A 9-mile section of unused railroad between Portland and Yarmouth could become the region’s newest multi-use trail.

A proposal envisions a trail for walking, cycling and running in the right of way alongside the tracks, instead of replacing the rail line.

“The Department of Transportation’s stance is that these corridors should be preserved for future rail activity,” said Molly Henry, New England coordinator for East Coast Greenway, a nonprofit advocating an off-road path from Florida to Maine.

“There is a growing movement toward the rail-with-trail model,” with more than 160 examples of the design in the United States, Henry added.

Until 2015, St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad used the line to transport beans to the B&M baked bean factory in Portland. The line is owned by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Regional planners are drafting a trail feasibility assessment including cost and use projections, the first step in a long planning process, said Kristina Egan, executive director of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which provided $5,000 for the study. The study was requested in May by officials from Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth. A public meeting about the proposal will be held at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Lunt Auditorium in Falmouth.

The trail could be used for recreation and as a bicycling commuter corridor between the four communities, Egan said.

“I think it is an idea that has been percolating a long time, but this is the first time we have been able to dedicate some serious funding to the potential,” she said.

An unbroken 9-mile trail faces serious challenges because of topography and rail design, however.

The path would have to cross the Presumpscot River in Falmouth and pass under the Falmouth Spur overpass. Sections of the railroad have steep embankments on either side of the tracks, making an adjacent trail difficult.

Any plan will likely include alternate routes off the rail line to bypass obstacles and reduce costs, Egan said.

St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad has the right to operate along the line, and the state works with the company to find freight and shipping opportunities, said Nathan Moulton, director of office and freight business services at the Maine DOT. The line is also being considered as a possible route for passenger rail service to Lewiston-Auburn, Moulton said. Nothing prohibits a trail along the rail corridor, but it would have to meet safety requirements, he added.

Since the rail line crosses through downtown Yarmouth and a highway park-and-ride, it might be the easiest place to design a new trail, said Alex Jaegerman, the town’s director of planning and development. Residents want more transportation options and cycling infrastructure, he added.

“There are a lot of people who might use their bikes to get around for exercise if there were more facilities,” Jaegerman said.

“Folks are more interested in having these choices available to them, and pretty much demand it.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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