Freight and General New England RR News

F-Line to Dudley

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Take this with a HUGE grain of salt, but the rumor mill over on RR.net (from "sources" within PAR) is saying the deal for Pan Am's sale is closer to done that what is being said publicly. Rumored to be some sort of announcement at the end of the month, and the rumor mill is further identifying CN as the buyer.

Again, take that with a huge grain of salt, but that would prove interesting if true.
Two things:

Take "internal" rumors with a necessary caution, because the one constant about PAR is that no one--least of all his employees--knows what Tim Mellon is thinking at any given moment. There's always insider gossip, but he's proven just as liable to zag when the world says with 99% certainty that he must zig. It's a very hard organization to read with any clarity, because they eschew all the traditional business-decision drivers. All-private firm with literally one shareholder and suspected few if any creditors to answer to. And Mellon has made a lifetime of not answering to anyone except himself on own principle. Norfolk Southern will exert steering over the PAS side of the business since that's a straight 50/50 split ownership, but the partitioning of east-of-Ayer is about as literally "thar be dragons" as it can get as far as Mellon being unbounded by what he could choose. He's obviously chasing a big retirement check...but the great big wildcard is that since he's not answerable to anyone else he doesn't have to listen to a high bid if he doesn't want to, and already has demonstrated a significant enough history of not doing so.

Second...absolutely nothing happens fast in the game of RR mergers because of the Federal approvals involved. An "announcement" could get made tomorrow at warp-speed...and then we'll just sit here for the rest of calendar year 2020 watching it grind to a halt in front of the Surface Transportation Board as several dozen filings more boring and arcane than watching paint dry get collected and adjudicated. Not even necessarily for any showstoppers...just data collection completism (of which PAR is about as reliable as a "dog eats homework" excuse). If a Class I carrier like CN or NS is involved in the transaction, it goes doubly slow because Class I biz movements get scrutinized at the most micro-level for antitrust vetting. It took >6 months for NS to get itself rubber-stamped in 2008 for the PAS partnership that--issues-wise--truly was a rubber-stamp job. The presence of other Class I's on the commenting end like CSX and CP adds to the paperwork, as Pan Am has business relationships with those carriers too out of Albany mega-hub. It may take much longer than it did in '08 this time around because a Class I (NS) already has the incumbent 50% stake in PAS, so another Class I like CN buying PAR and either A) buying out NS's 50% of PAS to take control of the whole system, B) partnering 50/50 with another Class I (helloooo antitrust!), or C) partitioning the system at Ayer for two separate sales all means there's going to be two Class I transacting parties here in some proportion or another. That instantaneously triggers the most mucho complicated possible process with the STB because of the possible multi- Class I involvement with money changing hands.


At minimum I don't think you'll see any sale take effect until Winter 2021 at earliest, because at the regulatory level the process hasn't even begun until the first STB docket is filed. And while I would agree that CN is probably the leading candidate for the announcement, the process of adjudicating the sale is so insanely complicated there will be many twists and turns along the way before we know the final makeup of who gets what. In the meantime, all of the secondary players are already in a fury of conference calls with each other plotting out new alliancing strategies around every possible permutation of the new world order...be it CN or not-CN. So this will hardly be the only deal of consequence struck in/around the Northeast. It's going to kick off a furious domino fall of other RR's making deals with other RR's...until basically everyone halfway major in the region has had their default biz circumstances in some way critically changed before the dust settles. Who the would-be PAR buyer(s)' alliances might be plays just as much into it...and there may be mergers/acquisitions/deals-cut as far-flung as Quebec and the Maritime Provinces as direct outflow of the ex- Boston & Maine changing hands.
 
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Arlington

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Will the states of Maine or Mass* have a moment that is "best" or "most likely" or "most leveraged" in which to ask for concessions or buy any part?


* assuming that NH excludes itself on general libertarian / pro-road principles.
 

WormtownNative

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Will the states of Maine or Mass* have a moment that is "best" or "most likely" or "most leveraged" in which to ask for concessions or buy any part?


* assuming that NH excludes itself on general libertarian / pro-road principles.
NHDOT has bought rail lines when PAR abandoned them after consolidating B&M, MEC, & ST under one roof, (see the PDF F-Line linked to upthread), but the lines that Pan Am owns makes them money, and I'm not sure how that would work out for the sale. My guess is whoever buys it would like to retain them all, unless the respective lines are so far gone in condition that whoever buys it deems not worth repairing.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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NHDOT has bought rail lines when PAR abandoned them after consolidating B&M, MEC, & ST under one roof, (see the PDF F-Line linked to upthread), but the lines that Pan Am owns makes them money, and I'm not sure how that would work out for the sale. My guess is whoever buys it would like to retain them all, unless the respective lines are so far gone in condition that whoever buys it deems not worth repairing.
The sale is already complicated enough with the west-of-Ayer PAS side involving Norfolk Southern as one set of transactions and the PAR side east-of-Ayer being its own straight-up solo transaction that adding still more moving parts with state asset dumps isn't going to happen pre-transaction. It'll be afterwards, under the new ownership...but not knowing with any certainty who the new ownership will be makes that useless speculation now. The only things that'll transact prior are transactions already in semi-motion with speculated pre-existing M.O.U.'s like: dump-to-MassDOT over the Worcester Main, sales of the 2 recent abandonments Hampton-Portsmouth & Concord-Boscawen to NHDOT; and *maybe* that isolated St. Johnsbury, VT-NH state line disconnected stump now that the subletter is formally extinct (but only if there's been any ongoing negotiation with VTrans to-date...if nothing to-date then they're hitting pause right now). This means that something needing to transact like the abandoned Lowell Industrial Track held for ransom for the Bruce Freeman Trail Billerica-Downtown Lowell extension won't be put on a rush to clear off the books. MassDOT will have to wait until the new owners, who I'm sure will be more eager to scrape that off without playing games than PAR has been.


