– By MATTHEW DELMAN

Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

Rail travel in Maine is an experience you’re not likely to have in other parts of the country. From the two-foot narrow-gauge railroads to the electric trolleys and the picturesque coastline, the state of Maine broadcasts its uncommon rail history as loud as it can.

This is one of only two locations in the entire world where two-foot narrow-gauge railroads had regular passenger service. First conceived in Wales, the narrow railroads in Maine meant owners could save money on their rolling stock. Lucky for visitors today, the history of narrow gauge and other railways is kept alive in Greater Portland and the midcoast by a combination of nonprofits and corporations.

Maine Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company and Museum

After a brief and winding drive through The Portland Company Marine Complex on Fore Street, you reach the main building of the Maine Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company and Museum. The location in the Portland Company complex is apt, as this complex was at one time a foundry where locomotives were built. Opposite the building is the Portland waterfront, along with a variety of sail and powerboats tied up to the marina’s docks.

A mile and a half of two-foot narrow gauge track operated by the museum runs along the waterfront, allowing visitors a fantastic view of Casco Bay while they ride coaches pulled by a restored century-old locomotive. Inside the building are passenger coaches, a Model T adapted to run on rails, and numerous other exhibits to teach the intrepid railroad enthusiast about the operation of a steam engine and the history of the Portland Company’s foray into railroads.

Maine Eastern Railroad

A half-hour drive to Brunswick brings you to the southern terminus of the Maine Eastern Railroad. Though it’s standard instead of narrow gauge, visitors are given the chance to ride in the comfort they might have experienced in the 1950s.

The Maine Eastern parlor and coach cars are all restored stainless steel Art Deco coaches from the 1940s and ’50s, and so are the diesel locomotives that pull the train. Restored to modern ideals of comfort, riders on the Maine Eastern are treated to Art Deco luxury while witnessing some of the prettiest coastline in the state outside their windows.

A ticket price of $58 per person will get you a round-trip ticket for the Reserve Parlor Class car, called the Alexander Hamilton, which originally ran on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Congressional Limited” service. Take care though, as the parlor car’s only available if you include Rockland as part of your trip on the line. Riders excluding Rockland only have the option for the coach class car. Expect to spend a full day with the Maine Eastern, as there’s a layover in Rockland after the morning train from Brunswick.

Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum

Farther up the coastline are the town of Wiscasset and the Sheepscot River; a short drive out of Wiscasset center brings you to the small town of Alna and the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum. Here you’ll ride a century-old locomotive along the same right-of-way that hosted the WW&F Railway during its 1894 to 1933 heyday.

Pay close attention to road signs if you decide to take a visit, as it’s easy to drive past Cross Road where the museum is located. Another thing to watch for is that your GPS device might tell you to take a right turn onto Cross from Alna Road, when in reality the museum is located to the left.

There’s a small collection of historical objects inside the station at Sheepscot, but it’s really the rolling museum of the train that’s of interest. Kids are fascinated by the century-old locomotive, and according to volunteer Stewart Rhine, “It’s neat to see the look on kids’ faces when they first see a steam locomotive.”

Boothbay Railway Village

Boothbay Railway Village is the next stop on any railway enthusiast’s tour of Greater Portland and the midcoast. A short drive to the Boothbay Harbor Region will bring you to the village of 20-plus buildings taken almost out of time. The large sign on Wiscasset Road proclaims the village’s location, and you park your car in front of the 1911-built Freeport Station. Like every other building on the village’s property, Freeport Station was moved to this location to preserve it.

Trains run every hour while the village is open, with the first train leaving at 10 a.m. and the last steaming out at 4 p.m. each day. A restored Henschel steam locomotive pulls a train of two historic passenger coaches along the narrow-gauge railroad track that runs through the village, including up to Thorndike Station at the top of a hill near the classic automobile exhibit. Thorndike Station originally sat in Thorndike, Maine, the same way that Freeport Station at one time sat in Freeport.

Seashore Trolley Museum

Founded in 1939, the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport preserves the legacy of the electric railway that spanned 87 miles of York County in the early years of the 20th Century. The idea for the museum came up when the Biddeford & Saco Railroad was replacing its trolleys with buses; since that long ago day the museum has amassed more than 250 transit vehicles from all over the world.

A portion of the old Atlantic Shore Line, which stretched to Cape Porpoise, is now part of the museum property. Visitors are encouraged to ride the trolley that runs on the old line, and while doing so are educated on what York County farmers would’ve used the trolleys for.

The railways of Maine offer a trip to the past for not just the dedicated railroad enthusiast, but also the visitor interested in seeing how people lived a century ago. Whether you’re riding the narrow gauge, taking the Maine Eastern to Rockland, or experiencing the streetcars, there’s something for you to enjoy.

Matthew Delman is a freelance writer who lives in Beverly, Mass.


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