The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Mon Oct 02, 2017 9:57 pm

gokeefe wrote:F-line,

To the best of my knowledge ... Including some in person ... The rail is 112# or better ... Could be less in some parts but I have yet to see it.


85# is what the '07 Restoration Study says most of the rail is. Those worthless rail replacements MEDOT did that have never had a train driven over them do not constitute the majority.

Also the corridor is owned by MaineDOT, Poland Spring would not be paying for the improvements.


That makes no difference.

PS can't make a business case for profitably shipping by rail if these 45 miles of track (plus the active track inbound of Westbrook) aren't upgraded to 286K with transit time to/from the nearest yard or crew base accomplishable within a single day's crew shift. That's $90-100M, and cutting any corners with lower speeds wouldn't give them enough profit incentive to pursue it. MEDOT can't make a business case for paying that sum for one customer, because the maximum economic impact to the state of PS-Fryeburg shipping by rail will never amortize the cost of the build. Since the '07 study painted in stark relief just how small the universe of all other potential revenue-generating Mountain users is...there's nothing to help out in making up that business case. The only scenario where it even gets in the ballpark of making a rational business case for anyone is a public-private deal where PS is chucking in a substantial sum of the upgrades...probably 30% or more. But splitting costs still doesn't pay it back for either party, because PS has physical capacity limits there on how many railcars they can load up each day. "Big" water shipments are still nowhere near as all-around lucrative as a paper mill.

Business cases. Plot the business cases. If you can't make the numbers converge at some tolerable equilibrium in any public, private, or public-private effort...there is no business case to be had for PS taking MEDOT's money, MEDOT giving PS a new railroad, or PS and MEDOT chucking in for a new railroad. So far nobody's been able to sensically plot those points in a way that isn't off-scale in a way too futile to reconcile for a for-profit business and a cash-strapped state. This is what I mean about how wishful thinking and burying the lede around 'intangibles' doesn't cut it. These daydreams can't persist in the complete absence of cost-benefit ratios, so if it's someone's sincerely-held belief that this Fryeburg rail scheme has a small real-world chance...let's see some real-world numbers try to quantify that.

I think you've got a much better case to make for the idea that the necessary crossing improvements will be too expensive than any other factor.


And bridges...don't forget those 20 bridges aren't going to handle 286K without a lot of work. The '07 Study's bridge inventory is virtually useless because it was predicated on state-of-repair at 263K.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby Cowford » Tue Oct 03, 2017 1:40 pm

Suffice it to say ... its seems as if some extra rails and ties being laid (for the moment in vain) is not a world ending state of affairs. I too wish it was being used right now but I also acknowledge that it seems "unlikely" at the moment. A few years ago "improbable" would have been a better description and a decade ago "impossible" would have seemed more than fair.


Put another way, this is what you are saying: A decade ago, when the funding was being planned for this line, line economic viability was "impossible". Then six years ago, in the stage of economic viability between "impossible" and "improbable", $6 million was spent on a stunted rehab that falls a mile short of even connecting with the rest of the branch, has since laid dormant, can serve no purpose in its present state, would require tens of millions to complete and, even if completed, still has no likely customer base.

That, my friend, is a textbook example of poor government planning/wasteful spending. And you eschew criticism of the project by saying it was just a few "extra rails and ties being laid"... and its resulting zero return on investment as not a "world ending state of affairs"?

Dang, I'd be curious to see a government project you WOULD be critical of!
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby gokeefe » Wed Oct 04, 2017 12:36 pm

Cowford wrote:That, my friend, is a textbook example of poor government planning/wasteful spending. And you eschew criticism of the project by saying it was just a few "extra rails and ties being laid"... and its resulting zero return on investment as not a "world ending state of affairs"?

Dang, I'd be curious to see a government project you WOULD be critical of!


Rail projects have some unusual aspects about them in terms of cost-benefit and payback timelines. One of the first factors that I usually have foremost in mind is the fact that the rails and ties do not deteriorate in the same fashion or manner that other types of infrastructure would (even if unused). Rail and ties that have no trains on them have the potential to remain in place in "like new" condition for years if not decades.