The wrinkle the rumor mill isn't treating despite fact that momentum is coalescing around CN as the primary buyer is how Norfolk Southern's 50% ownership of PAS shapes the partitioning of the system. Every industry speculator has sort of agreed amongst themselves that NS Corporate is running cold for expansion and way more likely to sell/retreat-to-Albany or stand-pat without being a player for solo control of PAS. Well...how's that going to work in front of the Feds when 2 Class I's are direct-exchanging cash? Automatically triggers the most stringent possible review process. To illustrate how hard that becomes:
  • It took YEARS for NS to acquire from Canadian Pacific the Binghamton-Schenectady line that connects PAS with the rest of their national system, because of the scrutiny involved. That line, the ex- Delaware & Hudson South Main, ended up transacting to NS after months of review mainly on the grounds that CP was installed as a the latest in a string of multiple 'steward' operators (later taking over as owner) of that line in the aftermath of the D&H's bankruptcy...and thus its circumstances were outside CP's core network making it able to transact to a fellow Class I. That transaction wasn't a sure thing until the Feds started adopting that line of thought.
  • CSX and CN right now are mired in a transaction stalemate over sale of CSX's Buffalo-Montreal mainline. CSX put that up for open bid because it gets close-but-no-cigar to Port of Montreal and wasn't swinging its desired weight because of paper barriers at the Port they never managed to solve. CN won the high bid, but after gaining conditional approval after TORTUROUS comment period from concerned shortlines & New York State along the route the takeover date has now been spiked and they're back at the drawing board settling details. This one still has the potential to completely collapse and be withdrawn (in which case the holding companies like Gennesee & Wyoming are probably going to win). To show how interconnected Class I railroading is: the probability of collapse on this New York deal is without question heightening CN's urgency to buy into New England.
^^It's fucking brutal-difficulty^^ to thrash through all that paperwork. So despite our two Class I players being sorta known, we don't know if. . .
  • ...CN has the regulatory wherewithal to buy out NS's 50% of PAS and go all the way to Albany. The antitust scrutiny will be maximally intense if that's the deal.
  • ...NS is truly in the "sell" mode everyone assumes, or if they're willing to pony up for the other 50% of PAS. Because that wouldn't technically be an expansion, just securing what they already have.
  • ...CN is only interested in the PAR side of the system to Ayer/Worcester and there's going to be an outright partition of NS/CN at Ayer. CN can hit all the same carriers out of Worcester County hub that they would in Albany mega-hub, so is it even necessary for them to go whole-hog? The transaction would trade one form of added complexity (partitioning PAR's holdings) for far less regulatory complexity in cleaving the Class I's at Ayer/Worcester instead of muddying it up with overlap or direct $$$ exchanged.

And if we don't even know the industry machinations on any of ^^that^^, it's doubly useless to try to speculate what the states might get after the sale. We just know that MassDOT doesn't need very much except for the abandoned Lowell Industrial and the 5 miles of Wachusett CR extension ownership from underneath PAS, both of which are pretty academic transactions. They'd happily take the Stony Brook & Lowell Branches parts of the freight main if offered, but they probably won't be offered and the state won't be the one asking. VTrans doesn't need anything except the St. Johnsbury stub, which is an academic transaction. NHDOT doesn't need anything except the 2 abandoned lines they're currently negotiating. The conventional wisdom that the NH Main will need to change hands once commuter rail (at least past Nashua-poke) comes along still holds, because while there's lots of empty PAR-pissed sidings to regain useful revenue there's nothing otherworldly strategic about Nashua-Concord. It's also conventional wisdom that anybody dishing off the NH Main is going to force NHDOT to take the ultra low-margin "Hillbilly" (Hillsboro) Branch in tow despite that being a zero passenger prospect. Nobody buying PAS is taking offers from ConnDOT for the Highland until it's proven if that massive Poland Spring intermodal prospect in Naugatuck pans out. And it's understood that Maine has a multitude of tougher decisions, sickly branchlines, and limited finances for investment...so there's no strategic clarity yet on what their first move is.

Since none of ^those^ state-level factors really change pre- or post-sale with exception of "whither CN-or-other's interest in Northern Maine?", none of those transactions are going to be rushed in pre-sale. Nor are the likely prices for them liable to change pre- or post-sale excepting if Northern Maine's fortunes take a major turn for better or for worse. So it's pretty much same as it ever was all points south of Portland, except for all states hoping we net the most passenger-cooperative buyer (all of whom will be more cooperative than PAR was).
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Now, for something less insider-ball: RATE MY FREIGHT PAINT JOB! Here are the biggest players involved in the labyrinthine interconnected world around this sale.

PAN AM
#1. Primary paint: navy blue. . .

Stately but thoroughly unexciting. At least it wears well with grime given that they're never ever cleaned. Yes, the airline logo is a total anachronistic joke. Waterville Shops have alternately experimented with painting the undersides and fuel tanks black at barely-noticeable difference, but otherwise this is pretty much the default look. All their locos are prefixed with "MEC" (Maine Central RR), because Mellon pays lower taxes registering his locos in Maine instead of Massachusetts. They've gotten rid of all but a couple of the "BM" (Boston & Maine) prefixed locos because of that. That, friends, is the mark of a championship-caliber cheapskate.

#2. "Old" Guilford (their 1983-2006 company name) black & orange. You know it's a dilapidated piece of shit if it shows up in Somerville wearing these faded colors! Looks like poop, runs like poop.


#3. WTF "Waterville hasn't touched it yet" acid-trip colors. . .

Newer-buy GE Dash 8's hand-me-down from CSX w/ CSX logo slashed out in black paint, MEC prefix hastily stenciled on, white/yellow/turquoise ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ temp nose job, and maybe some streaks of black spraypainted over ex-CSX yellow stripes (if they were feeling extra motivated). Nothing says "we care" like ^^this^^ level of presentation. Sloowwwwwly Waterville is starting to paint them in the blue PAR scheme, but at rate they're going they won't be done by the sale. These patch jobs are never seen in Boston; Norfolk Southern orders them bogarted to PAS first so they don't have to deal with the old rolling ruins anymore. These can be very hard to tell apart from the *actual* CSX locos that sometimes make the trip on the joint-venture "SEPO/POSE" Selkirk-Portland (via Worcester handoff) daily train. Sometimes 'real' CSX's and crossed-out-CSX-logo PAR patch jobs run back-to-back on the same train.

