Baldacci tours rail improvements, says trains key to Maine industries

Posted Oct. 22, 2010, at 1:11 p.m.
Pan Am Railways President David Fink, right, talks about the track replacement  his company is doing to extend the Downeaster line to Brunswick as Gov. John  Baldacci, left, and State Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, center, listen.  (Bangor Daily News/Matt Wickenheiser)
Pan Am Railways President David Fink, right, talks about the track replacement his company is doing to extend the Downeaster line to Brunswick as Gov. John Baldacci, left, and State Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, center, listen. (Bangor Daily News/Matt Wickenheiser)

Until recently, when Pan Am Railways trains carrying Maine paper met with St. Lawrence & Atlantic trains carrying chemicals at Auburn’s Danville Junction, the resulting bottleneck could add days to the transportation time.

The junction, essentially a diamond-shaped interchange of tracks designed in the 1860s, worked fine when half a dozen cars were exchanged between the lines each day. But now that 30 or more are switching between the rail companies, the antiquated junction was substandard.

Until recently, that is. The junction was redesigned in a $5 million project, with the state providing $1.9 million in bond funds, the two rail lines splitting another $1.9 million and the federal government providing $1.2 million.

“This project we’ve executed between our company and Pan Am is going to be a breath of fresh air for the Maine paper industry,” said Mario Brault, president of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic. “This is absolutely critical for Maine shippers.”

The Danville Junction project was officially unveiled Friday, as Gov. John Baldacci, Brault, Pan Am President David Fink and his father, Pan Am Systems CEO David Fink, and numerous other state officials and business leaders toured central and southern Maine.

They traveled in class, aboard Pan Am’s dark blue executive train, which consists of an engine and a business car and a lounge car, built in 1916 and 1950, respectively.

The tour started in Waterville, at Pan Am’s maintenance facility, continued to Danville Junction, then on to Royal Junction, in the Cumberland-Yarmouth area of Maine, where crews were replacing rail to allow the Downeaster passenger line to extend from Portland to Brunswick. It traveled through Portland, over a recently re-furbished “wye,” or triangular junction, that allows the Downeaster to turn around, and ended at Rigby Yard in South Portland.

The projects that have either been completed or are in progress are the culmination of years of work, said Baldacci, who noted the importance of rail to the state’s industries.

“A lot of our mills and factories have to get their goods to market,” he said. “It’s more costly on the roads than it is on the rails.”

The younger Fink said a number of Maine’s mills, including the Sappi Fine Paper mill in Somerset, the Verso mills in Bucksport and Jay, the Newpage mill in Rumford, Madison Paper Industries, Lincoln Paper & Tissue and Old Town Fuel & Fiber, rely on Pan Am lines to ship product.

“We also feed all the chickens in the state,” Fink pointed out, adding Pan Am ships in feed from the Midwest for about 4 million chickens in Turner.

Randy Rotermund, vice president for supply chain at Sappi, said the investment at Danville would “de-bottleneck that junction.” That’s important because the Somerset mill is under a lot of competitive pressure to deliver paper just as its customers need it, and on time, he said. The mill employs about 840 people and makes coated fine paper for catalogs, magazines and advertising circulars.

The tour comes in the same week that the state completed the $20.1 million purchase of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic rail line in northern Maine.

“It’s been a great week for rail in the state of Maine,” said David Cole, the state’s transportation commissioner.

The officials stopped at Royal Junction, where Pan Am crews have replaced about 15 miles of track, with 15 more to go. The work will allow the Downeaster to expand its route up to Brunswick, and is part of a $38 million project funded by federal stimulus dollars.

In Waterville, Baldacci was shown a new technology developed by Pan Am’s Gordon Long. The “supplementary energy system” is a computerized generator that monitors a train’s engine and works to keep the diesel and water heated. Instead of having to idle trains during the winter, going through about 7 gallons of diesel an hour and polluting the air, the new system uses 1 gallon an hour and runs only when it has to.

“These are Maine people, Maine jobs, Maine air,” said the elder Fink.

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