I strongly agree with the concern and criticism of waste. However I do not agree that government should be using the same business case parameters that the private sector would. Making investments in transportation infrastructure in underserved communities with little potential for payback in terms of immediate (within 5 years) increases in rail traffic is not how government planning should work and that is doubly the case for rail infrastructure which has truly unusual lifespans (50 years is a floor not a ceiling) in terms of capital expenditures.

The "business" case for the State would also need to take into account the impact on state expenditures and revenues that increased employment would bring. What impact on benefits and social assistance ("welfare") programs would increased employment have? What impact would increased employment and property values have on state aid requirements for local schools? If you have even minimal impact on any of these major line items the "business" case for state government starts to make a lot of sense much faster than it would as a traditional railroad business case.

This is not to say that every investment is justified because something "might" workout "eventually" within the next 50 years. But it is to say that something like the Mountain Division is much closer to being viable than a rehabilitation of the line to Anson or Madison.

If I were to choose any project to criticize it would the rehabilitation of the Lewiston Industrial Track. I find it objectionable on multiple levels to include the fact that the state did not acquire the whole right of way, the few existing freight customers (Knight-Celotex and Grimmels) were employers with marginal economic impact to the area, the route would have stub-ended any future passenger service in Lewiston and not allowed through trains further to the north (again ... long term thinking not "tomorrow"), and (perhaps worst of all) the investment did nothing to support through freight traffic on the existing main line.

The project "is what it is" and I hope that Grimmel's, Pan Am and MaineDOT can make the best of it. But I would not prioritize that branch for investment of any kind any time soon, if ever, again.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Wed Oct 04, 2017 6:49 pm

gokeefe wrote:Rail projects have some unusual aspects about them in terms of cost-benefit and payback timelines. One of the first factors that I usually have foremost in mind is the fact that the rails and ties do not deteriorate in the same fashion or manner that other types of infrastructure would (even if unused). Rail and ties that have no trains on them have the potential to remain in place in "like new" condition for years if not decades.


Umm...no. No. There is not something so precious and otherworldly about the rail mode that defies all conventional norms of business cost-benefit logic. This is a head-in-clouds statement.

Also, what difference does it make that exactly 4 miles of MEDOT-paid ties were laid and are still sitting there with minimal weathering and new #115 rail. 40 miles of the corridor is still #85 stick with rotted ties that haven't been replaced since the MEC was an independent company, and 1 mile has no rail at all. Does 91% of the inactive corridor to Fryeburg somehow not exist??? That is some lopsided selection bias right there.

I strongly agree with the concern and criticism of waste. However I do not agree that government should be using the same business case parameters that the private sector would. Making investments in transportation infrastructure in underserved communities with little potential for payback in terms of immediate (within 5 years) increases in rail traffic is not how government planning should work and that is doubly the case for rail infrastructure which has truly unusual lifespans (50 years is a floor not a ceiling) in terms of capital expenditures.


Again...the differences are not so otherworldly as to behave under entirely different laws of physics. It takes an unusually strict and inflexible economic philosophy to demand that a public body's ROI metrics be indistinguishable from a private concern's ROI metrics. Of course a for-profit corporation has to be able to pin the payback on costs directly to its P&L statements, and of course that is different from payback on a government investment where subtler macroeconomic impacts in multiple sectors projected across a whole region drive the ROI. But it is a strawman that anyone here is actually equating the two in nihilist fashion; all that's being stated is that there has to be 'a' payback identified. What is wholly universal and not at all otherworldly for any investing party is that there has to be some metric for amortizing the investment over time? Amortization metrics are how government scores itself! The problem with the Mountain Division restoration to Fryeburg is that it whiffs on even the loosest public standards of cost amortization by so many orders of magnitude that there is no conceivable optimistic scenario where the current business opportunity will return enough macroeconomically to pay off a $100M single-use transportation project in a bottom-ten population state in enough decades to stay inside 'chaos'-uncertainty timelines (i.e. not more than 30 years). It's not even close. It's not even close on the private side for PS, and closer but still in different time zones on a public-private investment deal.

