After a City Council vote Tuesday night, Waterville has become the first city in Maine to throw formal support behind a plan to extend passenger rail service from Boston and Portland to Lewiston-Auburn, Waterville and Bangor. Above, locomotives pass Wednesday over College Avenue in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The city has become the first in Maine to throw formal support behind a plan to extend passenger rail service from Boston and Portland to Lewiston-Auburn, Waterville and Bangor.

The Waterville City Council voted 5-0 on Tuesday night to approve a resolution to support LD 860, a bill before the state Legislature that would identify the railroad lines from Portland to Bangor as a major corridor and fund a feasibility study for a plan to expand passenger rail service.

Tony Donovan, managing director of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, a state organization that for years has advocated for expansion of passenger rail throughout the state, urged the council to approve the resolution.

Donovan said the state Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation is scheduled to hold a workshop Thursday, Jan. 25, to discuss the bill, and he and others hope to bring to the workshop information about votes to be taken by the five cities in the rail corridor.

The Bangor and Lewiston city councils plan to vote on the same resolution Monday, and Auburn is expected to vote on the measure prior to Jan. 25.

Portland is expected to vote on the matter next week, Donovan said, and must take a second vote, scheduled for Feb. 5.


He said it is important a message be sent to the Legislature that the five largest cities in Maine, all located on the rail corridor, support the bill.

State Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, serves on the transportation committee and urged that the Waterville City Council approve the resolution.

“Your support, I believe, would send a good message, a clear message, to the other legislators on transportation, and as it comes to a vote in the House and the Senate,” White said.

Waterville resident Nancy Sanford asked the council to support the move, saying she would take both long and shorter trips by passenger rail from Waterville if it were available.

“I think this would be wonderful,” she said. “I’ve been from Maine to California and back by rail, and to New Orleans and back by rail, and if I could get on in Waterville, that’d be great.”

State Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville Contributed photo

The resolution that councilors approved Tuesday says the mainline railroad corridor tracks operating between Boston, Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, Waterville and Bangor — owned by CSX Corp., a leading provider of rail-based freight transportation in the eastern United States and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec — offers an opportunity to provide passenger rail service between the largest cities in south, central and eastern Maine, while also improving rail infrastructure for freight service.


Donovan noted that in 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided substantial funds for state and municipal agencies to expand passenger rail to cities. Through the Corridor Priority Identification Grant program, states — including Maine — received $500,000 planning grants for exploring extending Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service from Brunswick to Rockland.

As amended, LD 860 directs the state rail authority to provide the same resources for applying for a new round of funding, which would allow for a thorough analysis of the CSX mainline corridor for shared passenger and freight uses and identify the station communities that stand to benefit from the service.

Last year, when the grant funding became available, state Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, White and other state lawmakers talked about the advantage of the grant program, Donovan said. They discussed that it identified rail communities under a new criteria, unlike the previous criteria that limited potential for service to places, such as Waterville, based on studies showing there is not enough population, even though the population is less than or equal to those of communities along the corridor.

The rail corridor, like the interstate highway system through Maine, has been recognized for decades by the federal government as the federal high speed northeast rail corridor from Boston to Portland, Auburn, Lewiston and Bangor, Donovan said.

The Maine corridor and new program opens the opportunity for the state to proceed beyond population numbers to develop a plan to bring communities into the discussion about whether passenger rail can be brought to the corridor, and whether it is good and beneficial to communities in terms of the economy, environment, housing, jobs, equity and more, according to Donovan.

Waterville resident Kim Hallee introduced Donovan and White on Tuesday as she thanked the City Council and Waterville officials for getting the resolution on the agenda quickly. She said the information for the resolution was brought to the city just a few days prior.

Donovan urged residents and city officials to call the governor’s office and leave messages in support of the federal funding for a plan to develop passenger rail service in the area.

Only five councilors voted Tuesday because the Ward 5 seat formerly held by Mike Morris, who now is the mayor of Waterville, remains vacant until a new councilors is elected in March.

Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

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