Proposal to extend passenger rail along Androscoggin gathers momentum | Trip
LEWISTON, Maine – A proposal to expand passenger rail service to Lewiston and Auburn isn’t exactly on the fast track, but it is moving forward after lawmakers this week backed further study of the idea.
The $ 180,000 proposal would build on a 2019 study of rail options between Portland and the state’s second largest metropolitan area to require the state Department of Transportation to provide “an economic assessment of rail service. commuter and passenger ‘on the road by next March.
Supporters are hoping that with a solid plan in place, the state can recoup some of the money from President Joe Biden’s $ 80 billion initiative to bolster train travel across the country, which doesn’t has not yet obtained congressional approval.
“Lewiston station is still there,” with many residents living nearby and Central Maine Medical Center and Bates College within walking distance, said Richard Grandmaison, resident of Lewiston. “Lewiston is ready for rail passenger transport.”
Lewiston and Auburn officials almost all agree with the idea of restoring passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Portland for the first time in over 60 years.
“The time and money invested in finding out what the real economic benefits would be for central and southern Maine are well spent and will give us the direction we need to move forward with confidence or put this idea aside until what situations change, ”Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said. lawmakers recently.
Under the measure approved by lawmakers, the state would pay 90% of the bill for the new study while Lewiston and Auburn would be responsible for the remaining $ 18,000.
The 2019 study that underpins the next step that supporters desire estimated that commuter train service between the Twin Cities and Portland would likely cost between $ 200 million and $ 300 million.
This report, written by engineering firm VHB, was the end result of a four-year, $ 400,000 study funded in 2015 to examine the implementation of passenger rail service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. Each city contributed $ 50,000 for the expenses.
The legislature this week offered its support for two bills related to the extension of passenger rail transport. The other calls for a more in-depth study of the provision of services in Augusta, Waterville and Bangor.
“Maine once had statewide rail service, but today only a small portion remains,” State Senator Ben Chipman, a Democrat from Portland, said in a statement prepare.
A century ago, a network of rail lines provided passenger service throughout much of the state, including carts that ran regularly between communities large and small until the spread of automobiles after the First World War makes them unprofitable. Passenger trains ceased most services in the 1960s.
“It’s hard to imagine what we’ve lost when many of these railways shut down. It’s time we made a substantial investment in figuring out how to bring rail back to Maine,” Chipman said.
State Senator Joe Baldacci, a Democrat from Bangor, called the return of passenger rail transport to Maine “a long time ago.”
“Proposals like this provide a necessary and in-depth look at how we can make rail service affordable and reasonable,” Baldacci said. “This feasibility study allows us to explore possibilities and opportunities for growth and development and connects all of our state.”
“We would use the existing infrastructure to invest directly in our people,” Baldacci said. “With a US Department of Transportation ready to invest in passenger rail transportation, the time to act is now. “
Tony Donovan of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition said in a press release that “due to funding currently offered by the federal government, time is running out” for the plan.
“We have the opportunity to be in a good position to make real investments in the future of Maine,” said Donovan.
Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development for Lewiston, told lawmakers that “with the increase in tourism in Maine, the increasingly congested highways in the Portland metropolitan area that borders Lewiston-Auburn, and long established cultural and tourist times in Canada, the return of the passenger train is a time that has come. “
Portland Mayor Kate Snyder is also a strong supporter of continuing the proposal.
Snyder said last month that there is “a tremendous need and desire for increased transportation options to and from Portland.”
“This would produce a number of benefits, including strengthening our local and regional economies, as well as reducing regional dependence on passenger vehicles and mitigating our collective impact on the climate,” Snyder said.
Rail lines between the Twin Cities and Portland already exist. There are, in fact, two possible routes for most of the trip.
But the rail lines used by freight trains, as the tracks carry it today, would need major upgrades to make them safe for passenger trains, officials said.
A major issue to determine is exactly which route should be used and where it should end in Portland.
Chipman and Baldacci said the study they hope will come next “will examine potential station locations, market demand for rail, potential economic benefits, environmental impact, financing options, capital investments. necessary and the possibility of extending the service to Montreal and Boston “.
Kim Sparks, chair of the 10-year-old Androscoggin-Oxford-Coos County Railroad Coalition, told lawmakers expanding passenger rail in western Maine “could make it easier to visit our casino , our ski resort and our beautiful outdoor attractions “.
“The passenger train could help our young people continue to live and raise families in western Maine while commuting to work in southern Maine or Boston,” Sparks added.
The coalition said that “almost all of the towns along the Lewiston rail corridor to Berlin, New Hampshire, have passed municipal-level resolutions supporting the expansion of passenger rail transport. There is clear local support for these. efforts”.
State Representative Kristen Cloutier, a Democrat from Lewiston, called the rail expansion “critical to the health of our state’s economic and environmental future. With a federal government ready to help states expand their transport infrastructure, now is the time to act ”.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.