A state legislator from Brunswick on Thursday called for an investigation into the finances and operations of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the Amtrak Downeaster train service that connects Brunswick, Portland and several other communities in southern Maine and New Hamphsire with Boston.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a Democrat, said he will ask the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to authorize a comprehensive audit of the rail authority, which receives about $2 million each year from Maine. The state funding is a small portion of the rail authority’s operating budget, which is funded primarily with federal transportation dollars.

The Government Oversight Committee, which is staffed by the Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountability, will consider Gerzofsky’s request at its meeting Friday morning in Augusta. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Cross Building.

Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, said OPEGA in the past has taken a closer look at the operations of such organizations as the Maine Turnpike Authority, as well as a document shredding controversy at the Maine Centers for Disease Control. It has never looked at the finances and operations of the rail authority, which was created by the Legislature in 1995 to develop and manage Amtrak’s Downeaster passenger rail service.

“An occasional review of a division of government is part of our core mission,” said Katz, who chairs the committee. “But, in this case there is no hint that anyone has done anything wrong.”

Gerzofsky said he is not alleging any wrongdoing on the part of the rail authority, but believes the rail authority could be more transparent about how it spends money; its ridership, especially at the Brunswick end of the rail line; how it maintains tracks; and why there have been a number of late train arrivals and departures this winter.


Gerzofsky said he has received several complaints about Amtrak Downeaster’s service from rail riders inside and outside his district.

“If they can’t run a train on time then maybe it’s time for us to take a closer look at how they are operating their train,” Gerzofsky said Thursday night.

One area of concern for Gerzofsky is ridership.

“I see empty trains idling in (downtown) Brunswick all the time. I’m very concerned about that,” he said.

Patricia Quinn, the rail authority’s executive director, welcomed the review, saying the rail authority has nothing to hide and wants to be as transparent as possible.

She admits that the Downeaster’s on-time performance has not met expectations this winter.


“Over the course of time it has been horrific,” Quinn said. “But we have been very forthcoming about that. It has been weather related.”

She said the stormy winter only underscores the need for a passenger train equipment layover facility in Brunswick, a project that Gerzofsky opposes. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is scheduled to hold a public hearing in Brunswick on March 25 to consider issuing a storm water permit for the project.

“It became evident this winter why the layover facility is necessary. The weather also took its toll on our partners,” Quinn said, referring to how Boston’s transportation network was hampered and in some cases shut down by heavy snow. “What goes on in Boston has a very real effect on what is going on here.”

Wayne Davis serves as chairman of the board of TrainRiders/Northeast, the organization that led the effort to create the rail authority.

Davis defended Quinn and said the Downeaster has been one of Amtrak’s best passenger rail lines in the country.

Davis doesn’t think an investigation by OPEGA is warranted despite the delays and cancellations. According to the TrainRiders’ website, January’s ridership of 34,931 passengers was down by 3 percent from January 2014. Sixteen trains canceled service in January. Thirty six trains canceled in February.

“I think it would be a gross waste of taxpayer money,” Davis said of the investigation. “The problem with the Downeaster this winter is the same thing that brought Boston to its knees, the weather.”

Davis points out that the taxpayers of Maine supported the train service and still do.

“It has been a wonderful service and we have one person to thank. It is Patricia Quinn and her management skills,” Davis added.

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