenue decreased.

One encouraging statistic comes from the customer satisfaction survey conducted on the Downeaster. Under the cirumstances, the Customer Service Index remains high. The Downeaster rated an 85 overall as compared to Amtrak's 83. Patricia attributed the high score to the quality of the crews and the willingness of most passengers to understand the reality of the current difficult situation. July promises a return to normalcy.

Brunswick Layover Facility

Ms. Quinn briefed the board on the latest BLF maneuverings. She reported that the Brunswick Town Council, after extensive debate, took no stand on where the Auxiliary Power Unit should be installed nor the addition of compressed air. The following day, the Joint Transportation Committee in Augusta defeated Sen Gerzofsky's idling bill. The committee did recommend that compressed air be added to the front-end power installation. That unit would cost approximately $70-$80 thousand additional dollars and would have to be funded by the DOT. She reported to the board that the order for the APU had been placed and should be available to reduce engine idling by late July. The board reaffirmed their earlier decision to place the APU at the Church Road end of the proposed layover facility property.

The DEP decision on the Storm Water Runoff Permit is expected around mid-June.

Brunswick Passes on Taking a Position on Downeaster Plug-in Issue

The Brunswick Town Council met Monday night to discuss how best to address the idling of Amtrak trains in their community. This was the result of a bill, sponsored by Sen Gerzofsky of Brunswick, that would restrict idling of passenger train engines to 30 minutes. The Legislature's Transportation Committee had tabled that bill requesting that NNEPRA move forward with idling-reduction technology and work with Brunswick on where it would be located. 

NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn told the council that an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) or plug-in unit had been ordered that very day and would likely take eight to ten weeks for delivery. She also noted that the Maine DOT had budgeted $70 thousand for the unit and its installation. She explained that the APU would not halt all idling as the GE engines monitor themselves and restart when the onboard computer deems it necessary. It would, however, help reduce idling time at temperatures above 45 degrees. 

Ms. Quinn told the council that the preferred location for the APU would be on NNEPRA's property near Church Road. Two other possible locations, Cedar Street and the Brunswick Station, would interfere with other train traffic and therefore would not be operationally sound.

After considerable debate, the council defeated a resolution that would have encouraged NNEPRA to do what it had already done. Several council members expressed the opinion that NNEPRA and Amtrak were best qualified to make such technical decisions. Ms. Quinn added that they were investigating the acquisition of an air compressor to maintain the train's brake pressure and that she would be willing to come back to the council and provide a progress report.

A second proposal on the town council agenda would have recommended that the APU be installed at the train station. Considering that Ms. Quinn had already addressed the operational problems associated with such a suggestion (blocking other train traffic and inspection difficulties), the item was not proposed and the session ended with one moton defeated and the second agenda item not pursued.