Portland Passenger Rail

P

Patrick

Guest
With all the talk about rail these days, especially given the Obama Administration's recent federal commitment to the topic, I think it would be fitting to have a separate thread for this subject.

One of the posters on this forum mentioned that he met someone outside of Portland who worked for METRO and said there may be some sort of a controversy or conflict between waterfront rail advocates and pedestrian trail advocates. I think the following news story may illuminate what that source was referring to:

Rail trail funding quest stirs opposition

Rail advocates and Portland officials question a plan to turn an old bridge into a walk-bike path.

PORTLAND - A plan to seek $1 million in federal stimulus money to help create a regional trail system has been stalled by opposition from rail advocates and Portland officials who say they have been left out of the planning process.



At issue is the future use of the trestle bridge over the mouth of Back Cove. Rail access to Portland's waterfront ended in 1984 when a fire damaged the Grand Trunk Railroad bridge. The swing bridge has been stuck in the open position ever since the fire.

Trail advocates want to retrofit the bridge so pedestrians and bicyclists can cross it. Rail supporters want to preserve the right of way so trains could someday use it to reach the city's waterfront.

The issue highlights the tension between those who want to convert abandoned rail lines into recreational trails and those that want to preserve rail infrastructure.

The conflict surfaced Tuesday when the executive committee of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System discussed whether to support a planning grant proposal by Portland Trails, the East Coast Greenway Alliance and the South Portland Land Trust.

"Greater Portland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Corridor project," as the grant application calls it, would fill the "last remaining gaps" in the East Coast Greenway as it lets trail users go from Scarborough to Falmouth.

The project calls for connector trails to the soon-to-be-rebuilt Veterans Memorial Bridge between Portland and South Portland, a trail link between the Bayside Trail and Deering Oaks, and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Long Creek.

One part of the plan caught the attention of rail advocates: a $4 million retrofit of the trestle bridge to let pedestrians and bicyclists cross Back Cove and continue to Falmouth on the Martins Point Bridge.

Members of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, a new lobbying group, spoke against the grant application.

Paul Weiss, a member of the group, said the idea of converting abandoned rail lines into trails has been sold around the country as a way to put them to good use while governments wait for the revival of trains.

The problem, he said, is that the trails develop their own constituency and become politically impossible to dislodge.

Rail supporters are particularly upset that the former Union Branch line in Portland has been converted into a trail, and that the Mountain Division, which connects Westbrook and Fryeburg, is being converted into a trail.

Weiss said the Mountain Division trail is damaging the rail bed, making it even more expensive to reopen it for trains.

Giving up the rail right of way over the trestle bridge would be a "horrible" mistake, he said. "The time has come to use rail for what it is -- which is green transportation and taking thousands of cars off the road."

Portland City Councilor David Marshall, a member of the council's Transportation Committee, said he didn't know anything about the proposal until he learned about it last weekend. He said city policymakers must be involved with such grant proposals because they drive planning decisions.

The Transportation Committee plans to take up the issue Aug. 17. Marshall said he believes the committee could support a grant application that allows for the bridge to be used for trains as well as trails.

He said there would still be time to rework the application and submit it before the deadline, which is the end of this month.

Jeff Ryan, chairman of the West End Trails Committee for the South Portland Land Trust, helped to write the application. He said it would be even stronger if it included a rail component and the support of rail advocates.

"It's all about alternative transportation," he said. "It would be shortsighted not to include rail as part of the discussion. If we can share the road bed, let's do it."

But Nan Cumming, executive director of Portland Trails, said that there isn't enough time to rewrite the application
 
P

Patrick

Guest
Personally, I think unless the ROW is wide enough to support pedestrians as well as Rail--and why wouldn't it be?--then it should be used solely for rail. In terms of prioritizing, the trail folks are a bit off the mark. There are DOZENS of thoroughfares in this city that could use real and immediate pedestrian improvements that would translate into measurable improvements in livability. This whole east trail business is nice, but it shouldn't come at the expense of actual potential commuting alternatives. The trail discussed in this topic would be more recreational than practical. Again, that is fine, and it is VERY important to the quality of life of a place, but it shouldn't be placed ahead of commuter rail options. It just wouldn't make sense.
 

vanshnookenraggen

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
6,695
Reaction score
739
As much as I love biking and love using other Rail-to-trail routes, I am firmly in the rail camp when it comes to these issues. You can walk/bike almost anywhere; trains can't. And like you said, if there is space, why not both?
 

