AUBURN (AP) – State transportation officials are looking to increase the amount of cargo in Maine that moves by train.

They say increased reliance on rail will curb greenhouse gas emissions, reduce highway maintenance costs and lower transportation costs for manufacturers.

Deputy Transportation Commissioner Greg Nadeau said trucks will continue to be the dominant mode for hauling freight, but it’s vital to have more cargo move by rail to allow room on the highways for the anticipated growth in truck traffic.

“Improving our rail infrastructure has a direct benefit on highway and bridge infrastructure,” he said. “It’s all connected.”

Noting that trains can transport heavy products more cheaply than tractor-trailer trucks while using less fuel, Nadeau noted that a single 100-car train carries as much cargo as 300 to 400 trucks.

The department’s stance represents a shift from its long-standing policy of being “mode neutral” in regard to freight transportation.

Since 2000 the state has spent more than $5 million in bond money to help improve railroad infrastructure, such as building rail sidings to factories. The state plans to increase rail spending as part of a long-term plan that focuses on improving the links in Maine’s transportation system.

The amount of freight moved by truck in Maine has declined from 89 to 84 percent over the past seven years, but Maine remains more dependent on trucks than most states.

Nationally, trucks account for 78 percent of domestic freight.

Gov. John Baldacci says he wants Maine to be a leader in reviving rail freight service in New England. He said he’ll press for a regional plan for rail investment when New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers meet next September in Bar Harbor.

The governor held two Blaine House summits this summer with officials from Pan Am Railways and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic, which links the state with the Canadian National Railroad. Also attending were officials from the railroads’ large customers.

Baldacci plans to hold a third summit next month with officials and customers from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad.

Baldacci said he wants state transportation officials to work with railroads and their customers to solve problems and improve service.

“With margins as thin as they are, we are looking to reduce the cost of doing business,” he said.

Information from: Portland Press Herald,

AP-ES-11-18-07 1546EST

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