MEDOT puts out to bid: Lewiston/Auburn passenger rail!

Corey

Senior Member
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
1,414
Reaction score
47
Interesting! I'm curious what this would connect to. The construction advertisement just says "future passenger service to Lewiston and Auburn on the Lewiston Auburn Railroad Line near the Auburn Airport." I assume it somehow connects to some of the old lines that used to run to Portland or other towns.

Edit - Some Google map exploring confirms that this line near the Auburn Airport connects to Portland. This Sun Journal article from February also discusses connecting Auburn/Portland and Auburn/Bethel.
 

BostonUrbEx

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2010
Messages
4,309
Reaction score
86
Details aren't know yet, but I suspect a branch of the Downeaster, personally. Although it could be a scenic railroad like the one that runs out of Brunswick with connection to the Downeaster, although it would probably have the connection in Portland. Either way, sounds exciting.
 
P

Patrick

Guest
This is just a possibility. To my knowledge, the bid is to reconstruct a rail line that could be, in the future, used as passenger rail. This is a step in the right direction, but I don't believe there are any active plans to bring rails this way (although I know a number of people who are stirring things up in this direction and advocating hard for that result). The decision to skip L/A (as it is called colloquially) was political and irritates many in the planning world. Passenger rail should get up here, then I can take the train to work every morning. I live near the Amtrak in Portland and work in "downtown" Auburn.
 

FrankLloydMike

Active Member
Joined
Jun 24, 2010
Messages
514
Reaction score
0
Is the Portland North transit study/plan still going on? I don't know a ton about the area, but with the Downeaster continuing up to Brunswick, this seems like it could be a good complementary, maybe smaller rail line between Portland and L/A.

Given the colleges in both Portland and L/A and the general population centers, a rail line connecting the two largest metro areas in the state (is L/A the 2nd or is it Bangor?) seems to make sense. I'm wondering if something like a DMU or even light-rail running through Portland's city center and then out to L/A would make sense. I'm sure there are issues with running light rail on a freight/Amtrak corridor, though.

Again, I'm not familiar with the area really, but what would be the motivation for continuing the line all the way to Bethel? Just looking at the route on a map, it doesn't seem like there would be enough demand for such a line. Even between Portland and L/A there's a large swath of rural land in New Gloucester, North Yarmouth and Cumberland that probably wouldn't make sense for rail except for being between Portland and L/A. It's too bad a relatively dense place like Westbrook wasn't on the route.
 

Corey

Senior Member
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
1,414
Reaction score
47
^I had almost forgotten about the Portland North transit planning, I haven't heard too much about that lately. Doesn't look like much new material on their website, although it mentions the Portland/Auburn rail corridor so maybe the track that will be renovated is related to that project. According to the 2010 census, Lewiston alone is the 2nd largest city in the state, and the combined population of Lewiston/Auburn isn't too far behind Portland. So I think there would definitely be some demand. And the reason for connecting to Bethel is likely becase of Sunday River ski resort. I've never been up in that part of Maine and have never been downhill skiing, but I seem to recall there was a "ski train" service from somewhere to Bethel a few years ago. Anyone remember where that connected to?
 

PortlandArch

Active Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2012
Messages
171
Reaction score
1
^I had almost forgotten about the Portland North transit planning, I haven't heard too much about that lately. Doesn't look like much new material on their website, although it mentions the Portland/Auburn rail corridor so maybe the track that will be renovated is related to that project. According to the 2010 census, Lewiston alone is the 2nd largest city in the state, and the combined population of Lewiston/Auburn isn't too far behind Portland. So I think there would definitely be some demand. And the reason for connecting to Bethel is likely becase of Sunday River ski resort. I've never been up in that part of Maine and have never been downhill skiing, but I seem to recall there was a "ski train" service from somewhere to Bethel a few years ago. Anyone remember where that connected to?
Yeah but the land area of L/A is something like 80 miles (Auburn alone is 60 I believe) whereas Portland has about 1/3 land area and still 5,000 more people. And the density outside of Portland is higher, too, not to mention the people/demographics are vastly different between the two places. Still a good idea to look into passenger rail there, though.

