PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt served as the guest speaker at the Maine Better Transportation Association gathering at the Northeastland Hotel on Aug. 2, where he shared updates on Presque Isle’s connector project and the latest news on rail service in Aroostook County.
With regard to rail, Bernhardt said, “Things are going good.”
“The $10.5 million TIGER grant was approved over a year ago to fund maintenance and upgrades. As of today’s date, about 60 percent of the work has been done, with Maine Northern Railway doing the work,” he said. TIGER is the acronym for the U.S. DOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.
With improvements come additional locomotives, said the commissioner.
“With that comes more staff in administrative roles,” he said.
Bernhardt said he has seen the number of rail cars increase since J.D. Irving took over the line.
“The traffic has tripled on the line since Irving took over, with plans for more,” said Bernhardt. He said Cavendish, a fertilizer manufacturer, has been among those increasing use of rail to transport products to market.
Bernhardt discussed smaller sections that have been acquired either by Irving or the state, including an eight-mile section in Fort Fairfield. “It was given to us, near Cavendish. We’ll take care of it, since the town doesn’t want to be in the rail business,” said the commissioner.
He said working with a company that has the money to invest in rail line improvements has not only benefited Irving but the state as well.
“Irving has money to put into rail that we haven’t seen in the past. It benefits everyone. We’ve seen a lot more rail movement in Maine,” said Bernhardt.
State Sen. Roger Sherman, R-Houlton, was in attendance and asked if rail speed was going to continue to improve.
“That is their intent. What took seven weeks now takes about 36 hours to Boston. [The delay] was partly due to the relationship with the other rail service,” said Bernhardt. “Northern Maine Rail has created a relationship with two other companies who are acting more like businesses. Work continues to get up to 25 mph on the line.”