LEWISTON — A passenger rail study looking at a connection between Lewiston-Auburn and Portland will move forward after Maine’s largest city agreed to supply the remaining funds.

Portland officials got on board after the Auburn City Council last month declined to fund the remaining $10,000, as part of a local match for the feasibility study.

The effort is tied to legislation approved in June, that directed the Maine Department of Transportation to finish a study that will determine if Lewiston and Auburn can be tied into the passenger rail network that extends from Portland to Boston and beyond. The measure required Lewiston and Auburn to chip in 10% of the $200,000 price tag.

State Sen. Nate Libby, a Lewiston Democrat, said Thursday he’s “grateful” to Portland officials for “stepping up” to fund the second half of the local match. Libby, as well as Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer, said the time is now to capitalize on an influx of federal infrastructure spending.

“It’s my hope and expectation that this phase of planning is the final requirement necessary to put Maine in the strongest possible position to compete for federal infrastructure dollars to build out this project,” Libby said. “Connecting Maine’s two largest cities along 18 miles of underutilized rail line and providing economical and efficient public transit has been a long time in the making, and I’m excited for the potential to see it through.”

Cayer said the stakeholders will work with MDOT to establish a timeline and consultant for the study, which would be completed by March.


“Now’s the perfect time,” he said Thursday, adding that the study “will help us gain the data we need to determine if it’s feasible.”

The law requires the DOT’s study to make “an economic evaluation of commuter and passenger rail service” that builds upon the Lewiston-Auburn Passenger Rail Service Plan, the region’s initial study, finished in May 2019.

Last month, Auburn councilors voted unanimously against providing the funding. At the time, Councilor Leroy Walker called the effort “a big black hole.” Other councilors questioned why Auburn was again being asked for funding after spending $50,000 on the initial study. Lewiston also funded $50,000 for the 2019 study.

This week in Portland, the City Council voted unanimously to put up the money, and waived a second reading to allow MDOT to move forward now.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said the request was “a little unexpected,” but that the study would help the state apply for federal funding.

Portland City Councilor Belinda Ray said she’s heard plenty of support for the effort to make the Portland to Lewiston connection, but that a study of the corridor is needed.


“I do wish Auburn had stepped up, because they were the ones who were supposed to fund this, but I do think we’re another municipality that benefits greatly from this study,” she said.

During the Lewiston City Council meeting this week, Cayer said he reached out to Mayor Snyder after Auburn backed out, and was thankful for the city’s support.

“The two largest communities in the state providing funding I think will mean something up in Augusta,” he said.

Libby said the 2019 report “shows there’s a path forward” for passenger rail, and the study will bring the state “closer to having all the pieces together.”

Bringing back passenger service to the area will likely cost between $200 million and $300 million, according to a 2018 study, and likely require an ongoing subsidy to operate. But backers said it would also spur economic activity, ease transportation between Maine’s two biggest metropolitan areas and help take more gas-powered vehicles off the road.

One proposal would take passengers from Lewiston-Auburn to the Portland Transportation Center via the Pan Am Rail Line, while a second alignment would use the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Rail Line.

Officials said this week they have heard strong opinions about possible connection points in both cities, but that the study should determine the best options.

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