Posted Friday, September 15, 2017 9:50 pm

Last week’s Question of the Week was presented by Jacob Pitts and our nominations received included the following:

Editorial: New England Light Railway announced today that it will be going away in six to eight years. The company is embarking on a three-year transition program beginning this November and each year during this time period it will invest in a new line to prepare for a new line that takes passengers up to Logan Bay. Both lines will be being replaced.

President and CEO Mike Jennings said the company will review its routes and consider cutting another 15 routes from its 10 grade service. In a statement, he indicated that every new line has to compete for people and freight traveling in the region.

Mr. Jennings also pointed out that the proposed phase-out is not that much different than the phase-out in Georgia in 2006 when freight customers lost less than 40 percent of their business.

The analogy is broader than I realize. Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC) transported roughly 5 million cars to the nation’s capital every day in 2004. In 2012 they lifted their loading capacity to 669,000 cars, and a year later dropped it to 275,000 cars. That is a nearly 180 percent decrease. Once their trucking business collapses, a train can’t get out of its station.

The discussion about the FAST Act and rolling out local train services has been dominated by the subtext that LORR is a modern railroad that can support its competitors, and I’m in favor of this view, but the reality is that LORR is out of track. A new line is under construction for Logan Express and North Charles; a new line is coming to Swan Quarter and SSW Portland due to be finished by the end of the year; and those lines are highly dependent on trains moving above their peak capacity.

LORR’s primary service is North Charles and Eastern Service and to some extent Seabrook Seawater Railroad, so if there were a new line that could reach Logan and draw heavily from those services, they would have to use LORR’s Portland service. Does North Charles have to change direction to achieve any of its objectives?

What should also be clear about the LORR situation is that it is like introducing a diesel, or bringing a new structure to a position where industry previously established big operations and operations will end up being the same size. If North Charles runs in a direction that creates a need for service into Portland, you will hit a good trucking area with LORR; you’ll run into lines that are unwilling to agree with any changes that take place within the existing fleet.

The North Charles services carried nearly 5 million passengers last year and saw approximately one million cars pulled per day. That’s huge. That’s 5.3 million cars over a span of seven years. Many of those cars were trains moved into a new location, something that will hurt Norfolk Southern’s size and let access by freight lines like ASK/Wagler, which operates out of Mount Vernon.

How these changes affect freight lines in the region is even harder to say. Along with LORR’s departure from the North Charles corridor, it opened a $99 million tunnel leading into the Canandaigua town where commuters access it from Hurlbut. Since its entrance, LORR has faced increased competition from the CSX route linking the North Charles corridor with the Grand Canyon.

Concerns about LORR’s departure from downtown Everett recently resurfaced, which came after the city took steps to inform residents that LORR and CSX’s Megabus service would soon arrive. To this day, no further information has been provided on the same service.

Sound out more in the comments section and I’ll post the names of the other artists to this season’s column.