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NORFOLK SOUTHERN
Seen regularly on PAS into Ayer on the intermodal run-thrus from cross-country. Jet black with the "leaping pony" logo on the front. Hasn't changed in 35 years other than some years more white accenting than others. One of the industry's sharpest looks, and as owners of the legendary Pennsylvania RR Altoona Shops, NS likes to show off how immaculately maintained their power is...so the paint is usually spotless.

You are also likely to see NS's nationally famous lineup of Heritage Paint units take regular rotation on PAS, as they also like to show off the colors of all the defunct RR's that make up their system (no Boston & Maine or Maine Central heritage units at the moment; PAR had those instead, but recently sold them off to Conway Scenic RR. If NS buys out the remaining 50% of the Patriot Corridor they'll probably do up another maroon & gold B&M Minuteman scheme).

I almost want to root for NS to buy out the full 100% of the PAS side solely because these are so badass-looking.

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CSX
Regardless of what happens in this sale, they're still the biggest in New England by far because the B&A intermodal corridor is that mega-lucrative. Boring blue & yellow with absolutely nothing distinctive about it.

The "wagon" brackets around the logo appear on some of their locos to promote their truck intermodal brand. Some barely noticeable changes over the years in yellow accenting...otherwise bland sameness. The colors, as with the "CS" in the name, have their origin in long-ago predecessor RR Chesapeake & Ohio...but after going through the blender of umpteen mergers it no longer means anything. Literally, "CSX" = CSX...the company without a name. And you wonder why there are petition efforts to bring back the Chessie The Kitten mascot (originally C&O heritage, but last used on their most-recent corporate ancestor's hilariously tacky 70's-color scheme); who doesn't like cute kitties more than a soulless stock-listing symbol, amirite?

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CANADIAN NATIONAL

Still using the 1960's-era "mating worms"-lettering logo that was trendy at the time (see also NASA 1970's-90's, Penn Central, many others). Latest color scheme is red nose, black back, white stripe accents. Paint schemes have changed frequently with the times, but always a combo of red/black + white-accent. Very sharp, especially this latest-incarnation scheme.

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GENNESEE & WYOMING
G&W is a holding company, and all of its constituent RR's are still mostly run as independent companies despite some skids-greasing from Darien, CT Corporate HQ on ops & alliancing. 116 RR's owned & operated in the U.S., Canada, Eurozone, and UK...same damn paint on every single one differentiated only by the logo template. Providence & Worcester (MA/RI/CT), New England Central (CT/MA/VT), Connecticut Southern (CT/MA), and St. Lawrence & Atlantic (QUE/VT/NH/ME) all carry the look. If you squint extra hard you can see that the logos usually depict the states and/or some major landmark of the areas the individual RR runs through.





Boorrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiing! Okay, the scheme itself is fairly attractive...but the sameness across over 100 different RR's starts neutering any positives the design has going for it. At least they value corporate image enough to make sure each of their holdings keeps up regular cleaning & repainting...you never see a scuffed-up G&W paint job anywhere on the planet. Providence & Worcester had infinitely better scheme--red, dark chocolate, and white-stripe--when they were still indie. You can still see a bunch of the legacy units at Southbridge St. Yard in Worcester that haven't yet had their lobotomies by the G&W borg. Since they're the largest single RR that G&W owns, it would've been nice if they let P&W keep their own identity.

I suppose if these guys end up winning out for PAR the resulting paint scheme is a lateral trade on boringness...but will at least be better kept.

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VERMONT RAIL SYSTEM
The other holding-company RR in New England, key mainly for being the ever-shifting target of everyone else's alliances. They have separate divisions like G&W--Vermont Railway, Clarendon & Pittsford, Green Mountain, and Washington County RR--but are run as one unified system. Right now they're allianced with G&W over NECR + P&W to haul their goods from Bellows Falls, VT to Worcester and so touch both the PAS (directly) and PAR (with some help) sides of the system.

All-red with the mountain logo reflected in the arrangement of hazard stripes on the nose. Kinda boring, but they've stuck with the same unchanging look for all 55 years of their corporate existence. The only deviation is that when they run passenger excursions (which they do quite a bit), they'll stock it with a loco in the Green Mountain RR division's old green & yellow livery (note same "mountain stripes").

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CANADIAN PACIFIC
Influencing this sale from afar as they just last month re- took over the east-west Northern Maine mainline and Searsport Branch cutting south through Bangor...all of which got CN's rapt attention. PAS also does lots of interchanging with them in Albany, where they come down on the Adirondack corridor.

Being Canada's other big legacy Class I there's obviously lots of similarity with CN's look. No black, nose logo is block instead of "mating worms" script, white accenting varies by year depending on what the paint shop's mood is. They get wanderlust and change up fonts, accenting, etc. with perpetual restlessness...but the end result seems to always a whole lot of red and too little else interesting going on.

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J.D. IRVING LINES
Runs under New Brunswick Southern RR moniker in Canada, Eastern Maine Railway and Northern Maine Railway in Maine...but like VRS operates as a seamless railroad, NB Southern carrying the flag for all others. Irving will loom large in the settling-out after the main sale as an alliancing target.

Nice script font on the name...not many others do that. Other than that...meh. Straight ripoff of the "mountain stripes" of VRS and too much green/not enough black & yellow accent.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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So a bunch of Norfolk Southern execs were in-town touring up to Portland yesterday on the business train. Not necessarily a clear tea-leaves signal as they're often here unannounced for PAS-related boss visits and have visited Portland many times prior for a show-me of which past-Ayer parts of the system the PAS biz coattails continues on. But perhaps an early indicator that this is going to be either a PAS-to-NS/PAR-to-CN system partitioning (the pre-COVID conventional wisdom) or very competitive 1-on-1 bidding for the Ayer-Portland mainline. At minimum the timing during COVID (NS bigshots needing to come up from Virginia HQ) is a strike against the current Wall St. conventional wisdom that NS is in any sort of unilateral contraction mode.
 