BostonUrbEx

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2010
Messages
4,325
Reaction score
96
IMO, this bridge is the better routing for the Downeaster to Brunswick, as it gets more involved with Portland and it's downtown and waterfront. I'm not sure if there's a ton of grade crossings or whatever, but on a map it looks better.
 

Lrfox

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2006
Messages
2,762
Reaction score
573
I assume that's what the guy I was speaking with was referring to. Still, count me in the rail camp.
 

Corey

Senior Member
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
1,493
Reaction score
392
I can't see why a rebuilt bridge couldn't accommodate both rail and pedestrian/bike traffic. I hope that is the outcome of the August 17th meeting.

Some interesting (to me) rail maps:

From wikipedia, 1923 Maine Central Railroad map:



A very interesting one I just found on wikipedia. There are a bunch more here, great stuff.
 
Last edited:
P

Patrick

Guest
Thanks Corey, you seem to be quite the map enthusiast. There is a book I wonder if you have read. Its called 'creating portland' -- there is a chapter in it that is called the urban landscape or something, and it has a lengthy section devoted to a discussion of some of the rail lines in the above images, and how they came to be where they are. At one point, there was a proposal to locate a major rail station (bigger than what was ever there) in the st john's valley, but NIMBY's on the western prom opposed it. It eventually ended up in south portland. That actually sparked the beginning of what could be thought of as comprehensive planning in portland.
 

JohnAKeith

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 24, 2008
Messages
4,289
Reaction score
13
Putting this here due to the thread name although has nothing about rail trails.

State (ME.) considers rail expansion to Montreal

Maine?s latest passenger rail expansion from Portland to Brunswick is not yet completed, but the state is already looking at places to expand. As part of a preliminary feasibility study, state officials are looking at how many passengers might use a new service between Portland and Montreal. The study will look at various routes, how many trips are possible in a day, and how much tickets should cost. According to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, officials have been holding meetings with two rail lines, local chambers of commerce, city councils, and the public to get feedback.

http://boston.craigslist.org/gbs/eng/2089825191.html
 
P

Patrick

Guest
Yes please. I would use this frequently. Montreal is such an awesome city, but a long drive (9 hours last time). I used to go there off and on in college, and loved it. Some might not know this, but Portland really flourished because of an economic connection to Montreal. The reason our oil port is as big as it is in tonnage terms is because it developed to serve Montreal, not our local community. It would be great for tourists, too, many of whom in the summertime are from French Canada. This is a great idea.
 

Corey

Senior Member
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
1,493
Reaction score
392
Thanks Corey, you seem to be quite the map enthusiast. There is a book I wonder if you have read. Its called 'creating portland' -- there is a chapter in it that is called the urban landscape or something, and it has a lengthy section devoted to a discussion of some of the rail lines in the above images, and how they came to be where they are.
I must have missed this when you first posted it. But yes, I have read "Creating Portland" and really enjoyed it.

As I read in the book and as you mentioned in your most recent post, one of Portland's biggest advantages in its earlier days was its proximity to Montreal. Beyond oil (which now flows from Portland to Montreal via pipeline), Portland was the main winter harbor for Montreal's imports and exports before modern icebreakers started clearing the St. Lawrence and before the growth of Halifax. Anyhow, I would love to see some modern connection between Portland and Montreal. I have never been to Montreal but would love to visit someday. I view it as one of those places that are 'so close but so far,' which is a good distance for a train ride.
 
P

Patrick

Guest
I view it as one of those places that are 'so close but so far,' which is a good distance for a train ride.
Yes.

Montreal is the second largest french speaking city in the world. The director of planning gave a talk in portland last spring. Here are some pictures:




It is a city roughly the size of Boston's city proper, with a few million in the metro. It was much larger than I always thought.
 

