In response to various criticisms of the Downeaster that have appeared in Portland Press Herald Maine Voices columns (i.e., the Nov. 12 op-ed “Downeaster funding should be rerouted to much-needed road repairs” and “Passenger rail authority’s competence in question,” published Aug. 23), I feel compelled to explain the point of view of those of us involved in rail advocacy (TrainRid- ersNortheast and others) who have worked tirelessly, unpaid, on its behalf for many years.

Some critics of passenger rail question the need for the Brunswick layover facility at all; recommend the elimination of trains in favor of buses; disparage the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s operating practices, leadership and indeed its very existence; decry the “wastefulness” of tax dollars spent on any railroad infrastructure; and point out the absence of community building and business development related to train service.

Maine, and much of the Northeast, is unique in the design of its town centers, which were laid out in the 18th and 19th centuries with pedestrians in mind, before the automobile era. Most of these town centers are still standing, but around 1950, clones bearing the same name appeared next to the originals to serve the automobile and the occasional bus.

Some would say our current model of automobile-centered development needs no amendments, that it is the natural course of growth in accordance with human freedom and mobility. I strongly encourage anybody who agrees with this view to visit the Cook’s Corner strip mall in Brunswick, to see what happens when a mall dies. I’m all ears as to what we as a society are to do with it, as it is scaled, designed and built (hideously) solely for the automobile and semi-truck.

The speed and convenience afforded by this system for personal cocoons – provided that gobs of money are spent on its construction, maintenance and fuel system – is not in question. The enormous cost to the individual in the form of car ownership, pollution and environmental consumption, however, should give us pause.

Compare any mall or strip with the Brunswick Station complex, the Freeport shopping area, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Biddeford, Dover and Durham, New Hampshire, or Haverhill, Massachusetts. In each place the train passes through the heart of the community, with its shops, stores, restaurants, museums, colleges, beaches, theaters, housing and town squares mere minutes from the train platform. Please visit them (by car, bus or train), and decide for yourself which kind of community you would prefer to live in.


The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and its director have been criticized harshly, in often patronizing and disrespectful language, for their decision to locate the Downeaster’s layover facility in a former railroad yard in Brunswick, for their decision to use the Amtrak push-pull model of fixed train sets, for their schedule and for their very existence in a somewhat rural state such as Maine.

Scheduling is directly tied to the lack of servicing facilities, and with the new building, the Downeaster will enable a more comprehensive schedule. Servicing trains where they originate (Rail Operations 101), at the convergence of four rail lines to serve the future transport needs of the people of Maine, is the logical choice. And Brunswick best meets these criteria.

Having a building that would be owned by the state of Maine gives the rail authority operational options: acquiring its own fleet of railcars to better serve current and future needs, having a place to service such equipment, and the freedom to select from different operators.

While our port facilities have been upgraded to meet the increase in intermodal container traffic, shrinking freight railroad revenue from a smaller paper industry is an unfortunate reality. This is why it is important to consider the two-fold impact of maintaining the rails for the Downeaster: (a) for safe operation of passenger trains and (b) preserving this crucial infrastructure in good repair. Not only is rail the most efficient way of moving lumber, fuel, containers and heavy materials, but it is also far safer, and easier on our roads and bridges.

Our whole auto-centered lifestyle might make sense while gas is cheaper than a gallon of milk and we can still kid ourselves that “externalities” such as massive sprawl, a warmer, stormier planet and water and air pollution are distant problems.

But many of us 40 and younger would like to see a program of growth and development in Maine – and throughout the nation – that preserves our environment, doesn’t waste energy and land profusely and puts people, not cars, at the forefront of urban planning.

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