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More than several qualified bidders, including several surprises. Process extended through end of August.
 

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Re: RATE MY PAINT SCHEME! (FL2D)

There are several other big bidders, each of whose color is GREEN.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Re: RATE MY PAINT SCHEME! (FL2D)

There are several other big bidders, each of whose color is GREEN.
All we know for sure is that Canadian Pacific has publicly said they aren't interested. But CP would've been the least-likely of the big boys to begin with, since they've got their brand new trans-Maine pickup to the Maritimes ports + interchange in Bangor freshly acquired and really don't have a lot else to gain from New England that they can't already work from both ends in Albany or Bangor through alliancing.

The Nerf bats are certainly out in force in the padded room of the RR.net thread as the railroaders whale on each other trying to see who can play a more convincing game of insider'er-than-thou. But all it ends up underscoring is that nobody truly has any tangible feel for where this might be going (which...well...is what the laymen and/or the actual paid business analysts could've told you right from the get-go...but Fight Clubbers gonna fight. . .).


Tim Mellon has put some bank out of Montreal in charge of shepherding the sale. But the bank in question is loosely affiliated with some of the other Mellon Family-folk in the NYC banking sector, so that rates as a "Duh" not a 'tell'.
 

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TransitMatters weighs in on the PAR sale.


Well-intentioned, but I'm not exactly sure they quite totally get both the extent and the limits of public participation here, so while they've got their facts straight it comes off a bit pollyanna-ish.

Critique, Pt. I. . .
  • The STB already accepts rigorous levels of feedback before approving a transaction, especially if any Class I freight carriers (CN, NS) are sniffing around. Every single New England state's DOT's will be filing a statement enumerating their stances, and where this intersects with priorities previously enumerated in the 10-year State Rail Plans they're required to file with the FRA. Data collection is so exhaustive because of that State Rail Plan filing requirement that it's almost impossible for any policy whoppers to sneak through. MassDOT, for all its sides-playing on passenger rail, is about as consistent as it comes to freight rail and freight vs. passenger policy. And to correct one immediate inaccuracy in the piece: yes...so will Rhode Island be filing a statement even though they're not touched by PAR, because so much of their own rail traffic is shaped by P&W's interchange with PAR.

  • Any interested party is free to file their own STB statement. Jesus, you should look at some of the paperwork overload the trail lobbies file whenever there's an abandonment or the NIMBY's file the rare times there's any brand new rail-served facility being built (Towns of Winchester, Grafton, Upton, and Woburn in particular have killed whole forests' worth of trees screaming in front of the feds about new transload sites). Now...the fact that especially when the NIMBY's start paper-slamming the Surf Board it tends to be a lot more grievance-shouting on the fed record than actual toothy legal challenges and the Board tends to rule very consistently against that doesn't mean they don't listen to substantive arguments. That doesn't straight-line correlate to "government money is as green as that of the Class I's" on regulating antitrust. The STB's caseload is much broader (some would say way too broad for effectiveness) than that. They listen very carefully to cases with merit. TM itself would probably get listened to very very carefully if/when they file a statement, so they should probably be doing more homework about this process rather than honing a talking point of alarm. Where's Aloisi here??? Isn't he the one to be able to tell this piece's author that this isn't an external public debate issue, but an internal legalese writing-and-acumen issue if they've got concerns to air? Study up if you want to leverage this process, TM...you need to be hitting this through a well-written brief, not a megaphone.