As I said before, until you can plot the cost-benefit calculus on a graph where REAL NUMBER approximations start to approach a convergence point...and you can make empirical predictions about how to close any remaining gaps...it is not a proposal living in the real world. Tagging the whole thing 'otherworldly' to basic economic behavior to nullify the very meaning of numbers is no less fantastical than "I just got a feelin' in my gut" wishful thing. It's just substituting one debunked fantasy world for another. Same with selective citations of facts like what drop-in-bucket share of infrastructure is new amid a 45-mile sea of ancient infrastructure. Quantify, quantify, quantify it. At least with general trending that helps close the cavernous plausibility gap. But certainly not with claims of 'otherworldliness' as if there's some equally valid 2 + 2 = 5 parallel-universe mathematics in use here not seen anywhere else in the world.


The "business" case for the State would also need to take into account the impact on state expenditures and revenues that increased employment would bring. What impact on benefits and social assistance ("welfare") programs would increased employment have? What impact would increased employment and property values have on state aid requirements for local schools? If you have even minimal impact on any of these major line items the "business" case for state government starts to make a lot of sense much faster than it would as a traditional railroad business case.

This is not to say that every investment is justified because something "might" workout "eventually" within the next 50 years. But it is to say that something like the Mountain Division is much closer to being viable than a rehabilitation of the line to Anson or Madison.


This statement is missing a whole paragraph or five in-between that actually provides the numbers for bigger economic impact in Fryeburg vs. Madison, plotted against the extremely higher cost of reactivating 45-mile line to Fryeburg that hasn't been used in 30+ years vs. de-embargoing the 29-mile line to Madison that was last used 3 years ago. Or which explains in numbers the differing regional employment and rail carload characteristics of a prospective water bottling operation vs. an actual large paper mill being reactivated to some share of its former capacity. Or the ancillary users of the less expensive embargoed line that had 2-3 active customers upon last use vs. a single-customer reactivation where the '07 Mountain Div. study crunched out a hard ceiling of $2M annually in cumulative prospective other customers if every single business prospect between Westbrook and PS turned up rainbows...which the study concluded was nearly unattainable in the real world.

Follow through on your own stated metrics in that first paragraph to produce the empirical evidence that reaches the conclusion in the second paragraph. That is not a skippable step.

If I were to choose any project to criticize it would the rehabilitation of the Lewiston Industrial Track. I find it objectionable on multiple levels to include the fact that the state did not acquire the whole right of way, the few existing freight customers (Knight-Celotex and Grimmels) were employers with marginal economic impact to the area, the route would have stub-ended any future passenger service in Lewiston and not allowed through trains further to the north (again ... long term thinking not "tomorrow"), and (perhaps worst of all) the investment did nothing to support through freight traffic on the existing main line.

The project "is what it is" and I hope that Grimmel's, Pan Am and MaineDOT can make the best of it. But I would not prioritize that branch for investment of any kind any time soon, if ever, again.


I don't disagree with this, but on the flipside...Grimmels is providing *some* amortization of MEDOT's investment whereas that 4 miles of disconnected rail they laid at the same time on the Mountain has paid back nothing since then. And those 4 miles of re-laid track do nothing to close the gaping hole in the cost-benefit convergence we need to prove at timetables before the heat death of the universe for PS...not when the other 91% of the corridor has gotten no work. Not to be too Captain Obvious about it...but one of those criticism-worthy spendings has factually paid back something on its investment 10 years into its amortization while one has not. Neither may reach goal of full amortization, but can you truly call one past-tense decision empirically worse than another when something cost-recovered >> nothing cost-recovered a decade in? Amortization-by-decade is, after all, one of the metrics public investment proposals try to self-hold themselves to. If 'otherworldly physics' apply here, somebody needs to explain that first to all levels of government who use those amortization-over-time metrics ploys as the chosen physics their ROI is supposed to obey to distinguish good investments from bad.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby Cowford » Wed Oct 04, 2017 9:13 pm

Sorry to pile more on, GO'Keefe, but a couple additional points.

Capital, whether in the public or private realm, is a scarce resource. So an acceptable return on investment is an imperative in either sphere. There's a reason we only have traffic lights at certain intersections when lives would be saved if they were ubiquitous.

