Support for ‘hotel train’ grows in Western Maine

Posted Nov. 23, 2013, at 5:49 p.m.

PARIS, Maine — A proposed overnight passenger train between Boston and Montreal is picking up support from communities along the proposed line.

Proponents hope upcoming negotiations for track use from Portland to Quebec between Francois Rebello, the Montreal entrepreneur driving the project, and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, a subsidiary of Genesee of Wyoming Inc., will clear the way for service to start as soon as June 2014.

Nearly all the communities along the railroad line have signed letters of support for the project, which Rebello intends to use to encourage political support and investment for the enterprise.

Rebello plans to offer passengers meals, entertainment and sleeping cabins on the overnight trip. The train is expected to make a number of stops along the way, including Bethel, Gorham, N.H., and Island Pond, Vt. More may be added.

At a meeting of the Androscoggin, Oxford and Coos County Corridor Committee last week, Rebello announced he had received communication from St. Lawrence and Atlantic, outlining the conditions, including liability and timing, necessary for passenger rail service.

“They didn’t say ‘no way,’” said Tony Donovan, president of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition. “That is really good news, because that means these companies that don’t usually open their doors to passenger rail are opening their door to the hotel train.

“There’s a momentum moving toward passenger rail and a lot of it has to do with people seeing the economic benefits of it,” Donovan said.

Contacted Friday, Rebello said the news is “positive” but declined to discuss the specific requirements asked for by St. Lawrence and Atlantic, citing upcoming negotiations with the railroad next week.

A call to Blake Jones, St. Lawrence and Atlantic general manager, was not returned Friday.

Earlier this year, communities in Western Maine and New Hampshire established the Androscoggin, Oxford and Coos County Corridor Committee to help promote passenger rail service through the region.

In the past month, 10 communities along the corridor have signed letters of support for the hotel train. According to Western Maine Economic Development Council Director Glen Holmes, only Gilead, Maine, and neighboring Shelburne, N.H., have yet to sign on to the project.

Rebello has been busy courting state politicians in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and plans a Dec.5 lunch meeting and fundraiser in Montreal for those interested in the project.

In September, Rebello said his plan was to start passenger rail service as early as next summer and there is no indication that goal has changed. According to the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, 45 round-trips are planned in the first season, between June and mid-September, with round-trip ticket prices estimated at $400.

Rebello intends to fund his hotel train with private investment, which may allow him to establish service more quickly than a project dependant on public funding.

 

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