RUMFORD – Forget passenger train service to the River Valley area anytime soon. Not going to happen, says Ron Roy, of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Office of Passenger and Multimodal Planning in Augusta.

“Right now, our priority is Brunswick and Auburn and then it becomes where do we go next? But neither one of these is funded yet,” Roy said by phone Friday morning.

His office is conducting a federal study, looking into the feasibility of establishing a passenger rail line to both Auburn and Brunswick.

At the same time, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is looking into extending its Amtrak Downeaster passenger line to Freeport.

The main problem is the cost to upgrade freight track lines, which don’t have to be in top shape for freight trains due to slower speeds traveled. On average, Roy said, it costs $1 million a mile to upgrade track.

And then there’s population density to consider. Does the population of a town like Rumford, for example, justify spending that kind of money to bring in another transportation mode?

“I mean, let’s face it. Mainers aren’t going to want to get out of their automobiles,” he added.

The Downeaster, which runs between Portland and Boston, works in the greater Portland area, because the ridership is there, Roy said.

At Wednesday night’s River Valley Growth Council Board of Directors meeting, Dixfield Director Bill DeVries asked about the possibility of getting passenger rail service back into the Rumford area.

While told that it was a great idea, no one had an answer for him.

He said he was concerned about the high cost of vehicle fuel, especially after learning that night that several people in the area travel to and from jobs in Lewiston.

Wayne Davis of TrainRiders/Northeast in Portland was more optimistic than Roy.

“How many people pile into their cars in Rumford and head to a job in Lewiston or even Portland? Money makes anything possible,” Davis said by phone Friday afternoon.

TrainRiders/Northeast is an organization of residents who worked 17 years to bring Amtrak to Portland. Davis said he can still remember traveling as a youth by a passenger train during the early 1950s with his father to Rumford from Portland. His dad built Rumford’s first Zayre store.

“At least the tracks are still there and I know the paper company still uses them. … Several (passenger) trains ran every day to Farmington and Rumford, so, it’s perfectly feasible. It just needs a quick study,” Davis said.

Believing that Maine can reap economic benefits by reviving passenger train lines, Davis said he wants to see the Downeaster extended to Freeport, Brunswick and Yarmouth. From Yarmouth Junction, the service could go to Lewiston and to Rumford and even Montreal from there.

“If the Lewiston government and Rumford government want rail service, all they’ve got to do is holler and an argument can be made. … Rails have come again. They really have and Lewiston-Auburn is in a wonderful position. To link to Montreal again, I think, would be just wonderful,” Davis said.

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