It’s time to expand passenger train service in Maine. The Amtrak Downeaster connecting Brunswick to Boston demonstrates the demand for and benefits of this clean, efficient transportation choice in the Pine Tree State. However, we need a modern train system that connects to more Maine communities, and eventually to Montreal.

The first step toward new Maine-to-Montreal train service and rebuilding our state’s passenger rail network is running commuter rail from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn on existing state-owned rail lines.

The good news is that in 2015 the Maine Legislature passed a bill directing the Maine Department of Transportation to create a plan for this route between Maine’s two largest metropolitan areas. Together, the cities of Lewiston and Auburn and the state of Maine have pledged $500,000 to conduct the plan, and the idea has garnered the support of a strong coalition that includes Republican and Democratic legislators, the business community and environmentalists.

Unfortunately, nearly two years later, MDOT has yet to get going on the train plan. It is imperative that the agency move forward now so that Mainers can take advantage of real transportation choices in the near future.

Mainers support passenger trains because they provide safe, reliable and affordable transportation, reduce traffic congestion and pollution, and help to revitalize our town centers with new economic development opportunities. Trains attract commuters and visitors who want to be able to travel without the expense, dangers and hassles of automobile dependence.

Importantly, trains also address seniors’ transportation needs, and they provide access to jobs, school and entertainment for the many who do not own cars. As has been proven elsewhere, when quality passenger service is available, people will use it.

Passenger trains should be seen as not just a smart transportation option but also a key economic development strategy. Connecting Maine’s two largest economic hubs would be a catalyst for expanding jobs, housing, health care and education. It will connect people to entertainment and cultural events while providing affordable access for everyone.

From an environmental and energy use perspective, passenger trains are the most efficient transportation choice. Considering that cars now account for the largest source of global warming pollution in Maine, passenger trains will be an important solution to address worsening climate disruption.

In addition, the costs of maintaining our highways, roads and bridges are astronomical. Maine is borrowing $100 million to $125 million every year for roadwork. A mile of road costs about the same as a mile of rail line, but a road must be rebuilt every decade or so. In contrast, rail lines last more than a half of a century. Also, by reducing the number of cars on our road system, trains reduce road repair costs substantially.

There is a consensus among Maine residents, public officials and transportation experts that our state must improve its transportation infrastructure. A good road system for cars, trucks and buses is essential, but a roads-only network is not enough to address the transportation needs of Mainers going forward.

On Thursday, the public can learn more about the proposed Maine-to-Montreal passenger rail plan at a public forum at 6 p.m. at the Stroudwater Distillery, 4 Thompson’s Point, Portland. Co-sponsored by the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, Sierra Club and AARP Maine, the event includes a panel of Maine and Canadian rail experts and representatives from the sponsoring organizations. (For more information, call 207-761-5616.)

Maine is fortunate to own and have the Portland-to-Lewiston railroad tracks in place. This valuable piece of transportation infrastructure – purchased with public funds for the purpose of passenger rail – is ready and waiting for re-investment. Since the administration of Gov. Angus King, Maine has spent more than $2 million on passenger rail studies. The studies are done.

Now’s the time to move forward on a plan.

— Special to the Press Herald