Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pan Am's Fink Offers New Hampshire Passenger Rail Gambit

David Fink, CEO of Pan Am Railways, the successor to Guilford Transportation, nee Boston & Maine and Maine Central, has proposed that his company operate regional passenger rail service from Boston to Concord, NH, on upgraded tracks paid for with government funds. Fink made his proposal in an op-ed piece published February 1 in the Manchester Union-Leader.

"Our commuter rail plan for New Hampshire would include service over Pan Am's lines not only to Manchester, but also to Concord and along the Route 101A corridor at approximately the same initial investment as has been proposed by the group studying commuter rail service solely to Nashua.

This plan is designed to minimize cost through rehabilitation of Pan Am's existing right of way and the use of previously owned equipment to permit the service to be operated for a length of time that would allow for an objective determination of the viability of each route, with periodic adjustments to meet demand on each route.

This planned service would also eliminate the need for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to extend its service into New Hampshire because it would be operated by Pan Am employees over Pan Am's tracks right into Lowell with the potential to continue directly to Boston by means of a negotiated operating agreement with the MBTA."

MBTA has put the cost of the Nashua extension at around $300 million. Fink says he could run trains with that money all the way to Concord, although there would be fewer of them and they would use second-hand equipement. He wants to tap the econonic stimulus plan working its way through Congress to help pay for the project.

It is interesting to seem Fink positioning himself and his company as a champion of passenger rail in light of how they stonewalled the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority's Downeaster, which uses Pan Am track on its run from Boston to Portland, ME. But the success of that project may have given Fink religion. It's turned out to be a win-win.

"In devising this plan, Pan Am has relied heavily on its past experience with other passenger rail operations, including the Downeaster service from Portland to Boston, and existing MBTA commuter rail operations over lines jointly operated by Pan Am and the MBTA in Massachusetts. In a project similar to that being discussed with New Hampshire officials, Pan Am worked closely with Maine and Amtrak to rehabilitate Pan Am's lines from Portland to Plaistow for passenger service at a fraction of the cost of comparable projects elsewhere, and continues its relationship with those entities to operate passenger service with the best on-time performance of any Amtrak route in the country."
The Union-Leader op-ed might be little more than a P.R. ploy. On the other hand, it could be a new model for passenger rail development that brings the skills of successful freight railroads to the table.

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