  • WHOPPER ALERT! "But for this neglect, some of the abandoned routes would have been helpful for passenger service (for example, the route through New Hampshire that historically linked Boston and Montreal); others could have hosted viable freight service." Wrong. The Northern Route was a terrible thru freight line to Vermont...steep grades, corkscrew curves, damn near bupkis for on-line business. It was barely used at all by B&M pre-dating PAR/Guilford except as a backup route for problems on the Conn River Line back when there were many more mission-critical branches in Western NH. By its '92 abandonment it had only hosted a handful of trains in a decade's span. If anything, it lasted as long as it did because deferred maint on the Conn River was the primary problem...so bad Amtrak tried (and lost) to eminent domain the mainline for the Montrealer. This is a complete misread of Freight Routing 101, and a terrible credibility-compromising example to lead off with.
I won't even get into the fact that the actual VTrans study for "high-speed" over that routing was a sick joke and that absent a kajillion dollars blasting alongside I-89 you're never going to do faster MTL service or higher patronage than tightening the screws on the L-shaped Springfield routing that was officially proposed by NNEIRI. No...let's stick to freight here. Because the Fitchburg Main + Conn River routings with their (Fitchburg-Ashburnham aside) gentle river valley grades have always carried enormously higher freight volumes than any mountain cut. This is the very reason Tim Mellon bought B&M in the first place. When he bought north-of-Portland's Maine Central in 1980 they were stuck with the Mountain Division across NH ski country as their primary outlet to Southern New England and the big boys in Albany...which required an expensively overpowered trip over the mountains every single day (with damn near nothing for local biz) as basic cost of doing business. The second they closed on the B&M sale and got access to the Western Route + Fitchburg Division they straight-up pulled out of the Mountain. That's how stratospheric an improvement the flatter but longer B&M alignment was. And every industry analyst said the Maine Central pretty much had to be merged with the B&M to be worth anything because the network flat-out didn't work anymore in the post-deregulation era without a better mainline routing.​
Today you don't wish and pray for economically sustainable freight on marginal alt routes. Stuff like 286,000 lb. loading weight, tall vertical clearance, and 40-60 MPH running speeds are hyper-strategic investments that pool to the trunklines that can deliver 24/7 traffic to the sites with biggest intermodal coattails...not spread diffusely and unsustainably over a sprawling map. That's what the U.S. deregulated for, and how the bankrupt RR's of the 70's became profitable again in the 80's and beyond. FFS, read up on this stuff before posting tripe like this, TM! Do you not see ass-from-elbows where this gives the public hand ENORMOUS power to chart the course over the Western Route???​
  • "The New Hampshire Main Line from Lowell to Manchester and Concord is an attractive target for extended regional rail service, but traffic has been allowed to wither and the signal system abandoned." Oh yes, count up the number of unused freight sidings Nashua to Concord and you'll see a tragedy at the hands of PAR "marketing". But let's also get something straight: freight economics don't favor big returns on local-yokel sidings anymore, and the biggest single loss of business on the NH Main is Bow Coal Power Plant putting itself up for sale and drawing down its coal train shipments from weekly to once every 2 months while we await the inevitable sale and closure. Any new carrier will be able to recoup lots of those empty sidings with "shootin' free throws" ease, so things can only go up. But there are no attractive transload sites in NH; Worcester County and Greater Portland have rail-to-truck drayage distance all sewn up. A whole different set of economics claimed Bow Coal; that's not the RR's fault. So while the NH Main can rebound tangibly under better stewardship...it's still going to be just the dueling Nashua yard feeders from East Deerfield and Lawrence coming up from Chelmsford and then local-yokel job NA-1 puttering north to whatever small sidings are on that day's manifest.
A grab-bag of Nashua-Concord sidings on NA-1 ends up no different to than a grab-bag of Nashua-Wilton sidings the days NA-1 covers the "Hillbilly Branch"...i.e. just fine and dandy with no signal system and 10 MPH speed floor. Therefore, they sunset the elderly and failing north-of-Nashua signal system, tore out their never-used passing sidings, and remain content to let speeds decay. New ownership shootin' dem free throws wouldn't see it any different. The only major change is that NA-1 will operate on-time and with adequate staffing to handle all the customers on a given day's manifest...correcting the 'slop-ops' hell that leaves PAR perpetually late for jobs and unable to finish in shift hours (it's rumored that they blow upwards of $1M per year on taxi fare relieving and restocking crews who ran out of hours before getting back to base). In contrast, PAR right now is renewing the Chelmsford-Nashua signal system and doing tie replacement to maintain Class 3 (60 MPH passenger/40 MPH freight) because those Nashua feeders have to get in/out timely to continue shoving along to their next yard destinations.​
What exactly is TM expecting here? This is the appropriate level of maint investment for a pure local-yokel line that's not going to transform into something wildly different fortunes-wise even with reclaimed business. You can point fingers over who spilled more milk long ago--PAR negligence or NH biz-climate indifference--but this is what the NH Main is. And the next overlord will be plenty satisfied with that, because they can make lots more money just shootin' a few free throws without getting all existential. Who should be getting existential? Well...as we've covered in depth these last few days, how about the NH Legislature that's still lollygagging on the Cap Corridor while their long-term economic prospects look ever internally bleaker and more firmly tied to hustling paychecks in Greater Boston.​

. . .

 

