Rail study to look at Maine to Montreal passengers, costs


AUBURN — A new rail study will try to estimate the number of potential train riders among Portland, Auburn and Montreal —  as well as the potential cost of expanding the service.

David Cole, commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, briefed western Maine municipal officials and planners on the next steps to expand rail service between Portland and Auburn. Cole was the featured guest speaker at the Androscoggin Valley Council of Government’s annual meeting Wednesday.

The state unveiled a bond proposal last month that includes $62 million for highway, port and rail projects. Of that, $5 million would go toward rail improvements in Lewiston-Auburn.

Cole broke those numbers down further. He said $2 million would be used to buy the line between Yarmouth Junction and Danville Junction from the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad. That would give the state an uninterrupted rail line from Portland to Auburn.

“The first part of that is the expansion between Portland and Brunswick, which brought the line to Yarmouth Junction under our control,” Cole said.

The remaining $3 million would be used to connect the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line to the Lewiston-Auburn Railroad lines in the Twin Cities.

“And that in itself would open up 300-plus acres near the port of Auburn to rail use,” Cole said.

He said a market and ridership study of the route should begin in the next six months. The MDOT will work with AVCOG to estimate ridership on the rail lines between Portland and Montreal. Past studies have estimated 800,000 individuals would ride a Montreal to Auburn rail line over the course of two years.

Don Craig, director of the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center, said previous studies didn’t include the capital costs of extending rail.

“What’s different about the new study is it will actually evaluate the capital costs, to determine what work needs to be done to bring passenger service to that line and how much it’s going to cost,” Craig said.

AVCOG members on Wednesday also discussed their priorities for regional transportation investment and recognized two development projects.

They gave a planning achievement award for efforts to rebuild the Canton Dam on Lake Anasagunticook in Canton. Efforts to rebuild two Lockheed Super Constellations in the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport received a business achievement award.

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