Line rationalization

Discussion of present-day CM&Q operations, as well as discussion of predecessors Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) and Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (BAR).

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Re: Line rationalization

Postby mwhite » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:05 pm

Cowford wrote:Service disruptions certainly occur from time-to-time, but I wouldn't consider the "best part of a week" to be extended.


You have totally ignored my point which is that a relatively small washout shut us down for days (and it happened again recently). What would happen if an entire bridge goes out? Don't ignore the possibility of that type of event. There have been numerous major bridge washouts around the country (read the train magazines if you don't believe me).

Cowford wrote:You don't have a "reserve" line for the Northeast corridor


Not true. There are many other routings (not electrified) to bypass problems on the NEC.

Cowford wrote:so When was the last catastrophic (call it three weeks+) route disruption in Maine? The only example I can think of was the NB floods (in early 1987?) that severed CP's Fort Fairfield and Caribou branches... and all that did was prompt CP to accelerate the abandonment process. If those lines were viable, they would have been quickly put back in service.


My point exactly! Since they didn't have alternative, it was game over. As lines and connections are removed, more and more lines end up with single interchange lines and become more at risk.

Not looking at the big picture is exactly what puts Maine jobs in jeopardy. Looking at solely the bottom line dollars ignores the very real intangible benefits of having alternate routes, passenger operations, fair taxation and subsidies (direct and indirect), and so on. Your myopic view of the railroad industry, whether intentional or not, fortunately is not shared by many who see the bigger picture of an integrated transportation network that serves the entire public, not just trucks and buses.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby calaisbranch » Mon Mar 08, 2010 5:18 pm

I wasn't thinking of anyone in particluar when I mentioned Chicago, but if it works for ya..... Ever work under Pat McGinnis? :wink: For some reason, Fink Mink and his puppet son would come to mind before Ed. That article in TRAINS a while back made me want to puke!

I guess what I'm trying to figure is how it would benefit PAR to make Old Town the east end. Then, say any cars looking for Old Town from St. Stephen would continue an additional 43 miles on NBSR to Brownville then come down MMA to Hermon. Next head east/northeast AGAIN for the 45-46 miles to Old Town! Even if most of the NBSR/PAR traffic could bypass Mattawamkeag to Brownville...Lose a direct interchange at its(PAR's) east end...Have to contract a Canadian competitor to supply Lincoln and have the longer haul to Brownville...Then possibly have to pay ANOTHER rival, MMA to forward the stuff. Talk about circuitous! Even if MMA and PAR came to some kind of agreement, why lose a very active, direct interchange('Keag) just to maintain 32 less miles?

This seems like a short-sighted plan with no thought of possible return of traffic ever figured to happen.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby QB 52.32 » Mon Mar 08, 2010 6:34 pm

Railroads are always doing this kind of stuff or at least considering it. It's part of the way they've become much more efficient, especially in situations like the one at hand where there's too much trackage for too little business and no realistic hope for any meaningful change. C'mon, we're talking about 2 light density lines where in the unlikely event of a catastrophic event a detour could be fashioned around it through Canada (CN). There's cases all over N America where 2 or more vigorous railroad competitors with much, much more at stake share infrastructure: The Powder River Line; The Colorado Joint Line; and, NS and CSX in Cincinnati, OH to name a few. And, eliminating train starts or the ownership/mtce. of mileage outweigh additional out-of-route mileage (combined) operating costs. In a nutshell, it's all about density! And, in this case, about a carrier coming forward looking for taxpayer monies, which in the end, will probably come from folks who don't even live in Maine.

BTW, I think it's laughable that someone would call Cowford myopic! I think he's just the opposite, fighting issues surrounding government funding for projects that provide low returns-on-investment for taxpayers and instead are more related to narrow interests. Just that he has the balls to do it on a railroad/railfan-oriented site. He serves a role as a truth-teller in the debate about use of government funds and intervention in passenger and freight rail and how it is critical that they be economically justifiable (or at least justifiable when considering other ways to use that money)...otherwise, over the long run, opponents and those who closely watch government spending and transportation policy will use these projects like a bludgeon against the taxpayer rail investments that truly make sense. So, I have to question: Who's the one with myopia?
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby mwhite » Mon Mar 08, 2010 6:58 pm

If you reread my post, you will see I was referencing how he focuses solely on the dollars. My point is that there is - and should be - weight given to the intangibles. For example, take the US military. If we looked at simply the costs and benefits which can be quantified in hard dollars, it looks like the worst investment ever! However, I am sure you will agree, that there have been huge intangible benefits such as winning, for example, World War II, the Cold War, and so on. If we peered through a straw and only weighed the dollars in and the dollars out, we wouldn't have a military! I can make the same argument about the public road system we have in the US. If we simply - and unrealistically - looked at the dollars spent, we wouldn't build or maintain roads either. But we do it because it provides public benefits well beyond what the direct financial figures would indicate. That is what I mean by myopic.