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Critique, Pt. II. . .
  • Citation of numerous lost branches in Maine. Well, yes, and PAR didn't help there withering the once sprawling Maine Central system to shreds. But look at what they direct-site as an example via article-linky: the 7-years out-of-service Madison Branch. It's true the branch was closed due to horrible track conditions. It also wouldn't have made a damn difference if it stayed open, because the paper mill that the 25+ mile branch served almost immediately closed...after years and years of declining carloads. Same has befallen MOST of Maine's paper industry, which is why the 20-mile Bucksport Branch out of Bangor is also now idle...as its source mill is not only closed but demolished forever to the ground. Neither Madison nor Bucksport have any potential customers right now, as MEDOT throws panicked proposals at the wall for port access at Bucksport (fat chance with the NIMBY's) and Poland Springs distribution in Madison (lost to other sites). PAR can be credited for doing due-diligence relocation of the Madison Branch's other customer, a smallish grain feed mill, to the much healthier-traffic Rumford Branch closer to Portland so no one was actually left in the cold here.
Public advocacy can't fricking "undo" whole economic sectors reaching their inevitable end...no matter what PAR's complicity may have been for accelerating the fall. The ex-Maine Central was overreliant on paper mills, and the paper mills are almost fucking gone. Sappi of Westbrook, who do primarily rail-agnostic pulp these days (look at the size of their overgrown railyard on Google compared to the size of the local that meanders past the Amtrak station once or twice a week), just shut down one of their pulp machines...which is going to roughly halve what meager carloads they do get. The two gigantic mills on the Rumford Branch in Jay and Rumford have been a constant source of bricks-shitting for the state over changed ownership and squishy commitments over layoffs.​
MEDOT has gained unnecessary notoriety for making foolish investments in track for biz that never came...the Lewiston Industrial Track Brunswick-Lisbon Falls (scrapyard in Topsham that lasted barely 10 years), the Mountain Division (new track west of Westbrook on pixie-dust hopes...never used), the "Back Road" Brunswick-Augusta (couple trial runs...now shortline is defunct), and--infamously--Rockland Branch passenger service with NNEPRA shooting its mouth off about Downeaster expansion (pax carrier defuct...now used once a month, 5 months per year to shuffle a cement plant). Or, for a non-PAR example, the "World's Loneliest Baked Beans Delivery"...where they payola'd St. Lawrence & Atlantic to run an extra 20 miles from the perfectly good truck intermodal ramp in Auburn to hand-deliver one tank of raw baked beans to the Burnham & Morrill plant off 295 in Portland twice a year at most...for 10 years, until everyone realized what a horrific waste of money that was.​
Really, now? Who's endangering whose economic prospects here? MEDOT has probably done more self-pwnage than actual help, and in most cases it's with business that's just G-O-N-E. Their only salvation is what the big boys are actually buying PAR for: Portland intermodal. The best deal Maine can wring for itself is what passenger upgrades come in-tow with double-stacking the Western Route. Or figuring out which Portland-Waterville mainline--"Back Road" through Auburn or "Lower Road" through Brunswick--is the higher-leverage perma-solve for a robust Maine Central main and Downeaster northern expansion. It's not going to be studying the Mountain Div. for a 500th time.​
  • Mass branches. Again, TM...wake up and smell the business. The Watertown Branch was doing monthly flour deliveries to one bakery. The Danvers/Topsfield Branch had withered to one warehouse abutting Route 128 in Wakefield on the first 2 miles, and the other end out of Peabody Sq. was taking a few loads of propane per year before they went dark. Yes, the track conditions were utterly deplorable...but where were the biz increases going to come from for MassDOT to justify further investments? C'mon...*THINK* here. Those suburbs aren't amenable to freight-bearing biz anymore. It's the same reason why there's no rail yard anymore in West Cambridge; Concord Ave. got redevved polar-opposite away from industrial. Same reason why there's no freight on the Fitchburg Line inbound of the Littleton industrial park, or on the Reading Line at all. The rail-serving industrial parks worth developing are all in discrete places...like the Lowell Line where (NIMBY cripple-fight and all) Tighe Warehouse on the Winchester side of Montvale Ave. now rakes in boxcars with a nightly train and a direct-competing warehouse is trying to zone itself for the ex- cement plant on the Woburn Loop track remnant by the town dump. Look to the giant, sorely under-utilized yard at ex- B&M Billerica Shops for the answers and start asking whether we're going to get a site plan at long last there under PAR's new owners given that the T has owned that slab for 44 years now. That's where it matters...mainlines, yard attachments, and ports.
Again...like Maine it is NOT a failure of local advocacy that industry doesn't cluster to the same locations it used. It IS a local advocacy point about spending stupid vs. spending smart. Compared to MEDOT, MassDOT has chosen very wisely. See the same Peabody cluster they criticize. Rousselot Gelatin came in and rescued the fast-declining Kodak plant, switching from film gelatin (deader-than-dead industry) to medical gelatin (red-hot AND local). Brokered three-way deal--customer, RR, state splitting costs--for basic track upgrades so it was safe to accept sulfuric acid tankers once more, and now BO-1 visits them 3 days a week and climbing (with an extension of their siding storage on-tap for '21) where 8 years ago we feared imminent obituary for the Peabody Branch. That's a smart expenditure.​
And as for where public advocacy is a double-edged sword, TM needs to duly acknowledge the backstory behind one of its other citations...the East Boston Branch. That one was indeed for-reals on tap for a 2012 reactivation to Global Petroleum's shipping dock where Pan Am Southern would run a daily overnighter 60-car ethanol train in from Ayer (leveraging Norfolk Southern from the source) for Global to begin a mixing operation. MBTA reinstated the switch, PAR brush-cut the branch, and PAS did a series of timing runs to refine the schedule. It got torpedoed by local NIMBY's hysterical about "Hiroshima trains" in the wake of a couple high-profile Bakken crude tanker explosions (ethanol ≠ crude...much less Bakken crude...on volatility; it burns in-place and smells like a KFC gone wrong, doesn't level whole towns). Rather than attacking the RR, where they'd never prevail over federal preemption, they attacked the customer by passing nuisance restrictions on Global for trucking-by-ethanol content. Menino personally made that a cause of his, whipped Revere and the House delegation in-tow. Global withdrew the mixing proposal, and the NIMBY's staged a victory-lap photo op--trespassing, as it were--by blocking the tracks at Chelsea CR Station. So...rather than ethanol arriving more efficiently by train on the highest-revenue new customer sign-on inside Route 128 in several decades...gasoline tanker truck traffic (and mishaps therein) remains heavier than ever close to the CBD.​
You didn't mention any of that, TM...that bit of local advocacy and the price we pay for it. Nor the responsibility for transpo advocates to take a balanced approach for who uses the rails. Enough of your own blog-bearing board members have vented their spleen online in "FUCK FREIGHT!" at the thought of slightest-most tangiental accommodation when doodling passenger crayon maps that some sort of self-reflection re: balance is in order before opining too strongly here about where the markets should go if only you were Planning God.​
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Critique, Pt. III. . .

  • "But if one of the major freight railroads with existing interests in the region–Norfolk Southern, CSX, or the holding company Genesee & Wyoming (which already owns several secondary lines in New England) is able to buy out the entire Pan Am property, it would likely establish that railroad as the single dominant player in New England."
This is patently false scaremongering, and pretty close to pants-on-fire lying. CSX is ENORMOUSLY dominant today and tomorrow across all of New England because the B&A franchise is so enormously more lucrative than any other lane in/out of the region and they already have the most connections to the most possible players between their nodes in Albany and their nodes here. For that reason, CSX has shown no interest whatsoever in PAR, has far and away the least to gain from entertaining such offers, has the thorniest antitrust concerns were they to entertain (primary reason they are not), and stand overall the most to gain of anyone except for the literal buyer themselves over how much leverage they can exert from Albany/Worcester to a better-run partner. NS does not achieve parity or dominance vs. CSX at all by buying the rest of PAR...more competitiveness, perhaps, but still with the head-and-shoulders weaker lane than CSX. G&W is a fucking holding company; they aren't comparable to a Class I at all. They win by alliancing and horse-trading assets. If they buy PAR, then their prior acquisitions of St. Lawrence & Atlantic + Providence & Worcester are very, very key and they become a de facto mid-size Class II from the cobbling of a couple small-size Class II's in PAR + P&W and a Class III in SLR. But they also immediately pivot in likely putting max'ish-size Class III carrier New England Central up for sale as routing surplus...despite the fact that the Vermonter is paying for lots of their track...because it's rendered strategically redundant. The resulting map still has them the 3 ft. tall midget standing amongst two taller-than-one-another Class I giants in CSX and NS...despite them being much bigger for their efforts.​

Holy crap, what dreck. Don't ever bring this up again if you guys want to have any credibility on credible public comment for this sale.​


