Monday, April 7, 2014

Passenger Rail Board Nomination Draws Criticism in Maine

(SOURCE: Newswire)

AUGUSTA, Maine – The nomination of an outspoken passenger rail critic to a board that operates a passenger rail service seems like a contradictory move, but that is precisely what Maine Gov. Paul LePage has done. Recently, the Republican governor nominated Robert McEvoy, a Brunswick resident who has been critical of the Northern New England Passenger Authority's plan to construct a 55,000-square-foot maintenance and layover facility at the northern terminus of Amtrak's Downeaster, the Portland Press Herald reports. McEvoy is a retired highway engineer and lives about 240 feet away from the proposed facility.

On Thursday, the Maine Legislature's Transportation Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for McEvoy, but members of Trainriders/Northeast, a grassroots advocacy group for passenger rail in New England, promise to fight the nomination. The group's chairman, Wayne Davis, said McEvoy's nomination is purely political.

“Now for the first time, we have someone who is appointed to the board who is openly hostile to existing authority policy, and we think that is a mistake,” Davis says.

LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, denies that the pick is political. She notes that McEvoy was nominated by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a Democrat. Recently, LePage sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration raising concerns about the Brunswick facility that would hold three train sets and would mean trains would not have to deadhead from Portland every morning.

“No matter the board of the commission, the governor takes all candidates into consideration based on their qualifications,” she says.

While LePage has had a hostile streak towards Amtrak and the Downeaster service, which runs daily between Boston, Portland and Brunswick, the train itself has been wildly successful in recent years. In 2013, the year following the Brunswick extension, the Downeaster carried nearly 50 percent more passengers between Portland and Brunswick than rail officials expected in the first year of service. From Nov. 2012 to Oct. 2013, about 52,000 people rode the train between Brunswick and Portland. Officials had only projected 36,000.

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