I agree that Cowford is bold in bringing his ideas to the discussion, and honestly I do appreciate it when he brings an insightful thought to the discussion. I just find it really irritating that he frequently misstates others' posts, ignores valid tangible benefits, and generally can make this an exercise in futility. It reminds me of the Monty Python skit where the man walks into the room and says, "I'm here for an argument." and the man in the room replies, "no you're not."

I think this forum would be so much better served if participants would,
a. respect other peoples ideas,
b. not misquote others by omission,
c. be transparent and forthright about their agendas,
d. and realize that we are here to have fun and learn something, not get argued down endlessly.

Okay, I'm done. Sorry if I come across a bit strident. I'm just annoyed by the way my posts have been mistreated.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby calaisbranch » Mon Mar 08, 2010 7:12 pm

What many dislike are self-appointed "experts" that are more than happy to offer their "expertise" from afar when there are those who can directly contribute from being "on the ground" right where the subject is. Cut this, combine that for the almighty dollar. Easier said than done, no matter how much "sense" it might seem to make and where else it might have worked well. Every case is unique.

Like comparing BNSF to PAR.....what's the mileage ratio between those roads you think? Not even the same league...Impact from abandonments or rationalizing would be totally different.
Last edited by calaisbranch on Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby mwhite » Mon Mar 08, 2010 7:32 pm

There is one location that I think could benefit from line rationalization here in Maine: why not connect the MMA where it crosses the NBSR just east of Brownville Junction? This would avoid a major water crossing and simplify the track plan by eliminating the wye in Brownville. And it would get rid of two road crossings to boot. I've never hiked in to this location, even though I pass by it frequently on my way up to camp, so it might not be so simple from an engineering and environmental regulation and permitting standpoint.

Now, who would pay for the new connection?!!
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby Cowford » Mon Mar 08, 2010 7:49 pm

Thanks QB - I appreciate the kind words.

You have totally ignored my point which is that a relatively small washout shut us down for days (and it happened again recently). What would happen if an entire bridge goes out? Don't ignore the possibility of that type of event.


Mwhite, I'm sorry you think that I'm ignoring your point; I did address it.* I acknowledged and again acknowledge that extended line outages occur, but they are rare. Less severe line outages occur more frequently, but they would typically not justify the need for redundant lines. Especially in this case. Let's see if I can approach it from a different angle. I am assuming you work on the Eastern sub. If that track was better maintained, you'd probably not suffer so many service interruptions. So why is the track so poorly maintained? Because there's not much money in the kitty. Why is there not much money in the kitty? Because there's too much track and not enough business.

My point exactly! Since they didn't have alternative, it was game over.


Actually, it wasn't game over. CP got into a service agreement with the BAR in Ft Fairfield and BAR constructed a new interchange in Presque Isle to handle what little remaining traffic was left. The remaining traffic was handled under a haulage agreement (and I think AVL performed the service).

Look, I never said there would be no downsides to this, only that the benefits appear to far outweigh the costs... and to QB 52.32's point, this is pretty standard stuff. If you want an example of how this works, look east... to Woodland. That traffic gets handled curcuitously as well. It's been working ok there for 25+ years, no? Abandoning the Calais branch was a sensible idea. Only the "build it and they will come crowd" would argue otherwise. (The problem with those guys is that they never can explain why "they" aren't coming to the trackage that already exists.) Railroads cannot be all things to all people and, like every other business, they need to constantly adapt to their changing environment in order to survive. Unfortunately, in the case of Maine at this time, that means retrench and consolidate.

*And for the record, I stand by my consistency in NOT misstating others' posts. You will note that when I err in misstatement or statement of fact, I always post acknowledging.
Last edited by Cowford on Mon Mar 08, 2010 11:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby mwhite » Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:04 pm

Cowford wrote:And for the record, I stand by my consistency in NOT misstating others' posts. You will note that when I err in misstatement or statement of fact, I always post acknowledging.


Sorry, but you did not acknowledge my post that the Swiss Federal Government made a decision in the 1990's to redirect freight off their roads and onto trains, and are very successfully doing this. This was in response to your statement that no European countries are doing this. And I find your excerpting parts of my posts disrespectful.

