In this Dec. 8, 2011 file photo, the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train travels through Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The Maine Senate voted unanimously Monday for two bills that would fund studies of expanded passenger rail to Lewiston, Augusta, Waterville and Bangor.

One measure would fund a feasibility study of extending passenger rail service to Bangor, and the other would conduct a study of commuter rail service between Portland and Lewiston.

All of these cities were once served by private railroads, until the passenger business became unprofitable in the 1950s and 1960s.

Since then, slow freight trains have used most of the track. Returning passengers would mean making a major investment in track upgrades, stations and trains.

A study unveiled in 2019 priced Lewiston-to-Portland service at roughly between $200 million and $300 million for the track upgrade alone.

Those kinds of numbers have long been an obstacle to passenger rail plans. But now, President Joe Biden has proposed $80 billion for rail as part of his initial infrastructure plan.

Tony Donovan, of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said in a press release that “time is of the essence.”

The bills, costing a total of $550,000, face further votes in the legislature.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.