March 16, 2013

Passenger rail report calls for link to India Street

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – A group that's pushing for expanded passenger rail service has issued a report supporting a rail link from Auburn to a new station in Portland's India Street neighborhood.

The Maine Rail Transit Coalition's 89-page report details the costs and logistics for re-establishing passenger rail along a 30-mile corridor north of Portland on the former Grand Trunk line, which comes into Portland near the B&M Baked Beans plant, over a trestle and along the East End.

The train, envisioned to be a modern, self-propelled passenger coach, would run along a portion of the St. Lawrence-Atlantic rail line, which is owned by the state, making 22 round trips a day at speeds of 79 to 90 mph, according to the report.

The proposal comes at a time when increased competition for rail funds is making any expansion a tough sell.

Amtrak's Downeaster is seeking funding to make its new Portland-Brunswick service more efficient, for example. And the Maine Eastern Railroad, which connects Brunswick with Rockland and Augusta, is struggling to coordinate its schedule with the Downeaster so passengers can ride the rails to Boston.

Nevertheless, the Maine Rail Transit Coalition's report says the estimated $138 million project could be funded with $20 million in private investments and $27 million in state bonds, which would make the service eligible for $91 million in federal grants.

"This is the 'buy local' version of transportation," said Tony Donovan, founder of the Maine Transit Coalition, in a written statement. "We see the benefit of investing in regional rail infrastructure, stimulating local economies and minimizing costs of growth."

The annual operating cost of the system is estimated at $3.8 million. In addition to user fares, the service would use Transit Tax Increment Financing, which would capture any property taxes from new development along the corridor and funnel that revenue back into the train's operation, according to the report.

Trains would run seven days a week between 5 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Along with a station in Portland's India Street neighborhood, stations would be sited in Falmouth and Yarmouth, at Pineland and in Auburn.

State Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, has submitted a bill that would put a bond before voters in November.

The coalition plans to present its report to the Legislature's budget-writing committee when and if it schedules a public hearing.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

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