ELLSWORTH, Maine — It has been several years since a train rolled along the local section of railroad tracks that cross Main Street, but an area group has started work to bring back trains to this city and other nearby locales.
The Downeast Scenic Railroad, a project of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust, has begun installing 1,000 new crossties on the rail line between Washington Junction in the town of Hancock and downtown Ellsworth, a stretch of about 2 miles.
The aim of the rail rehabilitation project is to bring rail service back to the area with an excursional, seasonal rail line that runs from Washington Junction through Ellsworth to Green Lake in Dedham, according to Thomas Testa, president of the trust.
“We’ve been working for a couple of years,” Testa said Sunday. “The whole line is actually in pretty good shape.”
Testa said that with work being done in the rail corridor, people should stay off the tracks for their own safety. This will also be true when the train service starts operating, he said.
“We want to make people aware that it’s hazardous to walk through there,” Testa said. “We will be running trains in the near future.”
Testa said the railroad hopes to begin offering excursion service between Washington Junction and Ellsworth Falls sometime next summer.
The project coincides with the conversion of the same rail bed east of Washington Junction into a multiuse trail that can be used by hikers, bikers, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and skiers. Work on the Downeast Sunrise Trail, which is expected to extend from Washington Junction east all the way to Ayers Junction in Pembroke, began in the Machias area earlier this summer.
The immediate goal of the railroad rehab project is to have the new crossties in place within two or three weeks, and then to install about 1,000 more new crossties between downtown Ellsworth and Ellsworth Falls in subsequent weeks, according to Testa. Areas along the section between Washington Junction and Ellsworth Falls where the rail bed was eroded underneath the tracks already have been fixed, he said. Last week, work crews fixed the rail crossing in Ellsworth at the southern end of Beals Avenue.
Testa said that when the excursion trips begin, the railroad hopes to start with two trips a day with a 150-person capacity per trip. The round trip, at an anticipated speed of 10 mph, is expected to take one to 1½ hours to complete, he said.
It is hoped the extension of the excursion trips to Green Lake, Testa said, will occur within a couple of years.
“We’re working as fast as we can,” he said.