I believe the Bethel train went from Portland off of Presumpscot St. to Bethel for the skiing as you said.
 

markhb

Active Member
Joined
Oct 19, 2013
Messages
370
Reaction score
12
Could a moderator please move this to the Maine forum? Thank you!

( I'll stop now :) )
 

George_Apley

Not a Brahmin
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
4,470
Reaction score
828
Hah yeah. I only went back so far into the archives when I populated the new Maine subforum.
 

markhb

Active Member
Joined
Oct 19, 2013
Messages
370
Reaction score
12
George, thanks for moving those! It was primarily that I noticed that Rock Row hadn't moved over ( and that's the one that's breaking Maine's streak of, once a project for its own thread, nothing ever got built) and I grabbed a couple that were nearby. Thanks again!
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
4,358
Reaction score
497
One problem is that all frequencies go to Brunswick and there's only one more Boston-bound slot (based on only being allowed 12 movements per day on track without PTC signals).

Another problem is that the FRE/BRU extension didn't attract new ridership...it just (barely) shifted where people park (from Portland to FRE/BRU). Running to L/A is just an invitation to operate more empty track-miles.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
6,089
Reaction score
1,017
One problem is that all frequencies go to Brunswick and there's only one more Boston-bound slot (based on only being allowed 12 movements per day on track without PTC signals).

Another problem is that the FRE/BRU extension didn't attract new ridership...it just (barely) shifted where people park (from Portland to FRE/BRU). Running to L/A is just an invitation to operate more empty track-miles.
Plus bus service to Lewiston is already very fast amid sparse traffic with decent starting frequencies, so the DE frequency-forking scheme was completely and utterly without a sales hook that would hold water. The late-2000's were a particularly odd era in Maine transpo history; their overenthusiasm led them to light study money on fire for some truly bugfark schemes at the slightest provocation. This was one of them. So was the DE service extension to Rockland back when they were wildly overestimating the popularity of the now-defunct excursion train out of Brunswick. So was when they spent actual money on the Mountain Division reactivation study Portland-Fryeburg to...I don't know...visit the cows that outnumber humans on most of the route. They even entertained a potential study for Train Riders of New England's totally off-wall Brunswick-Lewiston foamer scheme before pulling back from the brink and taking a hard pass.

As I recall, Amtrak bitched them out pretty hard for not keeping their priorities straight. The disappointing Brunswick numbers (much better now, but still trending well below original estimates) and the DE's Summer from hell in deferred maint speed-restriction purgatory a few years ago forced an overdue retrenching to the bread-and-butter, and some overdue realization that so long as Portland is carrying the rest of a state in decline on its back they can't afford to overstretch themselves. Sanity has prevailed a lot more the last few years with a badly needed refocussing on the BOS-POR spine and improving the Western Route's reliability.



I think at this point it's safe to say the only DE extension option with any hope is straight out of Brunswick to Augusta. And that will probably not get greenlit until they figure out the whole truth that it's not going wash on revenue payback by passengers alone unless they make a hard sell with tough choices to Pan Am (or successors) for network consolidation of the Portland-Waterville freight main swapped over to presently disused Augusta Lower Road. Northern Maine freight volumes have collapsed to the point where PAR has no incentive to spend for acceptable travel times between Auburn and Bangor, and Canadian Pacific's recent re-buy into Northern ME from Quebec for St. John's/Halifax port access may end up vulturing more loads from PAR at Bangor via its superior perch giving PAR all the less incentive to stick their necks out. At this point the ex- Maine Central main is pretty much relegated to permanent maintenance-mode, and if the state wants to reverse that trend to try to stimulate any economically-significant shipping volumes traversing the middle third of the state ever again they're going to have to tease a big partnership with big synergies. Like enticing PAR to swap over entirely from their slow Back Road main to run 60 MPH double-stacked freights Portland-Augusta on shared passenger track...then have them reciprocate the state investment with a rare display of self-investment on the rest of the distance Augusta-Waterville to pull the most consequential leg of the MEC back into competitiveness as a shipping lane to the big Canadian ports. It comes with the steep downside that the Back Road from Leeds Jct. north of Auburn (i.e. the split with the busy Rumford Branch that supplies most paper mill traffic) all the way to Waterville becomes Maine's newest and longest-ever rail-trail because there are zero customers on that highly rural stretch to keep it going, and zero passenger considerations now and forever past downtown Auburn. That pretty much has to be the terms of engagement, because the Lower Road has decent passenger upside while the Back Road doesn't...but making past-Portland pay requires a far more intensive freight revenue partnership than they've pursued to-date. And there is far, far too much route duplication in the state to keep daydreaming at the fantasy that all of these ROW's are viable by segregating service. Maine has an absolutely depressing share of state-owned route miles that are outright out-of-service with no operating RR whatsoever and little hope of finding one. It's not sustainable to keep them all in (barely) ready-to-run state without hard choices and 1 or 2 big negotiated earthquake deals to radically restructure where the upside is.