  • "In Europe, many such mainlines operate as “open-access” infrastructure, with operators paying to use it as they go. Because of its many transportation connections, the Pan Am line–with some significant infrastructural improvements–could be a feasible place to experiment with that approach for the first time in the United States, providing revenue that could be reinvested in an expanded passenger network." Here's where the "Fuck Freight" voices come out of the woodwork. There is no "open access" with incumbent rights that are not open-access. PAR is the amalgamation of 190 years of horse-trading in the constituent railroads. Things like the giant Mechanicville intermodal hub...it actually sits on Canadian Pacific-owned trackage inherited from 1980's-defunct Delaware & Hudson. B&M...as inheritor of 1900's-defunct Fitchburg RR, had free-for-life trackage rights to traverse a section of D&H trackage because the two RR's made a deal to share the big Mechanicville yard. And that all holds to this day, CP vs. PAR/Norfolk Southern. Another example: the overlap on the Conn River Line in VT between PAS and NECR (ex-CN)...Brattleboro to Bellows Falls they can actually go at each other's throats to steal the same customers, but there's restrictions north and south of there on who gets what. All dates to deals cut during the original building of the Central Vermont Railway, and B&M's predecessors joining/exiting the corridor certain spots on long-defunct branchlines.
You can't just wave a magic wand and declare 200 years of contract law null-and-void and see "Run free...open access!" The consequences of old contractual entanglements curb the very anticompetitive behavior TM spuriously soapboxes about 1 stinking paragraph earlier. It's not CTRL-ALT-DEL'able like everything is just going to be ice cream-sharting unicorns once Public Master Planner is free to redraw the maps. For one....Public Master Planner would have to have enormous insight and clarity into the ins-and-outs of every aspect of the business to not have that upend them in immediate unintended consequences. As this piece exposes TM's amateurism at reading some of the most Beginner's 101 basics of the industry...they are actually doing a FAR better job here painting the cautionary tale than they are for making a case.​

Second...when you're dealing with legal entanglements handed down from the original charters that built the RR's...it's not just the business that has to live inside those entanglements. It's the lines themselves, which were cobbled together from thousands of property easements well more than a century old. There is a very good reason why cleanup of rights entanglements isn't a thing anyone tries to pursue...because nullification of biz arrangements also ends up nullifying so many easements in the rebooting process that we'd basically no longer have ANY usable active railroads from all the private property claims that would get filed. Good luck if you're legally smart enough to find a way to level the field for total open access without inducing a NIMBY apocalypse and 30,000 different land-claim lawsuits to the existing NEC challenging the right to run an Acela through someone's backyard. This is one area where "world best practice" has to apply the filter; something like that can only happen in a country with WAY different property law than the U.S. Bitching about that doesn't get us anywhere. It literally can't be done without upending itself in more problems than it solves; move on from this dead-end talking point.​

  • Passenger trackage rights. The T already has lifetime irrevocable trackage rights to Concord. It's in STB filings from 2008 related to the GLX MassDOT-PAR land swaps. Don't play coy that you don't know this, TM...your own fricking RUR advocacy is contingent on this. Don't play dumb.
Next...if the T wants Andover-Lowell trackage rights they can accomplish that the same exact way they got lifetime irrevocable Concord rights, lifetime irrevocable Wachusett rights, lifetime irrevocable Worcester-Ayer rights: give the for-profit RR something they want in return for indemnification. All of this was accomplished through basic deal-making. Do they make a deal for sit-on-it trackage rights on the Lowell Branch? I don't know...what's worth it to MassDOT and PAR's successor for that? They'll be doing tons of negotiation over double-stack upgrades to the Western Route, so MassDOT isn't shy on leverage at all. Is this an actual problem? Has anyone ever floated a passenger study for intermediates in Tewksbury that makes this a yellow-flag issue? Quantify the urgency, please, if that's supposed to be urgent. "Just because" isn't good enough. We could buy the whole fucking mainline to North Adams and Williamstown today if we wanted, but is there an imminent passenger proposal that raises the priority? Not really. These critical parts of the Freight Main ain't going anywhere; you can make a deal when there's a deal worth making, not just "because".​


TL;DR...good discussion points, done with baaaaaad concern-trolling. Authors will correctly get fingered for being willfully deaf/dumb/blind to the most basic Cliffs Notes biz aspects of the subject they're attempting to tackle, which does TM's credibility no favors coming off the mistake-marred RUR Implementation Plan publication that was already a bad public misfire. Once again: WHERE WAS THE FUCKING PROOFREAD BEFORE PUBLICATION?!?!

I went full-bore on the ^^snoozer^^ critique points because I know they read this board, and because it matters. But jeez...this is not a good streak they're on this year at publishing such sloppily vetted official-statement faire. Tighten it the fuck up...across the board, now please. Unfocused cherry-picked garble like this is doing them anti-favors as advocates.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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F-Line, I am consistently amazed how much literal text you're able to pump out all the time regarding this stuff.
I don't have the attention span to read it all, but thank you for your contributions.
Yeah...trust me, you don't have to read any of that. That's strictly for any TM flaks that are watching. They have got to...for their own good...stop publishing this stuff without basic proofreading. I cringe at what the RR.net PAR sale thread is going to do to this piece...especially given that the Moderata Vatican over there has already deemed TM not "railfan" enough for their liking (whatever that's supposed to mean against all mountains of evidence), so there's already a hate-boner that doesn't need unprovoked stoking.


