Ten years of highs and lows for Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway

Montreal, Maine &  Atlantic Railway engineer Chuck Gould uses a remote control transmitter to move a locomotive at the railway's switching yard in Hermon.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway engineer Chuck Gould uses a remote control transmitter to move a locomotive at the railway's switching yard in Hermon. Buy Photo
Posted July 09, 2013, at 8:12 a.m.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic's remote control for locomotives is a converted caboose, outfitted with computer-controlled pneumatics. It can be coupled with any locomotive to make it remote-controllable.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic's remote control for locomotives is a converted caboose, outfitted with computer-controlled pneumatics. It can be coupled with any locomotive to make it remote-controllable. Buy Photo

HERMON, Maine — The derailment and fire that devastated the center of a small town in Quebec on July 6 is among many significant events in the 10-year history of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

January 2003: Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway begins operations when the assets of the century-old Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, which had been acquired by Iron Road Railways in 1995, are purchased by rail conglomerate Rail World Inc. and the name is changed. The new railroad cuts employee wages by 40 percent because of the bankruptcy and shutdown of the old Great Northern Paper Inc. mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket, a major rail customer. The company has about 275 workers.

November 2005: MM&A gets a demonstration of a $75,000 remote-control system that moves trains in switching yards without engineers. Company officials say it will reduce costs and increase safety.

April 2006: A train hits a tractor-trailer truck carrying demolition debris on Western Avenue in Hampden. The truck’s driver is unhurt. Bright afternoon sunlight at the crossing, which has signals but no gate, contributed to the accident, the driver says.

May 2006: The company announces plans to reduce expenditures by about 5 percent for the rest of the year and asks employees to take voluntary layoffs or transfers. The company employs about 350 people and maintains 32 locomotives, with 25 locomotives operating daily.

April 2007: Company President Robert Grindrod is among many leaders interested in increasing the capacity of Searsport and state-owned Sears Island as a shipping facility. A major component of the railway’s business is transshipping goods from the port.

June 2008: MM&A furloughs 33 employees in response to Brookfield Asset Management’s announced plans to close the Millinocket paper mill. Paper and forest products generate about 60 percent of MM&A’s volume. MM&A handles 40,000 freight shipments annually and serves approximately 300 customers in Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.

August 2009: MM&A announces plans to sell or abandon $17 million worth of tracks between Millinocket and Madawaska due to the infrastructure’s unprofitability and declining condition.

February 2010: MM&A files a “notice of intent” with the federal Surface Transportation Board to abandon 233 miles of its Millinocket to Madawaska track in Aroostook and Penobscot counties. The company says it has been losing $4 million to $5 million a year on the lines. It lists as assets 774 miles of track from Maine to Montreal and 225 employees.

March 2010: The state seeks a $25 million bond to repair the Millinocket to Madawaska track. Representatives of 22 major Maine manufacturers that use the freight lines say they will be devastated if the line closes.

April 2010: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud says federal Surface Transportation Board officials, who Michaud said seldom meet outside Washington, D.C., will hold a field hearing in Presque Isle in May 2010 to discuss what he calls the company’s inefficiency.

May 2010: The company announces plans to save $4.5 million in losses annually by halving its locomotive crews by replacing workers with remote-control devices.

October 2010: The state buys 233 miles of northern Maine freight rail tracks from the company for $20.1 million. The funding comes from a $47.8 million bond package approved on the June ballot.

November 2010: Twin Rivers Paper Co. officials say they will transship paper from trucks to Canadian railway operators, costing $3 million more annually, rather than tolerate MM&A inefficiency. Twin Rivers is an intervenor in a lawsuit between Canadian National Railway Co. and Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. The dispute centers on MM&A’s ownership of a spur to the Madawaska mill. Twin Rivers objects to the ownership.

April 2011: MM&A wins a significant victory when U.S. District Court Chief Justice John A. Woodcock Jr. reaffirms its right to control rail traffic on the 24-mile rail spur to Twin Rivers Paper Co. LLC mill in Madawaska. The 77-page ruling rejects Canadian National Railway Co.’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would allow it to carry product to and from the mill.

April 2011: Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway agrees to a $30,000 fine to settle a claim by the Environmental Protection Agency that the company violated the Clean Water Act during a 2009 oil spill. EPA officials say a railway employee left a fuel transfer unattended at the company’s repair and maintenance shop in Milo, leaking oil underground into the Piscataquis River. The spill caused a noticeable but temporary sheen on the water, EPA officials say.

April 2011: The state names Eastern Maine Railroad as the primary freight carrier on 233 miles of railway, rejecting MM&A’s bid for that work. The railway was among several bidders.

December 2011: MM&A announces sale of 24-mile spur in its dispute with Twin Rivers to J.D. Irving subsidiary Eastern Maine Railway. Sale details are undisclosed. The sale ends the company’s dispute with Twin Rivers.

June 2012: Pan Am Railways and Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways announce that they are exploring moving vast amounts of crude oil to an Irving Oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick. Federal Railroad Administration statistics show that in 2011, MM&A had a train accident rate of 10 accidents per million train miles throughout the company’s network, compared with a rate of 3.7 at Pan Am and a national average of 2.8 accidents per million train miles.

July 2012: A freak microburst causes flooding that wipes out an MM&A track in Brownville. The $350,000 loss is part of about $4 million in damage.

June 2013: Eastern Maine Railway buys from MM&A a 28-mile stretch of railroad between Madawaska and Van Buren and includes the international bridge that crosses from Van Buren into St. Leonard, New Brunswick.

— Compiled from Bangor Daily News archives and the MM&A website

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