PORTLAND – The collapse of the housing market is largely to blame for a railroad company’s plans to abandon miles of track in the far-flung northern one-third of Maine that have served the region for more than a century, carrying potatoes, paper, lumber and countless other products.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway has filed notice with the federal Surface Transportation Board that it intends to abandon 233 miles of track stretching from Madawaska to Millinocket. The company says it has been losing $4 million to $5 million a year on the lines.

Freight revenue has plunged as shipments of lumber, plywood, logs and wood chips have fallen, said railroad President and CEO Bob Grindrod. Those products are largely used in home construction, and demand has fallen as the housing market has tanked.

”In one sentence, we have too much track and too little revenue,” Grindrod said.

The state has been looking to see if it can buy the railroad. If that doesn’t happen, northern Maine could be left without rail service as early as this summer.

The railroad dates back to 1891, when the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad was incorporated and began laying track. The line served as a connector between the isolated and sparsely populated expanses of northern Maine and points to the south.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic bought the railroad in 2003 and now owns 774 miles of track that run from Maine to Montreal, with a short side line into Vermont. The company has 225 employees and is based in Hermon, near Bangor.

For decades, potatoes grown in northern Maine were the railroad’s bread-and-butter. These days, the trains for the most part carry lumber, logs and wood chips, as well as paper products, out of the region bound for markets across the U.S. and beyond. Fertilizer, heating oil, propane, chemicals and cooking oil for a french fry factory are among the products that are brought into northern Maine aboard the trains.

The railroad has a couple of dozen customers. One is a Louisiana-Pacific Corp. wood-products plant in New Limerick that uses the railroad to ship its products across North America. Without rail, the plant’s delivery costs would go up because it would have to ship products by truck to another point where they could be put on a train for final delivery.

If the state or some other buyer doesn’t step forward, train service could start shutting down in late June. Grindrod doesn’t want that to happen, but says the company doesn’t have any choice.

”The company doesn’t want to abandon the tracks, but it also can’t continue losing millions of dollars a year on them,” Grindrod said.


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