Crazy Transit Pitches (Maine Edition)

Dr. StrangeHat

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Another potential usage for the Mountain Division could be a similar set-up with what Boston Sand & Gravel does with the Conway Branch of the B&M. The Mountain Division comes within 3000 feet of Shaw Brothers operation in Gorham, though they'd have to build a bridge across the river. Their H Pit in Windham is only about 1700 feet from the line, and there are numerous existing quarries and potential locations for new quarries along or near the line all the way into NH. I'd certainly love to see them somehow connect their pits off Methodist Road in Westbrook with their main operation in Gorham with rail via the New England grid ROW, if the terrain allows. The amount of dump truck traffic between those pits and their Gorham operation is, at times, overwhelming.
 

Cosakita18

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Another potential usage for the Mountain Division could be a similar set-up with what Boston Sand & Gravel does with the Conway Branch of the B&M. The Mountain Division comes within 3000 feet of Shaw Brothers operation in Gorham, though they'd have to build a bridge across the river. Their H Pit in Windham is only about 1700 feet from the line, and there are numerous existing quarries and potential locations for new quarries along or near the line all the way into NH. I'd certainly love to see them somehow connect their pits off Methodist Road in Westbrook with their main operation in Gorham with rail via the New England grid ROW, if the terrain allows. The amount of dump truck traffic between those pits and their Gorham operation is, at times, overwhelming.
I know this forum isn't intended to be a discussion of freight rail operations, but it is worth noting that the Ossipee sand pit is only anticipated to last until around 2030, at which point it will be more or less out of material (Which is why NHN has been eager to diversify the traffic it carries) The Mountain Division runs through the same sandy sediments as the Ossipee pit, and it seems reasonable that the right operator could create new sand and gravel rail traffic to feed all the concrete-hungry construction projects in Boston.
 

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....though they'd have to build a bridge across the river.
This, in a nutshell, answers its own question. It's a re-microwaving of all the extremely capital-intensive, return-poor prior studies MEDOT did on the Mountain in total desperation. Freight economics by its lonesome isn't going to pull in a reach that far out of grasp.

I know this forum isn't intended to be a discussion of freight rail operations, but it is worth noting that the Ossipee sand pit is only anticipated to last until around 2030, at which point it will be more or less out of material (Which is why NHN has been eager to diversify the traffic it carries) The Mountain Division runs through the same sandy sediments as the Ossipee pit, and it seems reasonable that the right operator could create new sand and gravel rail traffic to feed all the concrete-hungry construction projects in Boston.
"Sandy sediments" does not mean you have an economically returnable sandpit at your fingertips. Ossippee Pit mines the stuff with a level of purity you can't find in just any old deposit. But yeah...they studied just about every economically passable form of freight operations across the Mountain Div. in all those wasted MEDOT studies and found nothing economically viable to hang a revived line around. They most definitely surveyed mining ops too while they were at it. Not enough annual rail carloads of economically mined material at any one site, for a variety of reasons.


Speaking of BS&G...they do have agreements to second-source from the Pike Industries pit on NH 16 and the Conway Branch in Madison, NH about 20 miles north of Ossippee Pit. NHDOT's reactivation study of the out-of-service 23 miles of Conway Branch (mothballed by B&M '75-ish but never abandoned) drew mutual interest from NHN at running sand trains up to Madison and from Conway Scenic at running passenger trains from North Conway to Dover Downeaster station, and priced out pretty attractively on ROI for the dual-carrier action. Honestly, if it weren't for NHDOT never spending money on anything for any reason ever except toll revenue that Conway reactivation probably would've been done already given the strong commercial-backed interests behind it. There is absolutely nothing biz-related in MEDOT's old Mountain Div. studies--tall tales of "near-misses" with the pellet mill and Poland Springs aside (neither prospect coming anywhere close as hyped)--that could hold a candle to NHN's statement of "Yes, we will ASAP start running to Madison Pit and share in the rebuild costs" statement from the Conway reactivation study.

