Daily Catch

Passenger rail authority fleeces taxpayers to the tune of $10 million

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In April last year, the Press Herald ran my Maine Voices submission; it began with this:

“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.” – Milton Friedman

My thesis was that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s (NNEPRA) proposed Royal Siding Project was declared unnecessary by a career railroad professional with bona fides well beyond anyone in the NNEPRA sphere, and had not been subjected to peer review by qualified experts. 

NNEPRA’s rationale was that it was necessary to increase Downeaster daily round trips between Portland and Brunswick from three to five.  (I learned at the recent NNEPRA Board Meeting that they plan a sixth daily round trip!)

The record now shows that daily round trips were increased to five nearly a year ago, while the siding is still incomplete; game, set, match you might say.

The previous column pointed out that two existing bypass options are close by, and multiple siding options exist near the train layover facility, but they’ve been ignored by the rail authority while the Maine Department of Transportation and the Legislature’s Transportation Committee apparently couldn’t care less.

Hence the project was demonstrably a fraud; a wholly avoidable waste of $10 million in taxpayer money.

A written request was submitted to relevant legislative committees, the Governor’s Office, and MDOT leadership to order a stop on the project, pending a detailed investigation and peer review.  It clearly cited the analysis of existing rail system design.

Given the counter-arguments, it was clear there was no credible explanation for the project other than a $10 million quid-pro-quo for Pan Am Railways to secure the additional slots on their tracks required to expand Downeaster trips. Capital improvement dollars and make work activity; what’s not to like?

I said so with apprehension, worried it would rain down significant editorial attacks, or worse.  Surprisingly, not a single official reply of any sort, let alone a refutation, was forthcoming.  Hmmmm, I thought; I wonder why.

No matter; inconvenient realities since that column have made the point undeniably. On the NNEPRA website you’ll find this passage:

“Pan Am anticipates continuing to construct track throughout this Fall 2018 and intends to keep working until the weather makes it too difficult this winter. Work will resume in the Spring, with full Project completion is (sic) anticipated by late Spring 2019.”

As it turns out, the project is not yet complete, and the latest estimate by Pan Am is that it will be completed “by Thanksgiving.”

On the same website you’ll find these words:

“The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), managing agency of the Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service, has announced more train service to Freeport and Brunswick beginning Monday, November 12, 2018.  Beginning November 12, two (2) additional round trips will serve Freeport and Brunswick on weekdays (5 round trips total), with one additional trip on weekends (4 round-trips total). “

To summarize, the need for the siding has been grossly misrepresented; the $10 million in other people’s money is a waste of funds we don’t have; and those who could have corrected this situation abused the trust the public places in them. Not a soul in the authority chain seems to give a damn about it. And they want us to call them “Public Servants?” Swamp denizens would be more accurate. Milton Friedman was on point.

Swamps are “safe spaces” for the political class. Shame is not in the vocabulary; the water is murky and not the least bit transparent, and the critters have no idea what accountability means.

About Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at pemster4062@yahoo.com or you can always buy him lunch at an MHPC luncheon. He's easy that way, and he'll still respect you if you do.

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