Sunday, October 18, 2009

Observations for the Maine Rail Plan Technical Advisory Commitee

Submitted by: The Maine Rail Transit Coalition

· Portland - Maine's largest city has approved a transit plan for its downtown area and financial district—a plan and strategy that can have a substantial bearing on public transportation, including commuter rail passenger service, throughout the Greater Portland region—and a plan that wants to substantially limit the impact of automobiles on downtown human livability.
· Without non-automobile commuter transit to Portland, the visions of the Portland Peninsula Transit Study, the Franklin Street reconstruction and other human-scale planning efforts may falter or fail completely.
· Six existing transportation rail corridors radiate out from Portland, South Portland and Westbrook—corridors primarily owned by the State of Maine. Used properly, these corridors can create more efficient, pleasant, economical, environmentally sound and humanly civil transportation to and from major nodes of activity in Portland and surrounding towns.
· The Maine Legislature established the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and gives the authority the rights and responsibilities to "...take all actions that are reasonably necessary to initiate, establish or reinitiate regularly scheduled passenger rail service between points within this State and points within and outside this State", and it "is a body both corporate and politic in the State established for the general purpose of promoting passenger rail service.
· The Rail Authority appears to view commuter rail service along the Portland to Standish segment of the Mountain Division line - and perhaps along other rail lines radiating out from Portland into the suburbs – as having insufficient ridership markets to warrant attention by the Maine State Rail Plan process. The Rail Authority and MDOT appear to have no market-analysis statistics to justify such a view. Rather than as synergistic, the Authority considers other rail corridors as competitive.
· Perceptions of markets for commuter rail service may be based on the original Mt. Division study completed in 2007 that focused on commuters from the western Sebago watershed area. This is dated and geographically limited data, and does not reflect the massive urban sprawl that has occurred over the last 10 years in an arc from Buxton and Gorham to Standish, Windham and Raymond.
· With 8,000 to 10,000 cars daily on the River Road, and equal volumes on at least five other major roads (routes 302, 25, 114, 202 and 22) towards Portland, there seems to be more than adequate volume to warrant commuter passenger rail serving the Portland suburbs to the west. In addition, the commuters from Portland’s northern suburbs may be an additional 30,000 per day.
· It is reasonable to expect that the $28 million TIGER Stimulus grant application for upgrade of the Mountain Division rail line will be funded. This would provide the basis for restoration of this rail corridor, giving us the basis for constructing that rail link to standards for commuter rail service from Portland to Westbrook, Windham and possibly the Sebago lake area. This creates commuter rail access for a market that could be in the tens of thousands of daily commuters.
· There are many advantages to the Mountain Division as a commuter rail line. The corridor is “shovel-ready” for service offering environmental advantages, congestion mitigation, economic development, and an opportunity to showcase alternative transportation for Maine residents. Commuter rail offers the opportunity to move thousands of cars off the roads before they arrive in Portland. In addition, the Mountain Division upgrade grant application references a connection to Amtrak service in Portland as part of a state plan to link Maine rail to national destinations.
· To be fully functional, a commuter rail system must be connected to key employment and destination nodes such as downtown Portland, Maine Medical Center, Unum, Fairchild, IDEXX, National Semiconductor and the Maine Mall. Further bus and fixed Guideway transit connections would make these connections.
· If the state could purchase the former right of way of the old Portland to Rochester Railroad, the rail connection from downtown Gorham could extend to Buxton and beyond to Sanford. It is not too late for this to happen; this rail right-of-way is still mostly clear.
· In addition to the Mountain Division rail line, the State of Maine also owns the St. Lawrence & Atlantic railway corridor (SLR) offering further potential to serve the communities northeast of Portland in conjunction with expanded rail passenger and commuter service to Brunswick.
· To adequately assess the biggest passenger rail market in Maine, the Maine State Rail Plan must determine Portland metro commuter rail markets radiating out along all of the existing rail corridors from Portland, South Portland and Westbrook. From that data the Rail Plan must create an informed commuter transit vision.
· The City and citizens of Portland should reasonably expect Maine’s only passenger rail authority—the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority—to work in a manner that is consistent with such a constructive commuter rail vision and to provide an objective market analysis of commuter rail transit within the Greater Portland region.
· The Federal government in Washington recognizes that aggressive rail restoration is necessary to move people out of cars, reduce carbon emissions, reduce oil consumption, reduce highway congestion and make our cities more livable. By passing the Portland Peninsula Transit Study, the City Council of Maine’s largest city has recognized the need to accomplish these objectives. Therefore, MDOT’s rail plan and Greater Portland’s regional transportation strategy must move in this same direction. If the US Government is finally moving on rail, MDOT’s plan cannot cause Greater Portland to be left behind.
· If we snooze, we lose.

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