I can already feel Train Riders of New England flaks making retching faces at the prospect of more passing meets with freight trains...but it's literally the only way passenger service becomes sustainable anywhere outside the BOS-POR lane. Freight partnering is something MassDOT gets as second-nature now after 15 years of CSX deal-making so mutually productive to both freight and passenger interests that the consumated deals have become an economic engine unto themselves and a perennial gift that keeps on giving as they keep seeking more new deals to make. Vermont, much more similar to Maine at having to move very slow and deliberate station-to-station to get any of its transpo initiatives enacted, hits paydirt the same way by playing a long game of deal-making with NECR and Vermont Rail System on its two biggie corridors. The launch of the Rutland-Burlington Ethan Allen Express extension in 2021 will be a big crowning achievement as 15 years of small-dose, methodical upgrading of VRS's Western Corridor finally pays off. And they're already set for the re-extension of the Vermonter to Montreal having struck 5 years in advance on finished track upgrades from St. Albans to the border that were muscled under ostensibly freight-only grants. That's the model Maine needs to follow. They need to pull every trick VTrans did with the EAE to make a modest-ceiling route like the Lower Road to Augusta expand its footprint, and they have to get bold like the MassDOT Beacon Park/Worcester Line/double-stack megadeal to entice the economic backstop of freight revenue pitched to new growth instead of stagnant maintenance-mode to align their rail assets in a way where the economic heft trawls the growth corridors (even if that means making a painful consolidation by abandoning the zero-growth Back Road in the process). Put it this way: if DE extension can bullseye itself on troubleshooting PAR from a place of zero-growth on the north-of-Portland MEC main to modest growth (at least enough to compel keeping physical plant to Bangor in acceptable shape)...then that provides the template for eventually doing an encore and extending Augusta-Waterville...then completing the route all the way to Bangor. And sweetens the chances of actual (non-Amtrak) Portland-Auburn service being within the realm of midcentury prayer, because there's a sizeable intermodal transload on the outskirts of Auburn fed jointly by PAR and St. Lawrence & Atlantic out of Montreal. The more you're moving stuff across Maine the more important that Auburn IM facility projects, as the more enriched PAR traffic will drive growth there and the more SLR will work its lane from Montreal to competitive advantage. You would have a leg to stand on for upgrading Portland-Auburn speeds for faster freight, which starts to beckon low-rent commuter rail dreams.

I still don't trust them enough to get that done, as NNEPRA and TRNE are still staffed by some of the same daydreamers who lobbied the state to spend so stupidly on those fluff studies 10 years ago. But they can't say there aren't eminently viable 'show-me' examples to glean from the rest of New England on exactly how they can and should get it done. We'll see if slowly evolving attitudes start to evolve more quickly to the point where the net gets cast wide for deal-making exploits that can deliver the backstopping economic sustainability for robust DE expansion. It's there. Maybe they first have to wait until Randoid weirdo Tim Mellon retires from the helm of PAR before there's a willing partner, but he doesn't have any heirs to take over the family choo-choo obsession so that selloff of the company is only a couple years away. If newer, more conventional RR owners come in...they're going to be in a rationalization mode and want to see if the state feels like lending a hand re: pulling the MEC out of maintenance-mode...lest they just draw a firewall around their BOS-POR profit center. Intrepid planners could be making hay right now honing their future pitch to PAR's successors, doing the internal legwork on ID'ing the deal-making matchups that track best with sustainable passenger expansion. It's exactly how VTrans got its ball rolling decades before they could claim publicly with a straight face that it was going for it on an EAE Burlington extension. No time like the present to start working smarter and start searching for better exploits.
 

Top