Eastern Maine Railway, a subsidiary of J.D. Irving Ltd., has purchased a 28-mile stretch of railroad tracks in Aroostook County from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.
The stretch of track is between Madawaska and Van Buren and includes the international bridge that crosses from Van Buren into St. Leonard, New Brunswick, according to Mary Keith, a spokeswoman for J.D. Irving.
Financial details of the deal, which officially closed on Monday afternoon, were not disclosed.
Eastern Maine Railway’s acquisition brings all of Aroostook County’s railroads under its operational control.
Eastern Maine Railway already operates 233 miles of railroad in the county on behalf of the state, which purchased the lines in 2011 from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway after the latter announced plans to abandon them the year before.
This 28 miles, however, has stood between Eastern Maine Railway’s operations and the Canadian National’s railroad network on the other side of the border.
To Keith, the acquisition “is a good strategic opportunity” for J.D. Irving.
“For us, we see it as an important link and an important piece of the overall network in terms of providing efficient service,” Keith said. “For those folks operating manufacturing operations — primarily forest products manufacturers — it’s going to mean less handling of freight because it’s now on a seamless stretch of track.”
The 28 miles was not included in the original deal with the state because at the time it was viable as a short-line operation serving the Twin Rivers paper mill in Madawaska, according to Robert Grindrod, CEO of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. However, that business also faced challenges as Twin Rivers began using the line less.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway first announced the tentative deal to sell the section to J.D. Irving in late 2011.
“It has never stopped being in discussion,” Grindrod said. “Any time a railroad changes hands it requires government approval. It’s taken us this long to get us through that process.”
Keith said, “sometimes these things take time. At this point we’re just pleased we’ve been able to secure that portion of the line that unifies the networks.”