Something funny is being inhaled in Waterville City Council chambers, perhaps smoke from Brunswick, where the “Isn’t it nice to have a train?” crowd continues to extol benefits of passenger-rail transportation that so far are illusory. Nostalgic comments by two council members about service in the 1960s overlook the Interstate Highway System’s effect on rail travel, speed and route flexibility of motor coaches, infrastructure upgrading costs to achieve competitive transit time, the issue of service frequency, difficulty of maintaining schedules on longer routes shared with freight, and far more pressing needs for public funds.

One said, “We know what passenger rail service can do from studies of when it went from Portland to Brunswick.” Perhaps the speaker could enlighten Brunswick folks as to what proclaimed benefits have actually been realized.

“Just imagine what it’d be like for Waterville residents … to see a Boston Bruins or Celtics game,” said another. That comment implies a five-hour train trip, dinner in Beantown, game tickets, and either an overnight hotel stay or postgame return to Waterville after 3 a.m.

How many individuals or families are willing or able to do that, and how often? By the way, the money isn’t spent in Waterville.

The bus has the lion’s share of the Portland-Boston market for public transportation — even at higher fares than the train. Waterville already has big-city access by bus when Colby College is in session, and the council can save time and money for studies by first seeing if year-round service can be justified.

The train is a totally different and far more costly game for any but mass markets. The cart still doesn’t go before the horse, but these days the bus should precede the iron horse.

George C. Betke Jr., president

Transport Economics, Inc.


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