AUGUSTA — A $400,000 state-funded study aimed at developing a plan to bring passenger train service to Lewiston-Auburn remains on track despite an attempt by Gov. Paul LePage to derail it.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate on Friday overturned a LePage line-item veto of the study that was part of the state’s new, two-year highway budget. 

Lawmakers also rejected a LePage veto that would have cut state funding for the Amtrak Downeaster from $2 million a year to $1 million.

The Lewiston-Auburn study is the result of legislation offered by Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, who said it could be a final critical step in seeing a passenger train pull into the Twin Cities. The study requires $100,000 in local matching funds.

In his veto message LePage said his administration was focused on using Highway Fund money, two-thirds of which comes from taxes on vehicle fuels, for improving key transportation infrastructure, especially roads, bridges and ports.

“No longer do we spend millions of dollars planning projects we know we will never build,” LePage wrote in his veto message.

Golden said an earlier study did not go into the detail of developing a business plan that would include an examination of which of two rail lines that pass through the cities would be best suited for an upgrade.

“The 2011 study is flying from like 10,000 feet,” Golden said, “and this study gets us down to the granular level of detail we need to know to move forward.”

The new study will seek to determine things such as how many trips a day would be possible, how many riders the train would serve and where the most feasible location for a downtown station might be, Golden said.

The study’s findings would be among the things needed to qualify a construction project for federal funding and would help put a passenger rail project for the cities in a “shovel-ready” position.

“This is a big step forward in bringing passenger rail to Lewiston-Auburn and it sets the stage for new economic development in our cities,” Golden said Friday following the votes to overturn LePage’s veto.

Passenger rail advocates heralded the Legislature’s action Friday and urged lawmakers to also put a $25 million borrowing package to build the project before voters in the next election.

“It’s exciting to see the momentum building in the Legislature for passenger train service from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn,” said Shenna Bellows, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club Maine Chapter. 

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