A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rail in Maine

First, mega props to Christian for helping organize this year's GrowSmart Maine Summit. Thanks also to The League of Young Voters for giving me (and Sam and Melanie) the opportunity to attend. I, for one, found it to be a valuable learning experience. For one thing, I learned that the Augusta Civic Center is even uglier that the Cumberland County Civic Center.

More importantly, one of the workshops taught me some things I didn't know about the future of passenger and commuter rail in the State of Maine. Admittedly, there's a lot I don't know about trains in Maine despite having more than a passing interest in the subject, so maybe it's all old news to all you brave engineers out there. Me, I came away from the workshop (mostly) excited about the future. (More about that "mostly" in a moment.)

For one thing, the Town of Brunswick is awaiting the arrival of the DownEaster in a few years with plans for a pretty sweet train station, which is going to be located between Bowdoin and downtown. More exciting is what Patricia Quinn from the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said might be in the works after linking Brunswick with Portland. Aside from the potential for future links to Rockland, DownEaster service to Brunswick will include stops in Freeport and Yarmouth Junction. From Yarmouth Junction, rail service can be extended up to Lewiston/Auburn. LA, in turn, could eventually provide a link to Montreal. Aside from that, there may one day be links to Augusta, Waterville and even Bangor.

That would just rock. With decent rail service to points maybe the State DOT would be less hell-bent about widening Route 1 and I-295. It'll be interesting to see how the tracks to Brunswick will be routed through Portland. Right now the assumption seems to be that the tracks will pass through Bayside (where another station would be built) and over a new trestle next to Tukey's bridge. However, I've heard from Portland City Councilors Kevin Donoghue and Dave Marshall that some people think a route through the Deering area and a new station on St. John's Street* might make more sense. However, I have no idea if the "K-Don & D-Marsh" option is really on the table or not.

In any case, there should be an bright future ahead for rail service in and out of Portland, except funding for The DownEaster is slated to run out in a couple of years. That would be tragic. I hope our legislators don't try to save a penny by spending a dollar & let the DownEaster die. If you don't want to choke to death on exhaust fumes it might be a good idea to buttonhole your state rep and let him or her know passenger rail needs to be the wave of the future in Maine. Otherwise waves of an entirely different sort will wash over us before the century is through.

*Basically the same general place where the old Union Station used to stand before it was razed to make room for a strip mall.

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