Regardless of the facts surrounding the granting of construction permits, a Department of Environmental Protection hearing is the wrong forum for judging the merits of building a 52,000-square-foot railroad maintenance and layover facility adjacent to a Brunswick neighborhood.

The more pertinent issue arises at a much higher level. Why is the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority obsessed with spending $32 million for “service optimization” improvements in a market that has difficulty justifying one daily train? “Boondoggle” comes to mind.

The 2012 extension of Amtrak’s Downeaster from Portland to Brunswick can only be analyzed as economically wasteful. Two daily trips in each direction carry an average of about 25 passengers each way, generating insufficient revenue even to offset the fuel cost of operating full-length trains 28 miles beyond Portland.

Simply said, NNEPRA is operating a train where market demand for a busload equivalent of riders exists only about 5 percent of the time.

What is the board of NNEPRA thinking, or is it? An investigation of that agency by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability should generate plenty of questions about the composition, responsibilities and decisions of the board, actions taken by management, judicious use of public funds, transparency to Maine taxpayers and relationships with associated special interests such as Amtrak and TrainRiders/Northeast.

George C. Betke Jr.

president, Transport Economics, Inc.