Letter: Bus may serve Brunswick better than train

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Restoration of passenger rail service in Maine has been a subject of much statewide discussion in recent years. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, an agency of state government, is the operator of the service, and could not exist without very substantial federal subsidies, and sizable amounts from the state. Communities with stations also contribute in both direct and indirect ways to Amtrak Downeaster operations.

Recently there’s been a great deal of interest in extending Downeaster service to the Lewiston-Auburn area and points beyond, even though a Maine Department of Transportation study in 2011 estimated capital required to do so would be in the $100 million-$200 million-plus range. Those supportive of taking this chance argue that massive economic benefits will accrue to the affected region.

Now comes news that a public-private partnership is implementing regular bus service between the Lewiston-Auburn area and Portland, and with minimal expense and public investment. It should be up and running in no time, and be flexible enough to meet ridership demands once they become known.

Perhaps the same approach should be used for expanding round-trip service to Brunswick, rather than spending an additional $22 million or more in taxpayer funds to meet unknown demands. Such an expanded bus service might even bring Bath and Topsham into the fold, making use of the bypass off Route 1. If the ridership support isn’t there, the service can be terminated with little lost; if it exceeds projections, it can easily and quickly be expanded.

Pem Schaeffer
Brunswick

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  • farmertom2

    Buses use considerably more fuel, at 4200BTU/passenger mile, vs 2400 for trains.

    • Chew H Bird

      Yes, they do use more fuel but the amount of fuel per person is less because of the low number of passengers and the many hours of train idle time.

      • poppypapa

        WHAT????

        • Chew H Bird

          I’m not overly quick when multi tasking… The thought is regardless efficiency of the fuel, the total amount utilized is far less by a bus because the trains burn fuel all day. If only 10-30 people utilize mass transit to and from Brunswick on a regular basis even if a bus uses more fuel per mile it is far more cost effective than the train.

      • farmertom2

        I agree that at present it’s not worth it– but it’s still new, and I think in the future that it will make sense.

        • Earl D. Porker

          Earl here… How long into the future will “it make sense?” Downeaster is projecting a subsidy of some $12 million taxpayer dollars, or more, will be required to keep it afloat in FY16. Those are expensive choo choo train rides.

          • Scott Harriman

            The roads that buses run on are also very heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

          • Earl D. Porker

            Depends upon what road you are talking about. The Maine Turnpike has never been subsidized by taxpayers. Not one dime of taxpayer money was used to design, construct or maintain as much as an inch of the 109 mile highway.

          • Scott Harriman

            That is the exception.

          • Earl D. Porker

            It is also where the bus travels for most of the route between cities in Maine. Much less expensively, I might add, than trains. Trains are inflexible, and very expensive. An idea whose time has come, and gone.

          • Scott Harriman

            Actually, most of the intercity routes in Maine use the Interstate and Route 1. (Though routes traveling out of state from Portland obviously run primarily on the Turnpike.)

            Routes that travel to Lewiston/Auburn are the only in-state ones that primarily use the Turnpike. The Concord Coach run between Bangor and Portland even diverts to I-295 in West Gardiner so they don’t have to use the Turnpike.

          • Earl D. Porker

            Rail cannot compete with bus on cost efficiency. For more info, check out the excellent opinion column in the PPH dated today, Nov 12th.

    • poppypapa

      Here’s the local reality. A modern motor coach, like the ones that service Brunswick and the Portland Transportation Center, and then down to Logan, have 325 hp diesels that use modern, low sulfur diesel fuel. They can carry more than 50 passengers. They get 6 to 7 miles per gallon. When they are not on a run, they shut their engines off.

      The Amtrak Downeaster is pulled by P42 Diesel Locomotives with 4,250 hp engines that are generations behind current regs for such vehicles, and they burn old style high sulfur fuel. NNEPRA budgets more than $10,000 PER DAY for this fuel, or nearly $4 million per year. The engines run 24 hours a day, whether on a run or not.

      The three Downeaster train sets idle an aggregate of 43 hours per day, moving nowhere with nobody. They simply sit and burn their fuel for those hours between runs. When running, the engines consume about 3 gallons a mile, or on the order of 25 times higher fuel consumption than the motor coach, and for this, they can carry a maximum of 5 to 6 times the maximum passenger capacity of the bus. Add the extensive idle time fuel consumption (as high as 22 gph), and you have a not even close argument.

      Anyway you want to look at it, you are wrong. And the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees that you are wrong. You can read here:

      Getting There Greener

      Time to get up on the realities of this discussion.

      • farmertom2

        While I might be currently wrong I believe I will be futurely correct.

        • poppypapa

          Thanks for letting us know why the term “foamers” is in common use.

    • Bowdoin81

      farmertom2, read this to get a better perspective on fuel efficiency for trains and buses: http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=8805
      Add in the fact that the trains between Brunswick and Portland are nearly empty, and one cannot escape the conclusion that the Downeaster is wasteful.

      • farmertom2

        Currently, yes, ridership is…poor. However, gas is, currently, cheap. When we start seeing $5-$6-$7 gas, and a rt from Brunswick to Portland costs $20 plus wear and tear on a car, I would expect ridership to go up. The train from Portland to Boston is often pretty full.

        • Chew H Bird

          I have no issue with Portland to Boston. I do take issue with the appropriation of massive amounts of tax dollars expanding it to Brunswick and the seemingly endless gusher of tax money pushing for a maintenence facility in a residential area (especially when the track goes right by an industrial park).