CALAIS, Maine — Debby Doherty, who owns the Riverside Redemption Center in the former railroad roundhouse on Poorhouse Lane, was reflective Wednesday as she watched the last fully loaded train leave Washington County.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “I really like the trains. I wish they’d come back.”
Doherty will be even sadder when the final train leaves the Down East area on Friday with its boxcars empty. The train has rumbled between the Canadian border and the Domtar facility in Baileyville two to three times a week, bringing pulp bleaching chemicals and other products to the mill and carrying pulp out. But after Friday the tracks will go silent.
The local train service that is owned by Pan Am Railways of Billerica, Mass., is one of the casualties of the temporary shutdown at the Montreal-based Domtar pulp mill. Earlier this month, mill officials announced they were idling the mill indefinitely beginning May 5.
The locals fear the shutdown might become permanent and the mill might not reopen. Company officials say that is not the plan.
Should the mill reopen, it is expected that rail service would resume. Pan AM Railways officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
On Wednesday the train, which Domtar spokesman Scott Beal confirmed was loaded with pulp, left the mill in Baileyville around 8 a.m. Engineer Doug Mclellan of Baring was at the controls and conductor Terry Diadone of Princeton was also onboard.
There were no banners or crowds of people lining the route as the fully loaded rail cars lumbered into Calais — only Debby Doherty, who took time out from sorting bottles and cans to watch the train stop near her door.
During the glory days of rail service there were miles of track carrying cargo and people across the county and the country. Then it became just cargo. Now there is just a short rail connection between Baileyville and Calais.
When the train rounded the bend within sight of the rail bridge in the Milltown section of Calais and slowed, Diadone jumped off and threw the switch on a long metal pole. The tracks moved in the direction of the old railroad bridge that connects Calais with New Brunswick. In front of the bridge he opened the gate that is sup-posed to stop people from crossing the border illegally. A Canadian train waited just across the bridge.
Using a two-way radio, Diadone told Mclellan the tracks were ready and gave the engineer the go-ahead to push the freight across the bridge to the Canadian train, where they would “hitch into it and take it from there.”
Mclellan put the engine in reverse and the rail cars began to roll across the bridge to the waiting Canadian train for its trip to McAdam, New Brunswick. From McAdam, the boxcars would travel back west and re-enter the U.S. at Vanceboro, where Pan Am Railways reconnects them for journeys to mills in other parts of the country.
After the Canadian train pulled away with its American cargo, Mclellan jumped down from the engine and paused to reflect on the end of an era. The 61-year-old engineer said he has been with the rail company for 24 years. Speaking only for himself and not for the company, Mclellan recalled a time when trains and tracks dominated the area.
He blamed the loss of the now defunct Calais-Bangor Branch Line on inattentive politicians. “I think it is a tremendous blunder on the part of our local, state and county politicians,” he said. Mclellan didn’t care if the politicians were Republican or Democrat.
McLellan said he’d like to see the old Calais-Bangor Branch line run again. “Hopefully, some people will get together and maybe start this thing up again,” he said.
Pan Am Railways did not return a telephone call Wednesday.
Friday will be Mclellan’s final run as he takes the last train out of Baileyville. The boxcars again will hook into the Canadian line, along with the engine he will be operating. “I’ll come by train and leave by cab,” he said quietly.