FRYEBURG, Maine — Critics say it can’t be done, but if the owners of a proposed passenger train service are able to pull it off, it could bring hundreds of jobs and thousands of tourists to Maine. The last time the tracks in Fryeburg were used to carry passengers from Portland to Montreal, Canada, was in 1959. Now, 55 years later, plans are in the works to bring passenger train service back, linking Portland to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and to Montreal.
“I think this area needs that. I think the country needs that,” says Lisa Johnson of Chocorua, New Hampshire.
She’s already imagining how nice it would be to take a train to the Fryeburg Fair instead of fighting all that traffic.
“It’s a more relaxed way to travel,” she added. “You’re not fighting the traffic. You’re sitting back and relaxing, enjoying it.”
Better still, the president of Golden Eagle Railway says the new rail service would generate 200 full time jobs with benefits.
President David Schwanke is looking at Fryeburg not only as his company headquarters but as a train stop along the route at the Maine Visitors Center right on the border.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” says Paul Galant of Fryeburg.
It also will take a great deal of money. Golden Eagle Railway is in the process of raising $40 million, and $10 million of that will go to replace worn out railroad ties.
“What I’ve heard is they’re going to replace every other tie. So, I mean, with enough money, anything’s possible,” Galant says.
Linking the Amtrak’s Downeaster to rail lines in Canada also could mean a big economic impact. Carey Hewitt, of Nova Scotia, Canada, says when her kids were little “they loved the train ride out at Clark’s Trading Post, and you just don’t have that experience these days.”
But critics say the rails are in too bad a shape, and say this just isn’t financially viable. Despite the skepticism, the president of Golden Eagle Railway remains optimistic. He hopes to start freight service this spring, followed by passenger rail service from Portland to the White Mountains, then finally extending to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where it could link up with railways already in place to Montreal. Trains would include a four-star restaurant, sports bar and sleeper cars.