Ok, about that return. Again, both public and private entities should (and do) consider collateral or indirect benefits in investment decisions. But a big caution here: This is where figures don't lie, but liars figure. The further you get from the direct benefit, the greater the risk of exaggeration, unfair attribution, etc. And I can't think of a better example of this than - yep - the Mountain Division Rail Restoration Project TIGER GRANT submission by ME DOT, Sept 15 2009, page 21. According to ME DOT, employment in the propane industry within the Route 113 corridor will grow 26% with the return of rail. The paper states that employment will grow due to increased manufacturing activity that rail will stimulate. Now look at propane growth... at start up, they'll immediately capture 50 carloads/yr - you can assume that this is existing business moving by truck. The long-term growth potential is an additional 50 carloads per year. How they calculated that increased volume is not clear, but to propose that the propane industry will need to hire 14 additional people to distribute the equivalent of 4 truckloads of propane weekly is ludicrous. But hey! It's all in a fancy package, stated with authority and says what people want to hear... so let's all pretend it's true.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby S1f3432 » Thu Oct 05, 2017 6:06 pm

by gokeefe » Mon Oct 02, 2017 6:17 pm
F-line,

To the best of my knowledge ... Including some in person ... The rail is 112# or better ... Could be less in some parts but I have yet to see it.

When I left in 1986 the Mountain was 85lb. from east of PT Limit to Sawyers River and Crawford Notch to West of Whitefield, and 100lb.from Sawyers River to Crawford Notch and west of Whitefield to St. Johnsbury. Very little of it was 39 ft- most had been cropped
to 33 ft. during relay process over time to get rid of battered and bent ends. During later years because of a lack of relay rail and daily
broken rails the section crews resorted to mini rail jobs where they would crop a number of 33's with broken ends to 30 ft and reinstall
to gain a number of 33's that could be used individually elsewhere. The 100 lb on the Vermont end originally started at Lunenburg and
an old section forman told be it was relay from the Low Road mainline when the 112 was installed there. The section foreman in Whitefield
took it upon himself to raid scrap rail piles on the neighboring sections for 100 lb sticks which he cropped and started working from
Lunenburg back towards Whitefield and he was just short of the highway crossing at Scott's at the end. I remember having to scrounge up a pair of 100 lb insulated joints when he made it into the signal circuit there. And 75 lb existed on many of the sidetracks. East of the
ME/NH State line, where ballast was mostly fine sand/cinders/mud, it could be truely worrisome to watch 5 units and 75-80 cars
rocking down thru the countryside at 30-35 mph. That rail is all still there, save for the little rebuild in South Windham, along with
30+ years for tie rot and roadbed erosion.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby S1f3432 » Thu Oct 05, 2017 6:30 pm

Adding a little to the above post, the last pass of a Sperry Rail Test Car, can't remember if if was fall of 82 or in 1983 took
better than a week- I was lucky enough to have to flag crossings where there were flashers or automatic crossing protection.
That way I was on hand to bond any rail change-outs in the circuit. On the 85 lb sections they were routinely finding more
than 100 defects per mile, mostly bolt-hole fractures. Each defect was an immediate 10mph slow order so the section crews
as well as an extra gang followed along changing rails as soon as possible. The scrap rail piles had all been scoured in advance
for anything suitable to be cropped for relay and in some cases the defective rails were cropped in place- two 16 1/2 for a 33.
Quite a project- the section crews looked forward to shot of overtime but everyone was happy when it was over.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby gokeefe » Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:03 pm

My God ... I had absolutely no idea it was so bad. Thanks for the perspective.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby MEC407 » Fri Oct 06, 2017 11:15 am

That's exactly how it was when I did a speeder trip from Standish to just east of Fryeburg back in 2004-2005. Many of the ties still had date nails, and some of those date nails were from my grandparents' childhood years.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby S1f3432 » Fri Oct 06, 2017 6:11 pm

Another fun day for the Steep Falls and Fryeburg section crews was the day YR-1 stopped to switch the feed mill
in Steep Falls and it was discovered that the trailing unit had a broken wheel, with a pie shaped piece missing. This
mandated a track inspection before RY-2 could proceed that evening. The missing piece of wheel was found laying
in the track between Fryeburg and Brownfield and a number of rails needed to be changed out but wasn't as bad as
everyone feared it would be.
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Re: The Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division

Postby Dick H » Mon Oct 09, 2017 8:18 am

There is a large stock pile of new ties just west of the Bartlett freight house
crossing. Must be a tie replacement job in the works soon or in 2018.
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