MonopolyBag

Active Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2010
Messages
449
Reaction score
0
All this talk about rail, and started with trails. I am one for rails to trails, we need more trails, but rails are in need as well. It will be the day when we see an extensive rail system throughout new England and Canada. Being able to travel between major cities on high speed rail like Montreal to Boston - New York and then taking regular commuter rail to smaller Cities, like Portsmouth. That would be awesome. However, this is a ways away. Primarily because people fear the costs of this (although public transportation basically pay back for themselves if done properly) and also so many have gotten use to the car.

Trails IMO are in need as much as rail. You can not Bike easily form one place to another. Would I, sure, but you can not. This is due to a lack of the now foreign concept to many, the sidewalk. Along with trails that are nicely paved or maintained and just END. Oh how I would love to see the local Windham Rail Trail continue through Derry properly and continue all the way to Concord and beyond. With proper sidewalks and signs pointing bikers and walkers to local hot spots and restaurants and vistas.

I know we have talked on the forums before about Portland's walkways, as well as river walks and waterfront walks in general, if those could be tied into a network of trails and paths along with sidewalks and crosswalks everywhere, New England would be much better. Basically all new development lacks sidewalks and the old sidewalks everywhere are poorly maintained. With the exception of a few downtown areas in dense areas.

Edit: And yes, Montreal is awesome, so is Quebec. Canada has a shit ton more tax to work with than here. America complains about taxes yet we also complain about lack of government funded programs and our debt.
 

toddc

Active Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2010
Messages
164
Reaction score
0
Commuter Rail Service in Portland is in the news again.....looks like we are that much closer to seeing it become a reality in Portland


Boston-to-Brunswick rail service a dream decades in making
By David Carkhuff
Dec 23, 2010 12:00 am

When the Obama administration announced earlier this month it was taking $1.2 billion in high-speed rail money away from Ohio and Wisconsin and awarding it to 12 other states, including Maine, Wayne E. Davis had to smile.

Davis is chairman of TrainRiders Northeast, a group that promotes rail development in the region. He's also someone who has waited a long time to hear the news that Maine was getting the money it needed to expand Amtrak's Downeaster train from Portland to Brunswick.

Currently, the Downeaster operates five daily round trips between Portland and Boston.

"L.L. Bean did a study some years ago that said there are 4.5 to 5.5 million people a year who shopped in Freeport, and 98 percent of them were two adults in an automobile from south or west of Boston. Ideal for the train, that's perfect. Tapping into that, even a small amount, will raise the ridership on the Downeaster by a third," Davis said.

The Brunswick extension was long awaited, Davis said. TrainRiders has 1,300 members in 26 states, and "it took us so long to get this basic service that their kids had kids."

All of New England received less than 2 percent of the $8 billion in federal stimulus money for rail, but $35 million was awarded to extend the Downeaster 30 miles north from Portland to Brunswick. Now, with the rerouting of funds from the Midwest, the job can be completed.

The shift of funds to Maine was "a shock," Davis said.

Other improvements can be made with the reallocated money, he said.

An engineering report is under way to study the improvements needed to up the speed of the Downeaster from its current top speed of 80 miles an hour to 110 miles per hour.

The goal is to increase the speed on the train between Portland and Boston so the trip can be made in less than 2 hours.

There was a day when Davis and other volunteers had to work just to bring passenger rail service to Maine.

"I discovered 23 years ago that we were not being given the whole story on transportation costs," Davis said, explaining his motivation for climbing on board the TrainRiders effort.

"We forced it on the state," he recalled. "They didn't want it, everybody said, 'It has never been funded before, what makes you think it will be?' We said, 'We don't know, any more than you do, but if it ever did, we'll be ready.' So the paperwork was submitted and we pushed and prodded for the three months and the state finally submitted it 15 minutes before the deadline in Washington, this was before computers, it was done by fax. It was nuts. We got it. Three months later we learned that we were one of 11 potential high-speed corridors that had been designated," Davis said.

Finally, a year ago, the funding came through for the high-speed corridor.

Other goals are within reach as well. Ongoing discussion of the Mountain Division rail line as a conduit for passenger rail may not involve Amtrak, Davis said, but there are other ways to extend the Downeaster beyond its Boston-Brunswick corridor.