This op-ed's even generating a lot of pushback in the comments section for its butchered read of Maine's primary shipping lanes...and that's where few articles generate comment traffic of any kind on Comm Mag's perenially broken comment system. Total rinky-dink error self-pwnage. I liked the one comment on there that the bigger public transpo policy target in all this is trucking subsidy, not passenger rail subsidy...because in a chess game of intermodal supremacy it's all about who's moving the most trucks in the region, not trains. So the concern-trolling born of "Fuck Freight" transpo intelligencia mentality also totally whiffs on the mode of most consequence for local advocacy. The comment in question was presented somewhat strawmanishly (i.e. "why don't we decrease truck subsidy instead of increasing transit subsidy") to highlight the misplaced threats endemic to the piece. I mean, it's pretty firmly factually established that intermodal rail-to-truck has been very fucking good for MassDOT for bringing truck shifts--both preferred routings and time-of-day--under local control to the betterment of traffic loads on our overstuffed highways, and would be really fucking good on an enhanced Worcester-Portland lane. But that's a good example being picked up on right away by readers of where this piece is going concern-fishing in all the wrong places...and making an unacceptable boatload of unforced factual errors in the process.

Yuck. And it's signed off under the whole-organization TM brand. Why are they suddenly doing this to themselves? Is it really that hard to do a group read-through on Zoom with the whole board present and take some notes before flinging it into the wind as representative of the whole board's careful thoughts??? Wrong time for amateur hour to be breaking out. This is now an evolving trend with them at the very juncture where they can least afford to be diluting their own message with so many unforced errors.
 

brazile

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"But for this neglect, some of the abandoned routes would have been helpful for passenger service (for example, the route through New Hampshire that historically linked Boston and Montreal); others could have hosted viable freight service." Wrong. The Northern Route was a terrible thru freight line to Vermont...steep grades, corkscrew curves, damn near bupkis for on-line business.
Without taking away from F-Line's valuable close reading of the document, this might not be a real whopper. The "some" vs "others" in the quote above could be read as separate routes, rather than claiming the old Montreal route is good for freight. That seems like the likeliest reading to me, anyway.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Without taking away from F-Line's valuable close reading of the document, this might not be a real whopper. The "some" vs "others" in the quote above could be read as separate routes, rather than claiming the old Montreal route is good for freight. That seems like the likeliest reading to me, anyway.
I can't imagine what else they'd be reffing, because most of the cross-state branch routes were lost in the B&M's mid-70's bankruptcy, not the Guilford/PAR era. The Mountain Division? I mean, the states intervened with that one *exactly* how TM suggested they should when Guilford switched out Maine Central's mainline route in '84. NHDOT bought up their portion and recruited Conway Scenic to start running passenger excursions a year later. They're now one of the most profitable excursion carriers in the region with their premier North Conway-Fabyan "Notch Train". But the Westbrook-Fryeberg ME and Whitefield-St. Johnsbury VT portions have been out-of-service for 35 years because they don't have the same biz fortunes, and MEDOT's pie-in-sky studies are a desperate exercise in straws-grasping for anyone who wants to read their multiple tries at problem-solving. So I don't know what the article is expecting in terms of corridor preservation. You can't make something out of nothing, and it's a bit disingenuous to hand-wave in that direction without making one attempt at a concrete "one that got away" citation.

There's an aspersion being cast in general that not enough was done, but which one exactly got away? They can't/won't say it.

They can't/won't say it because this error-thon doesn't even attempt a Cliffs Notes-level research on where the traffic lanes actually are in New England. That doesn't take a million-word explainer like ^all this^. I'm just enumerating all the endless places this op-ed ended up stepping in it because they didn't do a basic LMGTFY. Or even a LMGMTFY of what sites on these supposedly squandered suburban branchlines any local-yokel business still exists at enough carloads to have been saved by anyone's public-private investment...because it sure as hell wasn't Madison, ME or Watertown, MA. The 10-year State Rail Plans are the most comprehensive Cliffs Notes-summary sources on record, because it summarizes the makeup of each state's rail networks and where trends are going for the fed record. There's literally no better place to start for that explainer. That they couldn't be bothered to so much as eyeball MA's, NH's, and ME's most recent plans as first reading explains the majority of this piece's unforced errors.

That's inexcusable. The proof that their org's own RUR advocacy is gaining traction will be when it's summarized in the next MassDOT State Rail Plan, so TM better damn well show more up-front interest in the Cliffs Notes write-ups than they showed here. State Rail Plans aren't "studies" to be mistrustful of because they're mistrustful of the DOT's that publish them; they're the very breadcrumbs of public record that trace complex economics to human-understandable actionable public policy. There's already a fair amount of "Fuck Freight" blogosphere hostility informing the op-ed born of natural suspicion that freight's somehow the mode standing in the way of more passenger investment. Nope...maybe a little bit moreso in California, but def not here...and everywhere it's still car culture by several orders of magnitude. Then lump plenty of up-front hostility that the DOT's intrinsically don't know what they're doing. That suspicion has apparently tied them in knots over being able to read a basic Point A to Point B traffic map of Maine because they don't trust who's doing the counting of origins and destinations. You can't advocate ANY policy without some basic-most understanding of those starting points.

So we are led to believe that certain transit corridors have had a grave disservice done to them...even though we couldn't tell ya what goods or people were deprived. And we are led to believe that there are grave antitrust concerns if a holding company instead of a Class I gets its hands on PAR...because "government is green as business" makes us refuse to read the heat map that shows CSX carrying more shipments on the B&A than all the other players put together. Numbers, data...the more concrete and less eye-of-beholder they are like that, the harder they are to reject. This piece tries its hardest to disregard them still, by refusing to get read-in by Captain Obvious.


Again...they pubbed a piece that would...not...survive a group proof-read. At minimum their board has Aloisi who knows as a lifelong bureaucrat the dangers of ascribing advocacy to skinflint data, and several other board members who live/breathe in the data realm who simply wouldn't be comfortable making such reach claims without a citation. How did this end up happening again without those cats flagging concerns? Who's being given way too much free reign these days to just blind-pub whatever comes out of their head the night before straight into the public sphere blanket-signed as the official TM board public statement? Something is structurally broken with the org if they're now repeatedly overriding their own self-check capabilities and pubbing...whoppers all over. Silly, chintzy whoppers making their way into every other paragraph. This is sloppy work, in a now- sloppy pattern of work. Advocates can't be doing that to themselves, least of all with slop so easily preventable by standard proofreading.
 
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