The state’s Portland to Auburn Rail Use Advisory Council agreed this month to support creation of a bicycle and pedestrian trail along a 26.5-mile, state-owned rail corridor between the two cities.

Seven of the 15 members of the panel recommended removing the tracks to create the trail, while five others supported leaving the tracks in place for possible future use and adding a trail beside them.

It is a decision hailed by some and denounced by others.

The Maine Rail Transit Coalition said the vote to tear out the tracks for a paved recreational trail “will go down in infamy.”

But the Casco Bay Trail Alliance, which pushed for the outcome, called it “a very important development in the progress toward an off-road trail connecting Portland, Lewiston and Brunswick.”

Unused railroad tracks, background, veer from the main line, foreground, into the woods at Danville Junction in Auburn. The unused tracks might become part of a proposed rail-to-trail project connecting Lewiston and Auburn, Brunswick and Portland with a 68-mile corridor for biking and walking. The portion from Portland to Auburn would be 26.5 miles. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Before anything can be done to move forward with the proposed trail along the inactive rail line, the transportation commissioner must get legislative approval.


To create a paved trail along the corridor would likely cost more than $55 million, officials estimate. Leaving the tracks in place and adding a trail would add another $40 million to the price tag. Either way, federal money would likely cover much of the tab.

A map showing the location of the rail corridor eyed for a new walking and biking trail. Portland to Auburn Rail Use Advisory Council

In general, the state is pursuing more rail trails, perhaps including one between Lewiston and Brunswick that could eventually tie into the trail in Auburn, creating a corridor that would run from Portland to the Twin Cities and then to Brunswick for a long loop.

As it is, the unused St. Lawrence & Atlantic track is serving little purpose.

The council made its decision to endorse the trail last week after hearing from more than 700 people about the best use for the Berlin Subdivision section of the line that runs from Portland to the Auburn/New Gloucester line. It issued a draft report following the vote.

It considered whether to leave the largely unused tracks alongside by adding a trail beside them or take out the tracks to create a trail-only corridor the length of a marathon race.

A big majority of those speaking out on the issue urged it to focus on creation of a trail.


Only one member of the committee favored the rail-only option. Since two members abstained, the trail-only option garnered a slight majority.

The report from the rail panel said its use for recreation “will encourage more active lifestyles,” help property values along the corridor and spur consumer activity of as much as $5.3 million in additional annual spending.

The section eyed for a trail was owned and used by the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad for years, but has been out of service for more than a decade. The state has owned it since 2010.

Only one short section is used for any rail operations.

The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum provides seasonal tourist excursions along a short portion of corridor from Ocean Gateway in Portland to a spot south of the swing bridge along the Eastern Promenade. An existing trail runs adjacent to the tracks along the same corridor used by the museum.

The recommendation to take the tracks out and make a multiuse trail on the former track bed is inherently an interim proposal because state law mandates that rail corridors must be preserved for possible future rail use. In short, even if it becomes a trail, it could be converted back to rail in the future, although few think that likely.

There is another rail line connecting Auburn to Portland that is still in use for freight trains. It has also been eyed for possible passenger service in the future.

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