AUGUSTA — City councilors may explore the restoration of passenger train service to Augusta, but only if the plan to do so would also replace downtown parking spaces that could be lost if rail service returns.

In August, city councilors were approached by passenger rail advocates who made a pitch for beginning what even they acknowledged would be the long process of bringing passenger train service back to the capital city, potentially with a new train station at the city-owned former Statler mill property on the east side of the Kennebec River.

Richard Rudolph, a director of Maine Rail Group and chairman of Rail Users Network, and Jack Sutton, former president of Maine Rail Group, said then they were prepared to advocate for federal funding to study — and some day potentially bring — passenger rail back to Augusta. But they said they would not do so, nor would they likely be successful without an official show of support from the city.

Thursday, councilors will discuss providing that show of support in a proposed resolution expressing “the intent to explore the transportation advantages, related economic possibilities and financial implications of restoring scheduled passenger rail service to the city.”

Sutton said the city could have a small train stop downtown, and the former Statler site could potentially be home to a larger train station serving the region, which would mean trains would run through the city’s downtown and cross the river on the railroad trestle to get to the former Statler site. The city hopes to see that area redeveloped and has renamed it Kennebec Lockes.

The resolution specifically notes, however, that any plan to restore rail service to the city that would involve bringing trains through downtown would have to include plans and funding to replace the approximately 200 “temporary” parking spaces built on top of the state-owned rail space that runs along Commercial and Water streets.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the agreement between the city and state Department of Transportation that allowed the city to fill in the rail bed to increase parking downtown specifies the city would have to remove the gravel from the rails within 30 days at state officials’ request.

Bridgeo said a plan to bring passenger trains back to Augusta must also include plans to replace those 200 parking spaces, potentially by adding one or two decks to the parking garage just above Commercial Street, which Bridgeo said was designed to be able to take on more parking.

“We’ve come to rely, in downtown, on the availability of those parking spaces” over the rail bed, Bridgeo said Wednesday. “If — and it’s a big if — rail service were to be re-established there, the deal we have with the state gives us just a 30-day notice to unearth those parking spots. So (for a plan to restore passenger rail service) to be beneficial, there would have to be new parking created.”

The approximately 34 miles of inactive track between Augusta and Brunswick is owned by the state. Amtrak’s Downeaster line to Boston terminates in Brunswick.

The proposed resolution for discussion Thursday includes a paragraph referencing the need to replace downtown parking.

The two advocates from Maine Rail Group, a nonprofit organization that advocates for rail transportation, said passenger trains and the people they could bring to Augusta could be an economic driver for the city. Sutton warned councilors in August, however, “We concede restoring passenger rail service to Augusta is a long and arduous task.”

The council resolution suggests a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant should be sought to fund detailed planning for the return of passenger rail service to Augusta, and other grant opportunities should be sought as well.

Thursday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in council chambers, although councilors are expected to go into a closed-door session at 6 p.m. to discuss pending litigation. The informational council meeting, which is open to the public, will take place immediately following the closed-door session.

Also in public session, councilors are scheduled to:

• formally accept the donation of $2 million from the Friends of Lithgow Library, private funds raised to help pay for the upcoming restoration and expansion of the city’s public library;

• discuss a proposed lease agreement with Dirigo Capital Advisors for space in the Ballard Center, which is the former MaineGeneral hospital on East Chestnut Street, to serve as a temporary location for the library for up to two years while the Lithgow renovation project is underway;

• discuss possible rules to regulate clear-cutting of wood;

• issue a resolution asking the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to assess the downtown area, with the assessment to be the basis for a request to have the area designated a National Historic District;

• discuss seeking federal grant funding to assist the Kennebec Land Trust in acquiring the Howard Hill property;

• discuss the annual audit of city and school finances;

• discuss making the one way section of Green Street, between Water and State streets, open to two-way traffic.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj