AUBURN, Maine — The vision for passenger rail service between Portland and Auburn is “very realistic,” Tony Donovan of Maine Rail Transit Coalition told about 35 area residents at the Danville Junction Grange on Thursday.
Joan Saxe of Maine Sierra Club, a coalition partner with MRTC, told the public that planning and policy development at the community level for land use and regional transportation is essential. Public officials and local residents need to provide a shared vision for connecting Maine along these routes, she said.
Donovan, using a PowerPoint presentation, said the 29-mile stretch of track from India Street in Portland to Danville Junction crosses four bridges and road crossings along the St. Lawrence & Atlantic line that would be reconstructed for about $67 million.
Based on Maine passenger rail planning studies that began in 1995 with the Passenger Rail Service Act, 10 studies funded by Maine Department of Transportation since 2000 to 2011 examined in detail passenger rail from Portland to the Lewiston-Auburn area and beyond, including a future route through Oxford, Bethel and on to Montreal.
Rodney Richards of Pownal was told the trains could be running in 36 months.
“Why wait 10 or 15 years?” Donovan asked.
But, legislative action is needed along with campaigning with local, state and federal legislators and town officials.
Funding methods could capture some additional property tax revenue with property owners along the rail corridor. Funding is key to get passenger service.
Affordability for passengers drew concern, but based on commuter costs and AAA studies, Donovan said, commuters pay $8,000 per year to operate vehicles between work and home at a government reimbursement rate of 53 cents per mile.
“We believe we can reduce transportation costs for all commuters,” Paul Weiss of Cumberland said. “We pay for the most inefficient cost of cars on the road.”
Weiss said the target market is that generation that doesn’t want cars, the baby boomers and older people.
Danville Junction in the early 1900s was a thriving community for rail service. Residents in the area say the noisy freight trains that go through the area have hindered their ability to sell their homes.
Thelma Redmond of Danville said the train whistle blowing at 3 a.m. is unreasonable.
Another neighbor said he wasn’t interested in hearing the train whistle 24/7, but is looking forward to taking the train to Montreal in the future.
Warren Leunig of Hebron said, “This has been a railroad crossing town for 125 years. Ten freight trains go through here daily. It would be such a nice thing to have [passenger rail]. I hate driving to Portland. This is such a positive for your community.”
Tony Donovan, a founder of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said his group picked up a $15,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors to help spearhead efforts to bring passenger rail service to Auburn.
Donovan and Joan Saxe of the Maine Sierra Club are working with interested people and businesses to implement passenger rail and transit investments in targeted communities along the railway corridors.
Potential funding through the Federal Transit Administration Small Starts program is appropriate, Donovan said, and up to $75 million is potentially available for this development.
The small diesel trains carry 100 passengers on 22 trips per day. Stops in New Gloucester, Pownal, Yarmouth and Falmouth are proposed.
The Maine Rail Transit Coalition and the Sierra Club Maine are hosting regional visioning sessions to unveil a Smart Growth Mobility Project plan for transportation policy aimed to implement new strategies for future passenger rail and transit investments in targeted communities along railway transportation corridors, Saxe said.
Next, Donovan said, will be bills submitted to the Maine Legislature to prepare for engineering and design studies.
“Transportation is for the public good to make us a more livable community,” Donovan said. “If you want it to happen, it’s a community-based decision. Let’s go to work.”