Maybe there is hope after all for saving the freight line between Auburn and Portland.

A federal board Thursday approved a request from baked bean maker B&M for more time to develop a financial plan for continuing rail service to deliver beans to its East Deering factory.

B&M may be willing to subsidize the rail delivery of beans to the factory, according to its motion, which was filed last week with the federal Surface Transportation Board. The company previously had until Friday to submit an offer to St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad and the board. Friday was the day freight service was scheduled to be discontinued.

B&M, which has been making baked beans in its five-story brick factory on the Portland waterfront since 1913, currently gets nearly all of its small pea beans delivered by rail from the Midwest and Manitoba.

The railroad last month won the right from the federal board to discontinue freight service on 24 miles of track between the Auburn city line and Portland.

The railroad said it is too expensive to maintain the line for the bean factory, its only customer on that stretch. The factory receives only 30 carloads of beans annually.

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.

In its Feb. 27 motion to the Surface Transportation Board, B&G Foods North America Inc., which owns the bean factory, asked the board to keep the rail line open while it formulates a financial offer for the railroad. The railroad supported the motion giving the company time to prepare such an offer.

Without rail access, B&M would be forced to rely on trucks, which are more expensive than train service.

The line ran 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 at 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:

tbell@pressherald.com