AUBURN — City councilors indicated support Monday for chipping in $50,000 for a passenger rail study but were concerned about raising that amount in a short time.

More than a dozen people expressed views on the topic for about an hour. The issue was not on the council’s agenda for a vote. Action is expected at the Oct. 19 meeting.

Rep. Jared F. Golden, D-Lewiston, presented a detailed explanation of the funding request, emphasizing that Lewiston approved its $50,000 share in July.

Both cities must raise the money before $400,000 from the state can be allocated for the passenger rail service study. The Maine Department of Transportation, in consultation with Lewiston and Auburn and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, would undertake the study.

One of its objectives is to look at extending Amtrak Downeaster service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. The potential for rail service through the Lewiston-Auburn area and connecting to Montreal is another component which is more likely for the future.

Golden said it will be critical to pin down return-on-investment figures.


Auburn City Councilor at-large Belinda Gerry expressed concern that the funding request, which must be resolved before Nov. 1, was “now coming at the eleven-and-a-half hour.”

“You should have brought this forward when we were working on the budget,” she said. 

Gerry asked Golden if it might be possible to introduce an emergency bill that would extend the deadline. He said that was not an option.

“I think this is the right step to take now,” Golden said. 

Rep. Bruce A. Bickford, R-Auburn, recalled the history of Danville village where a major Grand Trunk Railway station operated in the mid-1950s and earlier. He said that period brought significant economic benefit from a Montreal connection. Bickford said he believes there is the potential for much tourist revenue to be generated by investing in rail passenger service to Lewiston-Auburn.

“L-A would be an international center of commerce,” he said. “You have to give a little to get a lot.”


Also speaking in support of the funding request was Cliff Greim, chairman of the board of directors of the Androscoggin Country Chamber of Commerce. Several committees of the chamber, which has 1,400 members, were on record in favor of the study, he said.

Robert Stone of Auburn, a well-known member of the area’s banking community, spoke vehemently against the study proposal. He voiced doubt that the promising economic benefits would ever be achieved, noting that rail development costs would be $107 million to $273 million and operating losses would be in the range of $7 million annually.

Stone said the plan has already been studied in great detail.

“It’s more suction of dollars to points south,” he said.

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