"We can see service to Montreal, I don't think by the Mountain Division but when you branch off at the junction in Lowell you go to Bethel, Lewiston-Auburn and then Montreal. I want to live to see that," Davis said. "But if we're going in 23-year increments, I won't."
 

Lrfox

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2006
Messages
2,762
Reaction score
573
^What does this have to do with Commuter Rail? This is just inter-city rail (Downeaster Extension). I'm sure this will have some minimal impact on commutes from Freeport/Brunswick to Portland, but the primary emphasis is the connection to Boston ("98% of shoppers in Freeport... 2 adults... South/West of Boston").

The extension is great (I'd like to see a Montreal connection too as well as Bangor), but it's not commuter rail. As long as it's cheap, fast and easy (like it is now) to drive from the suburbs into Portland, I doubt commuter rail up there will be feasible. Just about everybody in the Saco/Biddeford area still drives to Portland even though they have rail service. I can't see many people taking the train to work in Portland (especially with the station so far from downtown) unless there's a real benefit to it. In big cities, it's cheaper (parking/gas/distance from the 'burbs to the downtown area) and quicker/more reliable (traffic in bigger cities makes commutes lengthy and unpredictable by car). In Portland, parking is cheap, traffic is minimal, and the 'burbs are close to downtown. What benefit is there to commuter rail?

Extending and speeding up intercity rail is excellent. I can't see Portland with a local commuter rail network though.
 
P

Patrick

Guest
Some good points, but I'd like to point out something. Your thoughts on commuter rail in portland and surroundings are on point because of the factors you listed: suburbs close to town, minimal traffic (by national standards, anyway) and abundant parking. However, changing land use patterns may very well change these factors in the future, and it is good to have transportation investments in place beforehand. It is kind of a chicken and the egg thing (at the risk of using that overused expression). Portland (indeed, many if not most cities) is/are rethinking how they do land use planning, and there seems to be a trend back toward denser patterns of development. There used to be commuter rail connections in-city, and they could be extended outside the city if and when density increases.. That said, you are 99% right.

Also, one note that you may not be aware of is that the State DOT is actively studying a plan for commuter rail, to drop off on Commercial Street, which would be implemented in the near future, not some fantasy future plan. Its called the Portland-North study, and would carry travelers primarily from the norther suburbs to downtown. If not rail, it will be BRT.

Again, you are 99% right, but things may be changing, even in Maine/
 

Lrfox

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2006
Messages
2,762
Reaction score
573
^I agree with the land use patterns changing (hopefully) and it's never a bad idea to get a jump start on studying for tomorrow. I like the idea of a Commercial St. station. It's Portland's biggest deficit (IMHO) when it comes to rail travel right now. It's a pain to take the train because the station is designed for cars and surrounded by roads that aren't really ped friendly. If you get a downtown station, it will be a huge leap forward.
 
P

Patrick

Guest
^I agree with the land use patterns changing (hopefully) and it's never a bad idea to get a jump start on studying for tomorrow. I like the idea of a Commercial St. station. It's Portland's biggest deficit (IMHO) when it comes to rail travel right now. It's a pain to take the train because the station is designed for cars and surrounded by roads that aren't really ped friendly. If you get a downtown station, it will be a huge leap forward.
exactly the same criticisms that have been leveled by others--and quite frequently. There aren't even sidewalks out to that station. It is, however, a first step which allowed rail to Boston. Baby steps. We do need to fix that, though. The commuter rail for commercial street would NOT be amtrak. It would not even go through the PTC. It would be a totally commuter based light rail system on a different track. See this link if you haven't already:http://www.maine.gov/mdot/portlandnorth/projectinfo.htm

I haven;t been keeping up with it lately, but I think a decision was recently rendered.
 

toddc

Active Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2010
Messages
164
Reaction score
0
A Commercial Street Station would bring more people to downtown, and bring even more vibrancy. It would be a boost for businesses, and surrounding towns. The article in the Portland Daily Sun was shedding a favorable light on the idea of commuter service. Its a great idea
 

Top