Ironically it's that sleeper prospect for Conway reactivation that essentially drives the final nail in the Mountain Div.'s coffin from MEDOT's standpoint. Ski country would once again be reachable by a cross-platform transfer at Dover Station to Conway Scenic from any old Downeaster slot and/or an Amtrak-chartered nonstop seasonal special originating from North Station or Portland via Dover akin to the Boston-North Conway ski charters B&M used to run every winter until 1971. It would literally be faster to take the long way to Dover and go up at NHN's & Conway Scenic's pretty decent native speeds (35 MPH passenger either side of the out-of-service gap) than it would be to rebuild the Mountain Div's entire shot-to-piss roadbed substrate all the way to Fryeburg from the ground up and spend oneself completely into a hole straining to keep similar clock time on the Portland direct. As long as NHDOT is sitting on that Conway reactivation and telling the snowmobile lobbies that that corridor is hands-off there's no juice for anything coming west out of Portland because the Dover linchpin is mountable at tolerable speeds for enormously less $$$. And has the guaranteed ROI from two for-profit carriers to make the economic case for it. If/when NHDOT ever realizes it's playing a longer game than pure add-a-lane tollbooth instant gratification...they'll get off their asses and do it because it's a self-starter. You couldn't claim any prospects for the Mountain in ME as "self-starting"...not to any remotely similar degree.
 
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PWMFlyer

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The problem is the idiot who built his building on the right of way in Madison NH. The rail bed has been ripped up leaving a large gap from Madison to the pit on NNC. NHDOT somehow looked the other way. We were in negotiations with the NHDOT to reopen the line and buy Conway scenic to allow freight and passenger to Dover. We did a rail study and found Poland Spring was onboard as was several others. But, PAR was not open at the time. Also MEDOT negotiated to have all water trucked to Waterville and utilize the transloading facility vs Portland. So that went out the door
 

PWMFlyer

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CSX has added MTN to its route which could be only mile 0-3 sappi mill
 

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The problem is the idiot who built his building on the right of way in Madison NH. The rail bed has been ripped up leaving a large gap from Madison to the pit on NNC. NHDOT somehow looked the other way. We were in negotiations with the NHDOT to reopen the line and buy Conway scenic to allow freight and passenger to Dover. We did a rail study and found Poland Spring was onboard as was several others. But, PAR was not open at the time. Also MEDOT negotiated to have all water trucked to Waterville and utilize the transloading facility vs Portland. So that went out the door
What encroachment? It's a great expanse of wilderness between Ossippee Pit and Madison Pit, interrupted only by the rail speeder club on NH 113 in Madison that fixed up a stretch of track and a series of grade crossings to boat docks along Silver Lake. There are no large structures anywhere on the ROW following Google.

It's also not a PAR line. NHDOT bought it from B&M years before PAR ever came on the scene, and any residual freight rights were extinguished when NH Northcoast got the franchise on the branch in 1985. NHN is a full common carrier; PAR can't refuse loads from them in Dover without getting slapped by the feds. That Nestle/Poland Spring plays Maine gov't like a fiddle is old hat. The last resurgence of Mountain Div. over-hype was over a Fryeburg transload Nestle baited them into considering...but obviously the state didn't back the money truck vigorously enough because it was out of consideration almost as quickly as it came. I wouldn't trust the realness of a Nestle multimodal proposal pitch as far as I could throw it given their rep for trolling around.

CSX has added MTN to its route which could be only mile 0-3 sappi mill
...which will be a money-loser at SAPPI's current rate of only taking a few inbound loads per week with its lone remaining pulp machine, requiring a dedicated PO-1 local for just 3-4 cars of theirs mixed in with however many cars of propane Dead River is swapping out in a given week. SAPPI hasn't shipped any outbound product in years. CSX hates chintzy industrial tracks more than even PAR does. But CSX will pay to relocate customers whereas PAR will find a way to sabotage the job and drive the business away. So if SAPPI goes , Dead River is going to be getting an offer they can't refuse to relocate to the Bishop St. Industrial Track (which is just a stopover on a longer local) or in range of the main yard in South Portland rather than hold down a staffed job of its own to shunt a couple propane tankers 3 miles out-of-range of all their other jobs. The smallest industrial track CSX retains New England that requires a dedicated local (East Walpole, via Norwood Central, run 3x a week out of Walpole) as opposed to just being a stopover on a larger run...does about 2 dozen cars every other day. The Mountain is a priority expunging under CSX bean-counters if SAPPI doesn't reinvest at all in more loads @ Westbrook. They'll payola Dead River to better environs and scrape the whole thing off their books. If they can't bury those loads inside the duties of another local like the lumber yard on Bishop St...which isn't going to be ops-possible as long as Mountain Jct. points permanently south back to the yard...it's going to be a targeted cost cut under the new regime. That's just how they roll.

