LEWISTON — A proposed commuter rail service to connect the Twin Cities to Portland would likely cost between $200 and $300 million, depending on which service scenario is selected, according to an engineering consultant.

Natasha Velickovic outlines the results of a passenger rail feasibility study at a meeting hosted by the Lewiston/Auburn Passenger Rail Service Plan Committee at the Lewiston Public Library on Wednesday evening. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Trains would cost between $75 and $95 million, and annual operating and maintenance costs would fall between $15 million and $20 million, said Natasha Velickovic of the engineering firm VHB.

She said the annual costs for the project would be offset by rider revenue, “but I haven’t seen a service yet that has entirely paid for itself, so this would require some level of subsidy.”

The cost of a ticket would likely be between $6 and $10, Velickovic said.

The process for pursuing passenger rail service in Lewiston-Auburn began in 2015, when the Legislature approved $400,000 to conduct a study and complete a plan for the implementation of passenger rail service between the cities. Lewiston and Auburn each contributed $50,000 toward the project.

A nine-member committee was established to oversee the project, and VHB was brought in as a consultant.

The proposal suggests connecting the Amtrak Downeaster with a commuter rail service.

According to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages Amtrak Downeaster service between Maine and Boston, the project would be funded through “a few different methods,” with federal grant programs making up 50 to 80 percent and the remaining 20 to 50 percent being provided by local and state sources.

Velickovic said the project committee had narrowed to three the possible service scenarios for a passenger rail connection between Lewiston-Auburn and Portland.

One proposal would take passengers from Lewiston-Auburn to the Portland Transportation Center via the Pan Am Rail Line, while a second alignment would use the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Rail Line.

The Pan Am Rail Line alignment would result in a 50-minute ride and could cost between $189 million and $230 million to construct, while the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Rail Line alignment would take 48 minutes and cost between $207 million and $254 million.

Another scenario would connect passengers from Lewiston-Auburn to the Portland Ocean Gateway on Commercial Street, using the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Rail Line.

The third scenario would offer a 43-minute ride but be the most expensive, with an estimated construction cost between $241 million and $295 million.

The study estimated that between 700 and 1,900 people would ride the rail daily.

State Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, said the rail lines already exist, meaning land would not be taken by eminent domain and environmental studies would not be required.

“We just need to bring those rail lines up to passenger rail standards, such as adding more rail ties or adding more places for rails to pass each other,” Sheats said.

Paul Weiss, a founding member of Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said people should not think about the project “in terms of what this year’s budget looks like,” but instead should “think long term and what it will do for the state.”

He added rider studies being done by the committee “are very conservative.”

“I don’t think it takes into account the people who work jobs that don’t allow them to go to these hearings,” Weiss said. “Those are the people who would be utilizing the service.”

The next step for the project would involve preparing a final report, selecting a preferred alignment and establishing a “purpose and need statement,” Velickovic said.

“(A purpose and need statement) is important to chasing federal funding and making the federal government see that we’re a worthwhile investment,” Velickovic said. “The largest chunk of change will come from federal funding.”

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