LEWISTON — Does it make sense for the Twin Cities to pursue a passenger rail service between Lewiston-Auburn and Portland?

City officials are hoping that local residents can help them answer that question during an upcoming open house at the Lewiston Public Library. 

The public feedback is part of a study underway to see if connecting the Twin Cities with the Amtrak Downeaster service in Portland is feasible. While the mayors of both cities say they are anxious to hear feedback, they aren’t optimistic it will make sense financially. 

Both cities, along with the Maine Department of Transportation and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, will host the open house Wednesday, March 28, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. 

Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s economic and community development director, was on a conference call Wednesday regarding the study. He said the meeting is to identify the need or demand of a passenger rail service connecting residents to Portland “and the broader rail network.”

While previous studies have looked at possible northern connections to Montreal, Canada, he said this study is first focused on whether connecting to the Amtrak service is possible. 

The state previously put up $400,000 toward the study, with Lewiston and Auburn each providing $50,000 for the study to go forward. The initiative was prompted by state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, but officials from both cities, including Jeffers, serve on a study committee. 

The night before the Lewiston meeting, a public meeting will also be held in Portland regarding the rail expansion.

The biggest question, Jeffers said, is “how many people would use it?”

He said if found feasible, the service would most likely be a connector to the Downeaster — known as an “inter-city” connection — but would likely not have the needed traffic to run as a commuter rail between the cities. 

For instance, if someone from Mechanic Falls wanted a connection to Portland and beyond, they could drive to Lewiston to take the train rather than drive to Portland. 

But, he said in order to receive any federal funding toward the rail service, an analysis had to be done.

“You need a study in hand that analyzes the economic benefit,” he said, adding that it also has to spell out the demand and the potential cost of infrastructure improvements. 

At this point, Jeffers said, the city is trying to make a “big push” to get people at the meeting. He said the cities can crunch all the numbers it wants, but the most useful is “what do the people have to say?” 

A post on the city’s Facebook page regarding the rail service had hundreds of comments and was shared 161 times. 

A city news release said officials at the meeting “will gather feedback from attendees about how they travel today as well as whether they would use an expanded passenger rail service.” 

Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard said this week, “I want to hear what people have to say about it. Personally, I am skeptical about whether passenger rail will work here but I’ll listen and keep an open mind.”

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque was more specific, saying he’s not optimistic that Auburn would put up the funding. 

“While I am a supporter of rail transport I am not certain that Amtrak and the potential routes and frequency would benefit Auburn in such a way that the city would consider funding a portion of the project,” he said. 

City Administrator Ed Barrett said Lewiston and Auburn “have been working on passenger rail for some time,” and that previous studies “did not take a complete look at the potential economic impact of passenger rail in the area.” 

Barrett said the study also aims to take “an inventory of infrastructure needed to support operations with an estimate of necessary capital investments; and evaluating potential financing mechanisms for capital and operating costs and an implementation approach and schedule.”

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