Construction of a 10-mile trail alongside unused railroad tracks between Portland and Yarmouth is not only feasible, according to a study, but desirable – particularly because of connections that could be made to other trail systems in the region.

But while a trail along the former St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad is technically possible, it would also be expensive, with an estimated cost of about $23 million, according to the preliminary study by the Greater Portland Council of Governments. The cost is related to the need for several bridge and roadway crossings.

In a report prepared in cooperation with Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth, the council said it would make sense for trail construction to be done in phases, starting with a 1.7-mile stretch in Yarmouth that doesn’t include any physical barriers.

The cost for that section of the trail is estimated at $2.2 million, according to Kristina Egan, executive director of the council, who authored the report.

Based on Egan’s analysis, the 3.8-mile Falmouth section of the trail, would be the most expensive – about $10.7 million – because it has the most crossings.

The 1.7-mile Portland stretch would cost nearly $6 million, according to Egan, and the Cumberland section, which is 2.7 miles, would be $3.8 million.

In all, she said, the railroad tracks in the study area cross five bridges, six large culverts and nine roads.

The railroad line between Portland and Yarmouth has been discontinued, although the Maine Department of Transportation owns a rail right-of-way and freight operator Genesee & Wyoming holds an operator easement for that section.

If rail service were to resume next to the trail, the trains would be limited to a top speed of 25 miles per hour, Egan said.

Walking or biking on the railroad right-of-way is currently prohibited and Egan said the four communities that want to build the rail trail would need permission from MDOT.

What makes the proposal so attractive, according to Egan, is “the potential trail along the St. Lawrence & Atlantic could connect to other trails in the region, and would also become part of the regional transportation network.”

Connections could include the Beth Condon Trail in Yarmouth and the trail around Back Cove and the Eastern Promendade in Portland.

Egan said the council spent about five months reviewing the potential for a trail that would preserve the potential for future restoration of rail service.

She said the December meeting was well-attended. “Residents supported (this) trail because it would give people an option to avoid driving and traffic, bike safely, and to commute in a climate-friendly way,” Egan said in the report. “Others cited the benefits of improved quality of life, public health, economic development, and increased property values.”

She said the next step is for the communities along the proposed route to commit to a more detailed feasibility study, which would address the “physical constraints … such as crossing the Presumpscot River, going under the Falmouth Spur, and widening existing embankments.”

Read this story in The Forecaster.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or at:

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