“I’m very disillusioned with it, quite frankly. It’s not going to come in our lifetime.”

With those comments at the last Woodstock selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Vern Maxfield and the board agreed he should end his role as a member of the Androscoggin Oxford Coos Counties Corridor Committee, which is seeking to return passenger rail service to the Bethel area and beyond to Montreal.

Maxfield, who said he has been attending “about every other meeting” of the panel, said the effort seems to be “pie in the sky. From my perspective, it’s a waste of my time. I don’t think it’s going to happen. They’ve been promoting it as though it’s going to make money, and no passenger rail has ever made money in the U.S.”

He also said the effort is being promoted with the idea that “people who stay in Auburn a week or so are going to take the train to Sunday River. That’s not going to happen. They’re going to go on their schedule, not the train’s schedule.”

Selectman Rick Young agreed. “They didn’t do it before,” he said, referring to Sunday River’s ski train project of 20 years ago, which had anticipated eventual rail service to Montreal, but ended after two years when that did not materialize.

Young also noted that taxpayers have to subsidize Amtrak train service.

Of any potential future train service through here, Selectman Ron Deegan said, “I’d ride it one time just to say I rode on it. That’s it.”

Maxfield also said passenger rail supporters “want to tie the [Oxford] casino to it. Then you’ve got to have a shuttle from the casino to the train station.”

Young and Deegan supported Maxfield bowing out of service on the committee.

“I say put your time somewhere else,” said Deegan.

RECENT LEGISLATION

The AOCCC dates back to Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce discussions begun around 2007 in response to Maine Department of Transportation studies on the expansion of passenger rail in Maine.

Greenwood Town Manager Kim Sparks, also a committee member, said last week she and her selectboard still feel the rail effort is worthwhile, and the town will host an AOCCC committee meeting in May. She said that the committee most recently has been working to support state legislation relating to the effort.

One bill, LD 323, seeks $500,000 in state funding for the study of the economic impacts of a passenger rail link between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn, which many passenger rail advocates said is the next important step in securing the finances needed to upgrade 13 miles of state rail that runs between Yarmouth and Danville Junction in Auburn, according to a recent article in the Sun Journal. That section of track is key to an expansion of passenger rail service into western Maine that could eventually stretch to Montreal, connecting the Canadian city to Boston and making the Lewiston-Auburn a central hub for tourists traveling to and between both cities.

The study would also develop a specific rail service development plan that would likely determine how many daily trips between the cities would be offered and how the system would link into the state’s existing passenger rail system and schedules.

Another bill, LD 247, allows cities and towns along a rail corridor to collaborate in forming quasi-municipal entities, which could help finance passenger rail developments. It would also allow those new passenger rail corridor districts to issue bonds to help fund expansion projects.

State Rep. Fran Head (R-Bethel), is a co-sponsor of LD 247 and also supports LD 323.

“I support LD 247 and LD 323 because we have a real opportunity to grow our economy right here in Oxford County,” she said. “A passenger train connecting Montreal to Portland could serve as a real economic boost to our area. I applaud the work of the committee members who have gotten us so far, and will support this project in any way that I can.”

ZINCHUK, DONOVAN RESPOND

Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, gave this response to Maxfield’s concerns:

“I can understand how some of the town managers of the smaller communities (like Woodstock) may feel that the reality of passenger rail is too far off – and that attending committee meetings may not be the best use of their time.

“Saying that, the AOCCC is committed to the effort for the long term. We have decided to go from monthly meetings to a possible quarterly meeting scenario, knowing that quite a bit of work will be done between meetings by the staff of AVCOG, Community Concepts Finance Corp. and key individuals like Tony (Donovan) of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition.”

Zinchuk said the ski train of the 1990s “was passenger rail before its time. It did show us what could be. Since then, the development of the Downeaster Services and now its extension to Brunswick, makes passenger rail even more possible and in fact probable for communities in Maine who are willing to ‘show up’ and advocate.

“This is where we are at now. The Chamber board continues to want involvement in this conversation and advocacy effort as we believe passenger rail service will infuse new economic opportunities for Bethel as well as our sister communities in western Maine – and eventually into rural New Hampshire, Vermont and on to Montreal.

“It is essential for us to collectively ‘stay the course’ for the long run, otherwise our past efforts will be for naught. Municipal participation, private investment, and State/federal investments will be needed through the process.”

She said a ‘Rally for Rail’ is being planned for September, with a tentative plan to hold it in the Lewiston/Auburn area.

Tony Donovan also responded to a request for comment on Maxfield’s statements. Donovan is a professional commercial realtor specializing in site location of development of train station sites, and was involved in the Portland Transportation Center and the Brunswick Main Street Station.

“I understand Mr. Maxfield’s concern that this is a slow project, as is true with most major infrastructure investments and in particular one that in the end will restore passenger rail service between Montreal Canada and Boston,” he said. “This is an effort that will require the collective will of a lot of people and organizations.”

In response to a statement Maxfield also made at the selectmen’s meeting that he believed Donovan owns a share in the Bethel Station development, which would benefit from the return of rail service, Donovan said, “In Bethel I represent the owner of the long vacant Bethel Station development site in attracting investors to revitalize this important regional asset. If I succeed I will be paid. I do not own an interest anymore than you or any resident or town official who wants to see this region prosper.”


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