Friday, May 30, 2014

Phoenix Rising! Central Maine & Quebec Railway

The Phoenix was a mythical bird, a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet. The sacred firebird can be found in the mythologies of the Persians, Greeks, and others.

As the myth goes, the Phoenix had a 500 to 1000 year life cycle, depending on story version, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites.

Both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes. From the ashes, a reborn Phoenix rises to live again. And like the fabled Phoenix, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic rises from the ashes as the Central Maine & Québec Railway (CMQR.)

CMQR is a subsidiary of Rail Acquisition Holdings LLC (RAH). RAH is, in turn, indirectly owned and controlled by Fortress Worldwide Transportation and Infrastructure General Partnership (Fortress Worldwide), an investment fund managed by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC (Fortress Investment).[1]

On May 16th, the new management team of CM&QR began the difficult task of putting the horror of the Lac Mégantic disaster to rest, and regain trust of the residents.

Like many of our rocking chair CEO's, we raised an eyebrow when Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group, paid a reported $16.85million USD for the entire network.
Why would anyone purchase such a messed up plan like this, with rotten ties, screwed up rails, and declining car loads?

In an article "Journey to the end of the MM&A Railway line," the author records his observation about a section of the MM&A.

"The little bridge on the edge of Cowansville is not the rustiest on the MM&A network, and it's certainly not busy. But a photograph of the bridge, its decrepit wooden pillars sinking into the Yamaska River, has become a widely publicized symbol of how little Quebecers trust the railway.

"A hike along the muddy, sewage-contaminated river allows a layman to confirm what the image shows. Some of the wooden support beams on the bridge are so rotten saplings have sprouted from them. Two of four support structures have sunk so far they no longer touch the bridge deck. The impression from on top is hardly more reassuring. The bridge's 10-metre span creaks and shifts under the feet of a 200-pound man.

"On the tracks leading to it, about every third tie is so rotten it no longer holds a spike. In several instances, only dust remains. Not every railway tie has to be in good shape, according to Transport Canada regulations. A formula of speed, grade and curve dictates how many are required.

"A train limited to 10 miles per hour on a straight, flat track only requires five solid ties over 39 feet. If the 14 others normally found on such a stretch are falling apart, the track is still up to code. Mr. Burkhart, the MM&A head, says there's nothing to worry about - the bridge is on a branch line and "is safe for the handful of cars being handled each day."[2]

But as I studied the route map, it became clear to me .

There is great potential:

•  The MM&A upgraded its bridges to a maximum allowable carload of 286,000 lbs.
•  MM&A upgraded its track structure to Federal Railroad Administration Class 3 standards.[3]
•  There is no obstruction from Montreal to Searsport Maine, to hinder double stack container cars.
•  Most important, planning is moving forward to improve port facilities at Mack Point.

"The marine terminal at Mack Point in Searsport currently handles dry and liquid bulk, break bulk, project, and petroleum cargoes. The terminal has recently undergone a major reconstruction effort positioning it to effectively serve the needs of shippers moving product both into and out of Maine, and through the onsite rail yard of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, to provide service to the heartlands of both the US and Canada.

"In addition to Mack Point, the port of Searsport includes Sears Island. Sears Island is the largest undeveloped, uninhabited, causeway accessible, island on the eastern coast of the United States and has a parcel of land of approximately 330 acres available for development as a marine terminal.

"The Sears Island property is owned by the State of Maine, with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) the agency responsible for the property. The Port Authority is making this offering on behalf of MaineDOT and will act as the intermediary between developers and the State of Maine. These agencies request that respondents look at the potential for development at Mack Point as a part of this process."[4]

While the plant can accommodate double stack container cars, "If a two or more berth container terminal is proposed, it would not likely be able to be accommodated at Mack Point without significant disruption and/or relocation of existing activities at the terminal.

Summary Report: Evaluation of the Build-out of Mack Point as a Container Terminal, Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, LLC and DMJM Harris, November 2008."[4]

However, there is potential for such development on undeveloped 330-acre Sears Island.[5]

Phoenix Rising. Auspicious beginning for the CM&QR. Exciting potential for growth.

It will be interesting to see how CM&QR plays the hand.

[1]  Federal Register, A Notice by the Transportation Safety Board on 02/28/2014.
[2]  The Globe & Mail, "Journey to the end of the MM&A Railway line," January 16, 2014.
[3]  49 CFR Ch. 11 (10-1-11 Edition) Part 213 - Track Safety Standards.
[4]  Request for Expressions of Interest, Port of Searsport, Access to Global Opportunity.
[5]  Searsport Harbor Improvement, US Corps of Arny Engineers.

1 Comments - Click here:

Steve Boyko said...

I sure hope it wasn't for Searsport! I remember the controversy when an LNG terminal was planned for there.
Take a look at a map and see how difficult it is to get ships in and out of Searsport, then imagine trying to get a large container vessel or LNG vessel through there...

Post a Comment

"Comment" is for sharing information related to this article. "Anonymous" comments are not published.