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AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee heard Tuesday from a diverse lineup of speakers touting a bill that would complete a study examining the economic impacts of a passenger rail link between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn.

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.

The bill, LD 323, offered by state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, seeks $500,000 in state funding for the study, 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.

That section of track is key to an expansion of passenger rail service into western Maine that could eventually stretch to Montreal, connecting that Canadian city to Boston and making the Lewiston-Auburn a central hub for tourists traveling to and between both cities.

During a news conference before the bill’s hearing, Golden said Maine’s southern coastal towns were already reaping the economic benefits of being connected to Portland and Boston with passenger rail and it was time to expand.


“It’s time for the rest of the state to benefit from passenger rail service to our interior cities and towns,” Golden said. “We can start by connecting Maine’s two largest urban areas.”

Golden said in 2010 the state spent millions of dollars readying the rail from Portland to Danville Junction but stopped its efforts to finish bringing the service to the Twin Cities. 

“After four years of ownership, the state should have a plan to use this asset to the good of our state’s economy,” Golden said. He said his bill would provide the funds to the Maine Department of Transportation and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to develop a “distinct plan.”

Golden’s bill is a scaled back version of an original proposal he offered that would have not only conducted the economic impact study but also completed engineering and environmental impact studies needed to launch the project forward, were funding to become available.

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald and state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, both offered their support for the bill. Macdonald, a conservative politician, said he supported the bill because it would benefit his growing economy and support jobs and the ability of residents in his town to find jobs.

“We are starting now to see some economic movement in our city,” Macdonald said. “And a lot of us feel that if we were to get the train we would really benefit and the economic movement would really speed up.”


Rotundo, the House chairwoman of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing Appropriations Committee, offered her support testifying before the Transportation Committee just after Macdonald on Tuesday.

She said that over the decades, state government has slowly and steadily upgraded its passenger rail service with the goal of linking Lewiston to Portland always a priority.

“We have, in the past, over the years, worked in incremental ways to provide additional funding to provide the infrastructure to get passenger rail to the Lewiston-Auburn area but it’s really time to get the job done,” Rotundo said.

Also speaking in favor of the bill was Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter. 

“Expansion of passenger rail and innovative ways to fund public transit help to achieve some of our most important goals,” Brand said. “Promoting healthy air, addressing climate disruption and building a clean-energy economy that benefits all Mainers.”  

Brand said passenger rail not only reduces air and carbon pollution, it has proven it can revitalize local economies.


Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison said a passenger rail connection for the Twin Cities to Portland has been a top priority for chamber members for the past 20 years.

Morrison repeated Tuesday his belief connecting Maine to Montreal via Lewiston-Auburn and Oxford County could be, “the largest single economic development project for Maine.”

Several residents representing themselves and organizations in Oxford County also spoke in favor of the measure, which they see as the next link in a passenger system that would eventually bring trains back to Bethel and beyond.

“We have always understood that alternative modes of transportation like rail are crucial to expanding our customer base and our attractiveness as a vacation and conference destination,” Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

Zinchuk said expanding passenger rail from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn was, “the next logical step.” She said arguments against passenger rail frequently hinge on the need for public subsidies to make it work.

“As we know, all forms of public transportation, including our highways and our airports, receive that public funding because we as a society recognize that public transportation is critical to economic development,” Zinchuk said.


Zinchuk, a member of the state’s Passenger Rail Advisory Committee, said she’s seen the economic data that shows how valuable passenger rail is to economic development in communities from Kittery to Brunswick, that are served by the Amtrak passenger service there.

“The return on investment is significant,” Zinchuk said. “Millions of dollars in state investment have yielded many times more in private developments along the line.”

Golden’s bill was paired with another offered by state Rep. Ben Chipman, a Portland independent, that allows cities and towns along a rail corridor to collaborate in forming quasi-municipal entities, similar to sewer and water districts, which could help finance passenger rail developments.  

Chipman’s bill, LD 247, would also allow those new passenger rail corridor districts to issue bonds to help fund expansion projects.

Chipman said his bill answers the question, “How are you going to pay for it?”

The bill would allow for the creation of transportation corridor authorities that could help fund multiple forms of transportation infrastructure projects, including pedestrian and bike paths and trails as well as passenger rail.


“Current transit district law needs to be expanded to allow for broad powers to raise and share money,” Chipman said. He said the changes would help alleviate, “the clear problems transportation funding are causing.”

The two bills together, if approved, are being viewed as a one-two punch expediting passenger rail service to the Twin Cities and deeper into western Maine within the next decade.

Both bills face additional debate before the Transportation Committee and the full Legislature in the weeks ahead.

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