Think of it as sort of like the U.S. Postal Service, says Douglas Hodgkin.
“Government has set up and run it and yet it’s supposed to be somewhat removed from politics,” said Hodgkin, author of the new book, “The Lewiston and Auburn Railroad Company, 1872-2009,” which traces that company’s roots back to its charter.
LARC is shareholder-owned with two shareholders, the cities of Lewiston and Auburn. It formed nearly 130 years ago to create competition for the Maine Central Railroad. LARC raised money from the cities, built 5.4 miles of track from Lincoln Street in Lewiston to Lewiston Junction in Auburn and signed a 99-year lease with Grand Trunk Railway.
Its mission fulfilled, the next few decades weren’t too busy, said Hodgkin, whose book came out in April.
“What you do is hold your annual meeting for 15 minutes, elect the board and, finally, dispense the money to the respective cities,” he said. “Other than that, it was a pretty quiet board and a quiet company. Indeed, there were a couple times they forgot to hold (an annual) meeting.”
Grand Trunk eventually became Canadian National Railway. After CNR re-upped its local lease, that line became St. Lawrence & Atlantic.
In the 1990s, railroad directors decided to keep the lease money within the company — no more splitting it between cities — and use it to go after grants, Hodgkin said. That change, an increase in rail use kicked off when Ford Reiche founded Safe Handling in Auburn, and a charter update in 2006 led to a more active LARC, he said.
Today the board meets at least four times a year. Both cities’ mayors and seven council members used to make up the board of directors, Hodgkin said. Today it is made up of residents of both cities, chosen by their councils.
LARC owns the Depot, as well as 107 and 113 Lincoln St. and nearby 38 Oxford St., according to city property records.
“The (long-term) vision is that there would be a reintroduction of rail service so that the rail line comes across the trestle again, by the Depot, then, going somewhat along Lincoln Street, hooks in with the Pan-Am line (in Lisbon),” Hodgkin said.