Plans to build a new waterfront passenger depot and storage facility are underway for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad.

A site plan for the two buildings is under review by Portland’s Department of Planning and Urban Development. The nonprofit passenger railroad and museum hopes to break ground next month and have a new ticket building ready next spring.

“We are definitely trying to move in as soon as we possibly can, right now the onus is to get this permit done,” Executive Director Wesley Heinz said.

The organization wants to build a small ticketing building and waiting platform, styled on classic train stations, at the intersection of Hancock and Thames streets. About a mile away, at the terminus of its 2-foot wide rail line at the base of Munjoy Hill, the group plans to build a storage building.

The railroad and museum caters its short train rides to tourists and locals alike. Passenger counts doubled to 60,000 last year compared with 2013. Heinz said a popular winter holiday-themed Polar Express carries 20,000 passengers alone and in recent years it has added special trips for corporate events and regular events like ice cream trains and an autumn pumpkin train.

For the last eight years, the railroad and museum had been working to move its operations from Portland to Gray so it could have more space.


But this August, the company said it would stay in Portland and develop new facilities with a $2 million fundraising campaign.

The change came after Gray voters turned down a $500,000 grant to help the company relocate in 2016. The costs to move the rail line – to a development area complicated by wetlands – also were mounting, up to $12 million, and the nonprofit’s leaders realized that leaving Portland did not make business sense, Heinz said.

The new passenger depot will include a ticket counter, inside waiting area and platform and bathrooms, according to plans the organization submitted to the city.

The proposed single-story, 1,000-square-foot building is styled like an old-fashioned rural New England train station, according to a rendering of the project. It will face Thames Street, and stand in stark contrast to the forest of new glass-and-steel buildings across the street, including a luxury hotel and headquarters of payment-processing company Wex.

The old-style station is intended to pay homage to Portland’s history as a railroad hub and its former network of streetcars, Heinz said.

“What people don’t remember or know is that Portland was a massive railroad town,” he said.

A 6,600-square-foot storage building will be built at the end of the rail line near the city’s sewage treatment plant. In its application, the railroad said it needs the building because it is losing its lease in the Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St., where a mixed-use redevelopment is planned.

The plan will be reviewed by only Portland’s planning staff, because of the project’s small size and because it is considered an accessory use to the rail line.

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