Don't get your hopes up too high that this line is still going to be available in 10 years. It really is razor's-edge all in SAPPI's court, because it's a total money-loser to waste a whole local round-trip on just a few weekly cars.
 
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PWMFlyer

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5 PROPERTY ISSUES Although the State owns the corridor from Route 28 to the Conway/Albany town line, there are some property issues that would need to be resolved as part of a reconstruction project. The parcel of former railroad property immediately north of Route 113 in Silver Lake (MP 126.20) to the end of the freight house (MP 126.30) is now privately owned. The Department would have to purchase this parcel or obtain a railroad easement before the railroad can operate again. Bureau staff members have contacted the current owner, who is receptive to restoration of rail service. The section of rail from approximately MP 131.30 to MP 132.00 is located adjacent to Alvin J. Coleman & Sons’ property and haul road, and the business operation is using the railroad property for storing equipment, materials, and vehicles. It has also placed large boulders between the rails on a portion of the line as a guardrail for trucks using the adjacent haul road. This area of encroachment is on both sides of Madison Road (Route 113). The encroachment on the railroad line in this area would need to be resolved before train service can be restored. Some encroachments also exist on the corridor owned by the Conway Scenic Railroad, north of the Albany-Conway town line.

9Otherwise, most of the railroad line is relatively free of encroachments, but some appear to exist at MP 115.00 (junk car yard) and MP 117.90 (mobile homes and sheds). Another potential encroachment problem is a church building adjacent to the line in Center Ossipee
 

Dr. StrangeHat

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So if SAPPI goes , Dead River is going to be getting an offer they can't refuse to relocate to the Bishop St. Industrial Track (which is just a stopover on a longer local) or in range of the main yard in South Portland rather than hold down a staffed job of its own to shunt a couple propane tankers 3 miles out-of-range of all their other jobs. The smallest industrial track CSX retains New England that requires a dedicated local (East Walpole, via Norwood Central, run 3x a week out of Walpole) as opposed to just being a stopover on a larger run...does about 2 dozen cars every other day. The Mountain is a priority expunging under CSX bean-counters if SAPPI doesn't reinvest at all in more loads @ Westbrook. They'll payola Dead River to better environs and scrape the whole thing off their books. If they can't bury those loads inside the duties of another local like the lumber yard on Bishop St...which isn't going to be ops-possible as long as Mountain Jct. points permanently south back to the yard...it's going to be a targeted cost cut under the new regime. That's just how they roll.
UNE owns all that land at the end of Bishop St (former Pike pit). Given their expansion plans for the Stevens Ave. campus, I doubt they'd be willing to give that up easily.
 

markhb

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UNE owns the former pit, but that line extends all the way to BlueLinx, parallel to Warren Ave. The question becomes, would Dead River want to move out of Westbrook and into Portland, and what would it cost to move given that property values on Warren Ave. have been going up-up-up since it became the city's Designated Weed Zone?
 

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Bishop St. is not the only place they can feasibly go. We're getting lost in the weeds here nitpicking that. The point is that CSX modus operandi is to pay the customer to relocate rather than keep the money-losing industrial track that burns a full local crew to shunt a few cars, and that's a humongous difference from PAR. The sheer size of CSX allows them to do that. Dead River will have a cornucopia of "TAKE MY MONEY!" options to choose from in the event that happens, so ascribing permanance to their current location solely on the fact that it's only been around 6 years ducks the real forces at work here. They'll happily take CSX's money to relocate if the alternative in a SAPPI-less Mountain Branch is seeing their rail rates get jacked and service levels get slashed from their business being too revenue-poor to float a dedicated job.

If you are overinvesting your eggs in Dead River's basket for the purpose holding down freight service on the Mountain until MEDOT can get its act together on commuter rail...stop. It's simply not going to work out that way. The fate of the branch still lies on SAPPI's back alone.
 

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Tom Nevers

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Dr. StrangeHat

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I'd love to see the whole of Union Station Plaza completely torn down and replaced with a first-class mixed-use development that includes a train station. My guess is that we're more likely to see them add a covered platform to the back of the building and turn one or more of the existing retail spaces into a terminal lobby. That would be better than the current situation with the PTC, but not ideal.
 

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Pages 53 and 54 of the report Tom Nevers linked to show a couple of concepts for the Union Station site.
 

