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Brooks rail restoration on track

Posted Feb. 04, 2009, at 10:38 p.m.

BROOKS, Maine — The former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad tracks will be carrying excursion trains and bicycles this summer if everything goes according to plan.

The Brooks Preservation Society has entered into a lease agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation for restoration and operation of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad corridor with the intent of restoring railroad activity to Waldo County. The society has rights over track from Waldo to Burnham Junction.

The B&ML suspended its operations in 2007 after more than 140 years in business. The state owns the 25-mile rail corridor between Belfast and Burnham Junction.

“We have an operating lease for the next four years and that’s what we plan to do,” Brooks Preservation Society executive director Joe Feero said Wednesday. “We have to operate and maintain it. We’re going to start small and grow.”

To that end, the society plans to offer weekend passenger excursions from its historic Brooks station beginning in May. Feero said that once the snow melts volunteer crews would be out repairing track and ties along the rail corridor.

He said that some excursions would travel south to Waldo while others would head north to Thorndike. He said the Brooks Preservation Society recently purchased B&ML diesel locomotives Nos. 50 and 53, along with two coaches and an open air car. He said former B&ML engineers and conductors have agreed to donate their time to operate the excursions.

“These are experienced railroad people,” he said.

In addition, he said, the society will be working with the DOT toward restoration of freight service along the corridor and would be contacting other interested parties as well. He said logs, grain and scrap metal were a few products that could be carried as freight.

In addition to traditional passenger excursions, Brooks Preservation Society plans to offer rail bike tours on a trial basis, Feero said. A rail bike is a specially designed rail vehicle similar in concept to a recumbent bicycle. The two- and four-seat bikes will provide a unique and ecofriendly way to experience the outdoors through riding the rails. Rides will be limited, so those interested are advised to check their availability in advance.

Feero said Brooks Preservation Society also was in contact with a Massachusetts rail group that was working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop other types of rail vehicles for both individual and group transportation.

Brooks Preservation Society is a volunteer organization dedicated to the protection, preservation and celebration of historic structures in Waldo County. It is in the process of restoring and preserving the Brooks Railroad Station and two historic 70-ton locomotives, as well as several other pieces of equipment. Feero said the society was looking forward to working with other local historical societies and local organizations that share an interest in their projects.

“We’re looking forward to getting this going,” Feero said. “If we are running and operating it means the line is staying intact and is being preserved. Any railroad service in Waldo County is a good thing.”

For additional information as well as schedules for excursions and events, visit brookspreservation.org, contact them by e-mail at jfeero@fairpoint.net or by mail at Brooks Preservation Society, 31 Veterans Highway, Brooks 04921.

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