ELLSWORTH, Maine — As conductor Gary Briggs yelled “all aboard” and passengers began to fill the cars, the train’s engine chugged to life, followed by a plume of gray smoke billowing from the locomotive stack.
The Downeast Scenic Railroad, a four-year labor of love for dozens of rail enthusiasts, made its inaugural run Saturday for volunteers and other guests who helped see the project through.
Tom Testa, president of the board of directors and the driving force behind bringing an excursion train to Hancock County, could not contain his enthusiasm. He talked passionately about the history of rails in eastern Maine and how trains brought that part of the state to the world. And he praised the collaboration of many public and private entities that made the Downeast Scenic Railroad go from dream to reality.
More than 75 volunteers logged 37,000 hours clearing the abandoned tracks, repairing the rail bed and restoring old cars.
“No one person should take credit. We’ve all made this happen,” Testa said.
The train, which consists of four expertly restored passenger cars, made a short trip from High Street in Ellsworth toward an area known as Ellsworth Falls past the high school. It then turned around and returned to High Street, but then continued south to Washington Junction near the city’s border with the town of Hancock.
In the future, the Downeast Scenic Railroad plans to extend to Green Lake in Dedham and add at least two more passenger cars that are still being refurbished.
The excursion train will officially open to the public Saturday, July 31, and will offer trips at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through the summer and into the fall.
Tickets can be purchased at Cadillac Mountain Sports on High Street in Ellsworth or by calling 1-866-449-7345. For information about the Downeast Scenic Railroad, visit www.downeastscenicrail.org.