AUBURN — Councilors were told Monday to give a passenger rail study a chance to get started.

“We are asking the kind of questions now that will help us form the scope of work and feasibility for future passenger rail,” Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, told councilors during a Monday night workshop meeting. “I will say we need to do a study that does its due diligence, and that will take time. I don’t think this is something that we can complete in six months. We need to do it right.”

State legislators approved spending $400,000 last year to develop a plan to bring passenger train service to Lewiston-Auburn last year, and Auburn and Lewiston city councils earmarked $50,000 in matching funds to help pay for the study.

Councilor Bob Stone said Auburn paid for its portion of the study out of Tax Increment Finance accounts in November, but the study has not started yet.

Stone made the case for rescinding that October approval that put aside $50,000 to be part of the study. Stone said he was a supporter of passenger rail, until he began studying Downeaster ridership into Brunswick.

“The numbers into Brunswick are pathetic,” Stone said. “The ratio of passengers to capacity was about 7.4 percent of the available seats. The Northern New England Rail Authority lost $10 million on operations last year, and this year, they are projected to lose $12.9 million.”


Councilor Andy Titus agreed, saying he had too many questions about rail service.

“I don’t know if it’s been feasible down the road,” Titus said. “I’ve heard talk about Montreal and Boston as a goal. But that’s a long-range goal, and this project is a feeder to Portland, with a feeder to Boston — and eventually, a feeder to Montreal, if everything happens.”

The study is meant to analyze the rail market and demand for the new line, create a service plan, determine what new construction is needed and potential environmental impacts and alternatives, and find ways to pay for the work.

Councilor Grady Burns, a supporter of the rail study, said he was disappointed the matter was being brought up. The previous council had approved the study in good faith, and current councilors should accept it, he said.

“I think it shows the appearance of a bad faith negotiation and calls into question all the work we do moving forward,” Burns said. “It can simply be undone if we feel like it. What does that say about us?”

And Golden said work on the study is ready to begin. A stakeholders group, including Lewiston and Auburn staff members, councilors and mayors and transportation officials, needs to meet to set the project in motion.

Councilors took no action Monday, but Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said it could be on a future agenda.

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