BANGOR, Maine — A dispute over access to a Madawaska paper mill between one of Canada’s leading freight railroads and a smaller hauler based in Hermon probably will remain in federal court.
Citing a host of legal-case precedents, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock denied a motion to remand to state court the property rights dispute between Canadian National Railway Co. and Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, as CN had sought.
CN’s attorneys had tried to move the case from federal to state court, claiming that it involved a dispute over an easement, and therefore state law. But Woodcock sided with MM&A, ruling that the defining factor in the dispute is not the easement but rather federal laws regarding trackage rights between railroad services, according to the 15-page decision released Tuesday from Bangor’s U.S. District Court.
Woodcock made his decision a day after a teleconference among the parties involved because CN sought an expedited ruling. But given the hurried nature of the ruling, he said he would dismiss CN’s claim without prejudice if further court action caused reconsideration, the decision states.
Woodcock’s ruling does not settle the dispute over trackage rights itself. It merely defines federal court as the appropriate place for that dispute to be heard, the decision states.
CN and MM&A are disputing whether CN can handle shipping directly from Twin Rivers Paper Co. of Madawaska. CN claims that it can; MM&A says not. That aspect of the civil court case is continuing.
Relations between Twin Rivers, formerly known as Fraser Papers, and MM&A have been stormy for the past several years.
Fraser executives claimed that MM&A failed to maintain the company’s railroad tracks and missed delivery and pickup deadlines — often forcing the coated and uncoated paper maker to hire trucks on the fly to make shipments — because of miscommunications or insufficient numbers of railroad runs.
MM&A officials countered that they were trying to meet demand, but that Fraser’s use of trucks and downturn in production made running more trains uneconomical and helped create the conditions that led to the company’s seeking to abandon about 233 miles of track earlier this year.
MM&A officials also said that Fraser’s decision to split traffic between them and CN helped cause the railroad’s financial woes.
The state of Maine bought the tracks for $20.1 million late last month, and plans to rehabilitate and lease them to shippers, including MM&A.