The passage of a transportation bond last week could end up being good news for the northern Maine businesses that rely on freight rail.

That’s because the bond’s passage is not the final word on this deal, but a necessary building block for it.

The state is currently in negotiations with the owner of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad for the purchase of the track between Madawaska and Millinocket, with spurs to Caribou, Easton, Houlton, Limestone and Presque Isle.

A state task force named by Gov. Baldacci in April is negotiating with the track’s owner and with railroad operators who would lease and run the line if the state buys it. Federal authorities are also part of the discussion, and told lawmakers that the federal government could also play a support role in preserving the rail line if the state took leadership of the process.

Those talks can now move forward, but it’s important to remember the reason why this line is a money-losing venture for its current owner.

As Republican gubernatorial candidate and former railroad executive Matt Jacobson pointed out during the recent campaign, this is not just a transportation problem.

Business regulation, trade policy and high energy costs that have driven manufacturers out of the state are what is causing trouble for this railroad, and finding new operators for this line will ultimately not be enough to save it.

The state should do what it can to keep this rail line running, but limit its exposure if this effort is not enough.