And again, eliminating track and service in Maine does nothing to address the real problem: a poor business climate created mostly (but not entirely) by our very own State government. I strongly believe that deconstructing our rail infrastructure further compounds the problem by sending a signal to would be - and existing - industries that this is not a good place to do anything. I know. I make my living and life here (born here too), and it isn't easy. And I'm sorry, but having people from away trying to tell us what is best for us is simply aggravating.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby calaisbranch » Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:41 pm

BTW, I had been trying to edit that bit, but the site kept asking me to sign in over and over without letting me access the forum. I finally just got it done. Phew...good thing there are self-appointed mature ones on here.

As for MWhite...you nailed it with that last sentence! It seems many folks who try posting their thoughts in these regional forums on rr.net are constantly talked down upon by a select few "experts." They have a question about something impacting their area and get inundated by those who aren't even from around there. Ever ask yourself, "Why aren't they giving their advice to, say, a real railroad and not a forum?"

I'll get back to the original subject and stick to my guns. No way do I see MMA and PAR consolidating anything. Kind of goes with the whole thing about MMA keeping the Moosehead Sub. Look what happened to the two GP9s PAR leased to MMA this weekend. Both are down for repairs already! It never ends...
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby QB 52.32 » Mon Mar 08, 2010 9:21 pm

It's certainly valid to feel emotion about your own turf. But, if that logic was carried to the real world of railroad management, we'd have a nationalized rail system stuck with pre-Conrail network mileage in the Midwest and Northeast, and, Rock Island and Milwaukee Road network mileage out West. Making the tough decisions (or discussing them in good faith on a railroad site) is a part of what has made the N American rail system finally earning the cost of capital and attracting private investment dollars. Unfortunately, with this situation in Maine, it's the opposite....it's attracting (or, more realistically, extracting) taxpayer money. And, in the case of the Federal tax dollars that now have been targeted to handle this MMA abandonment issue, I'll go with the "taxation with representation" motto which invites outsiders to the conversation. Hope everyone can come to an agreement that it's all in good faith and that each opinion reflects the background and experience of each individual, nothing more nor less.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby Highball » Mon Mar 08, 2010 9:27 pm

Cowford wrote:Actually, it wasn't game over. CP got into a service agreement with the BAR in Ft Fairfield and BAR constructed a new interchange in Presque Isle to handle what little remaining traffic was left. The remaining traffic was handled under a haulage agreement (and I think AVL performed the service).


To add further information.........CP's line from Aroostook, N.B. to Presque Isle Me.( by way of Fort Fairfield and Caribou ) was known as the Aroostook Sub. Traffic over this line was mainly destined for Washburn Jct. to interchange with the Aroostock Valley RR ( AVR, which CP actually owned until 1980 .)

A new connection, which was necessitated after the April 1987 St. John River bridge destructions, was made between the BAR and AVR, at a location in Presque Isle, known as Saunders.......by means of a short connector between where the BAR tracks and CP line into Presque Isle paralled each other. From this location, it was a distance of about a mile to Washburn Jct, over what remained operational of CP's Aroostook Sub. The portion of CP's Aroostook Sub was operated by Aroostook Valley under a trackage rights agreement, with AVR rules and time table effective.

By this time , most of AVR's traffic base was located within the Skyway Industrial Park.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby Cowford » Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:25 am

Sorry, but you did not acknowledge my post that the Swiss Federal Government made a decision in the 1990's to redirect freight off their roads and onto trains, and are very successfully doing this. This was in response to your statement that no European countries are doing this.


You're right, I didn't get around to replying but have done so in that thread.

why not connect the MMA where it crosses the NBSR just east of Brownville Junction?


I've thought of that as well... wonder if the grade elevation change would require a lot of earth work and significant leads... and then the issues of traffic direction, running around, etc.

And again, eliminating track and service in Maine does nothing to address the real problem: a poor business climate created mostly (but not entirely) by our very own State government.


No, it doesn't do anything to address the real problem (how could it?), but it does address the EFFECT of the real problem. A healthier, scaled down rail network would be more attractive to a business than weatherbeaten streaks of rust running through every town. And sorry, I have to chuckle about your comment about "people from away." Classic Maine. :-) Based on your comment about the business climate, maybe some fresh perspectives are exactly what the state needs!
Last edited by Cowford on Tue Mar 09, 2010 2:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby CN9634 » Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:18 pm

Cowford wrote:
Sorry, but you did not acknowledge my post that the Swiss Federal Government made a decision in the 1990's to redirect freight off their roads and onto trains, and are very successfully doing this. This was in response to your statement that no European countries are doing this.


You're right, I didn't get around to replying but have done so in that thread.

why not connect the MMA where it crosses the NBSR just east of Brownville Junction?


