Baked bean maker B&M will have to fork over some cash or find another way to ship beans to its East Deering factory, now that a federal agency has approved shutting down the only rail line leading to the site.
The federal Surface Transportation Board on Tuesday granted permission to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad to discontinue freight service on 24 miles of track between the Auburn city line and Portland. The decision – to be effective on March 27 – means B&M, the railroad’s only customer on the line, will lose the train service unless the bean plant is willing to subsidize it.
B&M, which has been making baked beans in its five-story brick factory on the waterfront since 1913, currently gets nearly all of its small pea beans delivered by rail from the Midwest and Manitoba, Canada. The bean shipments amount to several million pounds per year, or about 30 rail carloads per year.
Pea beans are the variety used to make B&M’s traditional oven-baked beans.
Without rail access, B&M would be forced to rely on trucks, which are more expensive than train service.
The company did not respond Wednesday to calls seeking comment or questions submitted via email.
B&G Foods North America Inc., which owns B&M, opposed the railroad’s petition to discontinue service.
Under federal law, the company now has the opportunity to provide the railroad with financial assistance to subsidize the service.
The company has until March 7 to submit an offer to the railroad and the Surface Transportation Board.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were three active companies on the line shipping a total of more than 500 carloads per year, according to the railroad. By late 2006, however, two of those shippers had closed or moved their operations, leaving the baked bean plant as the only remaining rail customer.
The railroad said it was too expensive for it to maintain the rails and crossings for only one customer receiving only 30 carloads annually.
The former Grand Trunk Railway line linked Montreal with Portland, which until the 1920s served as the winter port for much of Canada.
The line traveled to India Street in downtown Portland until 1984, when a fire damaged a bridge over Back Cove. That made the B&M plant the end of the line.
Workers in the factory, which employs about 120 people, prepare the beans in giant pots, mixing in molasses, sugar and mustard. They then bake the pots in large brick ovens. Others can and package the product, which is shipped by truck to grocery stores around the country.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: