PARIS — Representatives from two passenger rail proposals looking to link Montreal to Boston through Western Maine say regular train service could start as early as next year.
Speaking at a meeting of the Androscoggin, Oxford and Coos Counties Corridor Committee on Wednesday, George Schwanke and Bob Steele of Golden Eagle Railway Co. and Francois Rebello, an entrepreneur from Montreal, said their projects were ready to go as soon as a lease agreement could be reached with the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, which owns the majority of the tracks through Western Maine.
Rebello, a former politician, said he wanted to begin a night train that would link Montreal and Boston, with possible stops in Bethel and on the southern Maine coast.
An overnight train was attractive for tourists, who could fall asleep in one city and wake up in another, ready for a full day of activities.
Aside from tourists, however, Rebello thought a night train could be a sell for entrepreneurs — compared to the high costs of airfare, rail travel might be a sell for people doing business across the U.S.-Canada border, he said.
His project had investors ready to jump in, and as soon as he could work with the Quebec government and the rail companies to secure access rights to the tracks, the business could take off.
The passenger rail business also needed to encourage local support for the project, from businesses, towns and others, Rebello suggested.
"We need to get the support from people who have something to gain from it," Rebello said.
"My target is next summer," Rebello said, but admitted that the ambitious timeline would need an agreement on use of the rail tracks by October.
Steele, the operations manager for Golden Eagle, said the company was planned to serve western and southern Maine with daytime passenger rail service that would also link Montreal and Boston.
The company has investors lined up and is waiting on agreements with Saint Lawrence & Atlantic to use the tracks before putting its project into action, Steele said.
"This all depends on right of way," he said. "They own the right of way, we have to lease from them."
Although the company hadn't worked out all the stops on its proposed line, one or two were already on the books, Steele said.
"Bethel will obviously be one, and Auburn, those are the logical stops," he said. "The others will be worked out based on demand and service area."
Robin Zinchuk, the Bethel Chamber of Commerce director and a strong supporter of passenger rail, said the project would not be possible without engagement from the municipalities that made up the Androscoggin, Oxford and Coos Counties Corridor Committee.
"They are really seeing the land around the rail as a real economic development opportunity," Zinchuk said.
The committee still had a lot to do to convince the private sector to start looking at the rail corridor as a place for investment, she admitted, but the interest that Golden Eagle and Rebello showed in starting up passenger rail was encouraging.
Tony Donovan, a developer and economic development consultant from Portland who has been a driving force behind the project said the estimate of passenger rail in Western Maine within a year didn't surprise him.
"This has to do with what the federal government is doing under the Obama Administration, it has to do with the success of rail across the world and it has to do with demand," Donovan said.
"Everything the state of Maine has done for the past 20 years has brought us to today. I have no doubt that this is going to happen," he said.