Keeping the rails: good sense or expense?

Posted May 28, 2010, at 11:27 p.m.

When the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad was purchased by Canadian Railway Service, it was disappointing but understandable. The B&A is an ingrained part of my childhood memories. Remembering the clankety-clank that went on at the local turntable is as clear to me as yesterday.

What happened to the power and necessary service the railway supplied? Several changes augmented the future of the B&A Railroad.

The first major change affecting the railway was related to mail delivery. Mail used to be delivered on the mail stage, which was a coach pulled by several horses. The mail stage was replaced by a boxcar when the B&A began carrying mail.

This change increased people’s dependence on the train. When people heard the train’s whistle and saw the engine’s steam spilling into sky, they knew they were living in a special time. The train brought necessary supplies, news from relatives and allowed people to travel.

Then, beginning in the 1940s, railway passenger cars began to be phased out. This change was not a positive one. By 1950, the majority of families traveled by car. Then the Maine Turnpike came into being, which made private travel more convenient and faster.

With each of these events, a generation watched the changes with mixed emotions; emotion being a key word for folks who had never had a stake in corporate America. For perhaps the first time, people began to realize the impact of economies of scale. One could describe this crowd’s mixed emotions as unrealistic, considering our current travel options, technology and fast-paced lifestyles.

Trying to view this issue objectively is not easy. The published reports on this issue have been somewhat hazy regarding the pros and cons involved. Our state representatives, who sit in on meetings discussing this issue, have likewise been spotty on informing the constituents on the actual benefits and drawbacks.

The taxpayers are being asked to pay to keep the Maine, Montreal & Atlantic railroad in operation, despite a $5 million to $7 million loss last year. According to the Bangor Daily News, there are 20 people willing to invest money to keep the railroad viable. Where were these 20 people with money to invest when it was still owned by an American company? It is also unclear what plans, if any, have been made for the 1,732 people who currently work for the railroad. Will they remain employed by the railroad? Will they keep their current job or work in a different capacity?

So far, there are more questions than answers. The public asks the right questions, but the task force often goes into executive session, and the questions go unanswered. This creates frustration.

At this point in time, the only thing a person can conclude is this: A once great and necessary commodity is not feasible anymore. Meanwhile, taxpayers are being asked to finance a non-profitable business. The task force needs to come out of executive session and educate us if it wants financial support from taxpayers.

Do not ask taxpayers to cough up more tax dollars if they do not have the knowledge to make an informed decision at the voting booth. We do not have the necessary information. You leave us to vote on an issue that is unclear and to spend money on a venture with an uncertain future.

Why do Maine’s chosen representatives continually underestimate voters? We are capable of being educated. So far, we only know that corporations making millions in profits want our already overtaxed pockets to cough up more money.

There is limited time to let voters know why the people of Maine should finance the corporations’ already stuffed pockets. At this time, they are asking taxpayers to spend money on a seemingly dead horse. If they expect us to spend our money on this venture, they should come up with a convincing argument. Otherwise, they can get out of town.

They should let us know the real facts about this bond question. As it stands, I say vote the proposal down. If it is a dead horse that benefits a select few, do not vote for this bill. This issue does not appropriately belong in executive session; it belongs in the public forum. Until this issue is presented to the people in an informative manner, vote no.

Roger J. Pelletier, a machine shop owner, lives in Fort Kent.

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