by Pem Shaeffer
The Downeaster in Maine started running between North Station in Boston and Portland Maine in 2001. Service was extended to Brunswick, which began running in late 2011. I am part of a volunteer team, aided by some railroad pros (retired) who have done all we could to force some integrity into the operation. The attraction of “free money” overcomes common sense and any other principles that might give the subject some integrity. The consultants who feed off the money, and know where to look for it, are the real shady characters in this vast play.
Things in Brunswick look a bit different since when I did the briefing, but we have not had any sort of boon. In our case, one of the major malls that was nearly dead attracted businesses from other local real estate. Some buildings have been torn down, so their emptiness is no longer apparent. Medical offices are showing up everywhere, which has nothing to do with trains… it’s all about our age.
So I would say if I took you around town, there would be changes here and there, but nothing in the way of economic “growth” in the bottom line sense.
The Downeaster DOES NOT make money. All capital and maintenance expenses like tie replacement, etc, are covered by mostly federal money and some state funds. The operating budget shows an annual deficit in the 50% range. Neither NH or MA contribute anything to the operation, but most of the ridership is from those two states.
Articles about tourist dollars coming from the south to Maine completely ignore the resident discretionary dollars being carried to the south… virtually all to Boston… that offsets that and more.
At the moment there is an effort to extend service to Lewiston/Auburn at a front end cost in the range of $300 million, and millions a year in operating losses. It is being resisted strongly, but we all fear that the new congressman from Lewiston will see this as a chance to really make a name for himself.
There is no limit to how much the few elites want to spend of ‘other people’s money’ so a few can take a train every now and then. Frankly, it’s disgusting.
Pem Shaeffer is a Maine resident who has been closely following the Downeaster’s operations for more than five years.