Dr. StrangeHat

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Pages 53 and 54 of the report Tom Nevers linked to show a couple of concepts for the Union Station site.
That whole property has so much more potential than those concepts. You could fill the whole lot with one large or a series of large 5-8 story buildings that house retail along St. John Street and Congress Street, commercial space above that, a parking garage tucked inside the buildings that you can't even see from the exterior, and a train station, with residential on the upper floors. The sunset views alone from those upper floor units would be worth it. If a drop-off and taxi/Uber/Lyft standing zone is absolutely needed as the study seems to imply, then you can have that on the Congress Street end or preferably on the MMC parking garage end.
 

Tom Nevers

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That whole property has so much more potential than those concepts. You could fill the whole lot with one large or a series of large 5-8 story buildings that house retail along St. John Street and Congress Street, commercial space above that, a parking garage tucked inside the buildings that you can't even see from the exterior, and a train station, with residential on the upper floors. The sunset views alone from those upper floor units would be worth it. If a drop-off and taxi/Uber/Lyft standing zone is absolutely needed as the study seems to imply, then you can have that on the Congress Street end or preferably on the MMC parking garage end.
It’ll be a disappointment if the station moves to the old Union Station location and the new station is dwarfed by the nearby parking garage.

Because we’re in crazy transit pitches-
Portland has approximately 1/11 the population of Boston so the new station should be approximately 1/11 of the new development at North Station. But seriously, you don’t have to look far to find nice, mixed-use stations that make good use of the real estate.
 

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You can *somewhat* decouple the question of what Big Thing™ to do with the Union Station parcel from the immediacy of improving the train schedules via deletion of the PTC reverse. It's worth 15 minutes improvement instantaneously to the Downeaster schedule to just have *a* mainline platform at all. You can argue till the cows come home on what's the best crown-jewel land usage for the parcel next-door. At the end of the day, DE ridership is going to be improved to greater and more tangible degree by the immediate schedule tightening. The site optics are more just the background amplification...absolutely, positively important but not necessarily something you need to solve in one killshot.

Quad-track the mainline: 2 freight passers on the west/jail side of the ROW, and 2 passenger tracks wrapping around a well-sheltered 800 ft. island platform similar to Worcester Union Station's new platform. And raise the ROW up to overpass Congress St. and kill that grade crossing while they're at it. The up-and-over egress can lead into the grandest new train hall the region has ever seen...or a makeshift temp parking lot at the demoed strip mall until everybody emerges from battle with some sort of consensus build. But if that consensus is going to be an ugly fight, DO NOT delay the platform relocation and track work that can be done decoupled and up-front. It's literally starving the DE for more revenue the more years you dawdle at PTC with the 15-minute schedule penalty. If this site master plan is going to be any heightened risk for thru-the-looking-glass levels of navel-gazing paralysis...then they need to in good conscience put some self-controls on the overthinking potential by just getting the dang platform set up. Worry later about the completism, because I guarantee that for every kvetch about how that they need to get the master plan *just...so* or every excuse to keep PTC on borrowed time unless they can find a more perfect uni-transportation integration more DE tix revenue rides on getting that 15-min. schedule anvil removed sooner than later vs. whatever perfectionism they want to debate about site plans.

Simply decouple platform build from building build if the local authorities can't be trusted to not bog this process down, and git 'R dun on the schedule reduction. If that means having a spartan island platform for 5 years until everybody joins hands and sings kumbaya on what Most Perfect train hall is going to ultimately be attached to that platform's egress...so be it. It's the better alternative than letting debates over its own conceptual bigness drag progress down, while precluding nothing when that Most Perfect Building does get erected.
 

Dr. StrangeHat

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Yeah, I think the best bet is to transfer the station at a baseline with supporting infrastructure and then build around that. I wasn't suggesting they wait until the dream development emerges to do anything. That dream development will require private partnership, though. Portland won't get into the development game again. TIF could be arranged to support building the dream train hall in conjunction with whatever gets developed on the property.

And just for hypotheticals, since this is a crazy pitch thread...

Capture1.PNG


Can you imagine how much demand there would be for luxury upper level condos with westward sunset views, direct access to the Downeaster to Boston or Freeport, walking distance to Hadlock Field/Portland Expo, walking distance to Thompsons Point, easy access to the highway if needed, easy access to the Fore River Parkway walking trails, two nearby hospitals, etc.? If I was a developer, I'd be salivating at the idea of putting something grand on this spot with a partnership with Portland to build a train station.
 
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