I've thought of that as well... wonder if the grade elevation change would require a lot of earth work and significant leads... and then the issues of traffic direction, running around, etc.

And again, eliminating track and service in Maine does nothing to address the real problem: a poor business climate created mostly (but not entirely) by our very own State government.


No, it doesn't do anything to address the real problem (how could it?), but it does address the EFFECT of the real problem. A healthier, scaled down rail network would be more attractive to a business than weatherbeaten streaks of rust running through every town. And sorry, I have to chuckle about your comment about "people from away." Classic Maine. :-) Based on your comment about the business climate, maybe some fresh perspectives is exactly what the state needs!


The amount of work required to hook up the NBSR main to the MMA main just a few miles up the road would be pretty hefty. For those who haven't been to that location, it is not simply a diamond, but rather an overpass. I believe the CP goes over the BAR line (It's been a while since I've been there). It would require substantial earth work in order to get a train from top to bottom. Might as well just keep the existing line and add 10 minutes to the trip.

Now when you talk about the real problem, you are referring to the terrible business climate in Maine. Now may I direct your attention to the SLR and the Lewiston/Auburn area. While on average in the State it is hard to do business, Auburn has worked real hard to establish trade and business tax credits. The area has been booming with business and is still expanding. The FTZ just came into the picture this fall after being dormant for a while. Savage Services, a large national corporation, purchased Safe Handling and will use its deep pockets to expand the operation. The Maine Intermodal terminal has been on the decline but they have huge amounts of back logged containers waiting to go to respective customers. They also have their own customers inspection. The Port of Auburn built a new yard and this past year added a new yard lead track. It would seem that the SLR and the city of Auburn both know how to do business in Maine. So what is their secret?

Yes Auburn has the advantage of high populations and less distance. The Northern Maine route has many miles of track between customers which is expensive. The biggest advantage the railroad has over trucking is that route 95 ends in Houlton. Trucks then have to pile down Route 1 which is no where near as large as the interstate. I'm not sure if the railroad hasn't been as aggressive marketing themselves but can't the towns push for the railroad as well. Could they not follow Auburn's model and try to get tax incentives to businesses for using rail? I believe it is possible to run a railroad in Northern Maine and make a honest buck but a lot of hard work and dedication must go into this. I'm not saying the MMA has neither but it is clear they have more focus on the Montreal-Millinocket-Searsport lines (Having dont extensive track work on the Searsport branch this past year) than anything with the word Northern in it.

This also brings up a curious point, the State has official stated that they have operators interested in running the road, however no one is willing to purchase the road. So say the State does purchase the line, does this guarantee that the MMA is the operator or will the State contract out to the lowest bidder. In this lies the potential for a new railroad. Could NBSR or even CN be contenders? While I doubt CN would be interested, NBSR (Aka Irving) has a lot of interests in Northern Maine as it has many mills under the Irving umbrella. It is a cloudy future for this line but one can only hope in the end that the line is run.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby Cowford » Tue Mar 09, 2010 1:49 pm

Charles, I believe the state is obligated to award operating rights on a bid basis. Here's the interesting part (fortunately not missed in a consultant's report to the Maine legislature on the subject): MMA has (most likely intentionally) made an island out of the lines in question, i.e., you gotta rely on MMA to get to the outside world. If MMA was not awarded the bid, they would have massive pricing leverage over the designated operator. The report strongly (and repeatedly) recommended that any purchase be contingent upon MMA granting the line operator access rights to CN and NBSR in perpetuity.
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Re: Line rationalization

Postby ShortlinesUSA » Tue Mar 09, 2010 3:18 pm

This brings an interesting twist, were another operator win during the bidding process. There seems to be little industry between Oakfield and Millinocket. I did see one plant near Siberia, but I don't know if they are a shipper. If the operator does indeed receive rights to access CN at St. Leonard, that could essentially still wind up running the section between Millinocket and Oakfield, or maybe even further north, dry of traffic if the new operator were to move their traffic via CN.

One has to assume most of any traffic handled on these lines is going to wind up going to Canada, whether handed to the MMA, NBSR, or CN since most discussion I've seen here indicates there is little interchange between MMA and PAR. If it's going to wind up being routed north of the border, the new operator would likely want to long haul it north to CN, rather than short haul it down to Millinocket to the MMA.

Since this will all likely be fast-tracked since MMA has stated they plan on winding down operations of the 241 miles by summer, a very plausible outcome would be that MMA could be appointed interim operator of the line with a formal bidding process to take place at a later date. Basically, if the state doesn't already have applications from prospective operators under review right now, there is little chance they would have a new operator in place when MMA calls it quits.

Certainly a lot of developments in store in the coming months, no doubt...
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