The Amtrak Downeaster arrives in Portland in September 2022. Some legislators are renewing efforts to study extending passenger rail service through Lewiston and Waterville to Bangor. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

There’s a new push among state lawmakers to extend passenger rail service to Lewiston, Waterville and Bangor.

Two state senators, Democrats Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston and Joe Baldacci of Bangor, filed a joint proposal this week with the Legislature’s Transportation Committee to create an all-encompassing plan for passenger rail service to the region.

“There is broad, bipartisan support for this bill by Mainers who live north of Portland,” Baldacci said in a statement posted on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. He called it an exciting development.

The measure, which won unanimous support Tuesday from the Waterville City Council, would direct state bureaucrats to apply for a $500,000 federal grant to study the pros and cons of extending rail service from Portland into central Maine.

Tony Donovan, managing director of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said that city leaders in Lewiston, Auburn, Bangor and Portland are rushing to add their backing for the bill in time to influence the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which intends to discuss the measure Jan. 25.

“I wish it was going to be a slam dunk,” said state Rep. Bruce White, a Waterville Democrat.


White said there is support for the bill from the state’s five largest cities, but that’s no guarantee that lawmakers will endorse it.

There are “a lot of moving parts,” White said. “It’s not that easy.”

Donovan said the federal government is handing out $500,000 planning grants across America to explore potential additions to the passenger rail network, including one last month that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates Amtrak’s Downeaster, received to investigate the extension of train service from Brunswick to Rockland.

The program is part of a multi-billion-dollar federal effort to bolster rail service nationally, part of the biggest initiative for passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak more than half a century ago.

That federal cash, Donovan said, “opens the opportunity for the state to do a plan” without the necessity of tapping its own funds.

The state Department of Transportation said in a memorandum to the Legislature last spring that extending passenger service from Portland to Bangor will cost “many hundreds of millions of dollars” no matter how it’s done. A study five years ago pegged the cost of restoring passenger rail between Auburn and Portland at $300 million.

The federal government, though, would provide most of the money if the project has merit, supporters said.

Lewiston and Auburn have expressed strong support in the past for passenger rail, which ceased in the mid-20th century in both communities.

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