Rail plan overlooks Central Maine

If the state was interested in promoting the economy in central Maine, it should direct investments in railroad infrastructure into Auburn, where the inland "port" handles more freight traffic than any of the state's three seaside shipping locales: Portland, Eastport and Searsport.

This investment would serve a twofold purpose: strengthening the ability of the busy Port of Auburn, plus laying groundwork for new passenger service from central Maine toward southern New England and beyond, i.e. Boston and New York City.

On the surface, this seems sensible. New transportation plans — of any type — should focus on the regions where current activity demands new investments, and where the population is large enough to make movement of people and products not only practical but likely profitable.

The governor's rail plan, however, is urging to make tracks elsewhere. Instead of Lewiston-Auburn, the plan advocates for expanding freight and passenger rail service toward Brunswick and Fryeburg, each of which holds lesser potential for activity than the route through Central Maine.

A public hearing on the governor's rail plan — "Moving People and Goods" — will be held Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m., in the Lewiston Public Library.

These communities are worthy of investment, but resources for rail are finite and must be spent where they could reap the biggest reward. New passenger service to Brunswick, although it would connect an existing service from Rockland to Portland and beyond, is by no means a safe bet.

Until the future reuse of Brunswick Naval Air Station is decided, the greater Brunswick area could experience future decline in both economic activity and population. Is this the right time, then, for starting passenger service there, especially since it may require a sizable, ongoing subsidy by taxpayers?

The Fryeburg route seems to put economic potential above economic reality. To rehab the Mountain Line for freight and passenger excursions, as the plan states, is shortsighted. Why should the state invest for new tourist trains, when Maine citizens and businesses have real needs?

Central Maine — Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin and Kennebec counties — has the population and economic activity to demand new investments in passenger and freight rail. If the goal is economic development, the state should target its resources where they can do the most good.

This is important, given that the governor's plan relies predominantly ($148 million of $173 million of total spending) on one-time stimulus funds. Whatever projects earn funding will require future government support to maintain, which is the lesson so far of the Amtrak Downeaster.

From our perspective, this foundation of the funding should dictate state strategy. As the busiest hub of freight traffic in Maine and its second-most populous region, Lewiston-Auburn deserves investment in rail infrastructure. Spending the money here should pay the greatest dividend for all taxpayers.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

The newspaper's position on

The newspaper's position on the state rail plan, with respect to freight rail, is founded on bad fact. The editors wrote: 'where the inland "port" handles more freight traffic than any of the state's three seaside shipping locales: Portland, Eastport and Searsport.'

True that the intermodal terminal in Auburn handles more boxes than Portland, the only other Maine port handling containers. That's the 'freight' most people refer to when they say Auburn is Maine's largest port.

BUT if one considers petroleum, then Auburn is dwarfed by Portland.

That said, let's consider overall freight originating or terminating in Auburn. Safe Handling, the largest (I believe) terminal there, handles in total 5,000 railcars a year. Auburn has other rail facilities such as LynksUS (Bisson) and the Duke propane terminal.

Let's assume, roughly, that the rest of the Auburn terminals, counting trucks (which with the Walmart Distribution Center in Lewiston we should), total the equivalent of another 5,000 railcars. That's 10,000 railcars a year. Each carries about 100 tons, so we are talking one million tons a year.

Turns out that Portland in 2008 did about 900,000 tons non-petroleum. Searsport about 900,000 tons, and Eastport 400,000 tons.

Conclusion. Auburn IS Maine's largest port, if one views the ports as freight nodes.

JONATHAN ALBRECHT's picture

Economic development in

Economic development in western Maine means a highway that replaces Rte 26 and an east-west highway that replaces rte 2. Rail services implies heavy freight but with the mills closing or reducing production that seems an unproductive investment. Has anyone done a study to determine if the freight in LA could be profitably moved by rail? I see passenger traffic as the more likely profitable investment long term. If true, then lines to bethel and Farmington would make the most sense.
Jon Albrecht Dixfield

RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

I agree with Jay Bee. L-A

I agree with Jay Bee. L-A needs to be heard here; too often this area has been by-passed as with the free interstate system to Brunswick and Augusta from Portland, but a toll road to Lewiston-Auburn. It is time that our elected officials stand up for the Twin Cities. The only time we are recognized by the Democratic majority is at election time. Half of the State's population resides within a 50 mile radius of L-A and would benefit by an extension of a rail line to our area. This port also ties in with the local airport which is next door and could benefit from any growth of the rail port. It is time for the Governor and his cohorts to realize the true facts in this matter.

We will get passenger

We will get passenger sevice here bout as soon as we get our promised new turn pike exit! I believe Lucien Gosselin is on the MTA board he should cash in his chips and IOU'S and bring home the bacon!

Mike Peters's picture

Central Maine? What is

Central Maine? What is central Maine? You mean half way up the coastline...like maybe in Rockland? You can't really mean that you want rail transportation in a place like Lewiston.
We can get to Bangor by simply following the coastline. Boy you guys are crazy. A rail line in Lewiston. You gotta be nuts.

Michael Hobbs's picture

Last I checked L-A is

Last I checked L-A is considered central Maine, i.e. CMMC and CMCC. Lastly, why not bring a passanger rail system. Instead of being ignorant towards Lewiston feel free to read next. L-A is the second largest city and has the second largest metro area in the state. Even putting that aside it would be used by those in the surrounding area, i.e Oxford county. So, the question is why bring it to Bath-Brunswick when Lewiston alone has a greater population that could and would use it? Also, unlike Rockland you don't have to fix any rails because the rails in L-A are actually already consistantly being used. So, instead making smart comments look at the facts instead of trying to bash Lewiston.

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