There’s a clear difference in thinking between air and rail transportation planners. A 20-year master plan for Portland’s airport (March 9) “expects passenger volume to increase by nearly 40 percent by 2036,” noting that a “greater percentage of those passengers will be carried by larger airplanes” because of the cost-effectiveness of high-capacity vehicles.

This is a logical, demand-driven conclusion. Traffic growth can be accommodated either by increasing service frequency with small aircraft or employing larger ones enabling passenger fares to reflect lower seat-mile costs of operation at times of heavy travel.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has taken the opposite approach with its Downeaster service extension from Portland to Brunswick. It already provides excessive capacity in the hope of creating demand that so far doesn’t exist for that intrastate route segment. Amtrak trains make two daily cycles with expensive equipment operated by a high-cost provider transporting a relative handful of passengers. Only 34 of 1,264 scheduled trips carried more than a busload of riders to or from Brunswick during 2015.

NNEPRA figuratively is running a “Boeing 747” with empty seats where a much smaller vehicle would suffice, thereby inflating essential state subsidy. That questionable practice is perpetuated by construction of a 52,000-square-foot Brunswick maintenance and layover facility that can house three “747s” at the cost of unneeded space.

The airport handled 1.73 million passengers last year, averaging over 4,700 daily. Its growth plan anticipates capital expenditures of $312 million over two decades to accommodate the projected traffic increase of self-supporting airlines.

NNEPRA’s scheduled trains transported an average of fewer than 20 daily riders to and from Brunswick, yet it has committed or requested over $70 million for investment in a light-density market with speculative growth prospects requiring ongoing (and rising) public support.


Is it any wonder that Maine’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability is investigating NNEPRA?

George C. Betke Jr.

president, Transport Economics, Inc.


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