As we emerge from this difficult COVID year, we need something big for Maine, something transformative, something bold, something that will help solve both economic woes and our next upcoming disaster (of even larger proportions: climate change).

We have this fix, and it is a revolution in the Maine transportation equation. Electric passenger rail service, joining all of Maine’s larger cities, with connections to the rest of the state and to Boston and Canada in the near future! Right now there are several rail bills in the Legislature (including L.D. 227, L.D. 991) that will be the first steps toward that goal.  To be clear, this is rail service restoration between Portland’s waterfront and downtown Lewiston/Auburn and Portland through Brunswick and up through Augusta, Waterville, to Bangor. While we have separate bills and timelines for this restoration, the goal is the same:  To evolve our transportation system to a clean, affordable, sustainable one; to bring a future to those who cannot afford good transportation, and to bring opportunities of places to live and work for everyone.

We have the great possibility to bring in hundreds of millions of federal dollars from the Biden-Buttigieg transportation infrastructure initiatives and match millions in private funds and state investments. With over 50 percent of our pollution emissions coming from the transportation sector, this project will be the single largest reduction in CO2 and pollution in our state’s history. It can not only eliminate CO2 and other pollutants from our air, but significantly reduce our fuel use (money that leaves our state). Electricity from wind, solar and hydro can power this backbone of transportation in our state.

These projects will transform downtowns, bringing large investments in the hearts of our cities and bringing new life and young people back to Maine. It will be safe, clean transport for the elderly, fulfilling their desire for safe reliable passenger rail. Our urban populations have created densities that are greater than they were when rail was king, 70 years ago.  Today rail can be the very heart of our transportation network and connect to other transit services at each station.

Electrified rail is the most efficient form of land transportation; it can be fast, with speeds upwards of 90-plus mph in sections; it can be thousands of times safer than auto travel, normally not delayed by bad weather; it eliminates congested roadways and can be a comfortable ride. Free internet access, power outlets, desks and food services can let you work on the train, making productive use of travel time. Electrified rail can quiet neighborhoods and will be a hub of commercial investment in housing, commercial space and restaurant and medical offices.

This vision cannot be achieved by electric cars alone (the current DOT plan). We must eliminate many car and truck trips with rail. A revamped passenger rail service, can also eliminate thousands of tractor-trailers from our roadways and make freight transport clean and efficient by running rail freight at night between commuter rail.

Our DOT is planning on destroying this corridor with “trails” for a select few locals. This corridor must be preserved for transportation which can produce orders of more magnitude – economic return, pollution reduction, fuel reduction and downtown revitalization – than trails.We cannot interrupt these critical corridors of transportation with recreation trails.Our green future depends on it.

Maine still owns the heart of the network; all we need to do now is have the gumption to do this. We can emerge from this gloomy past year with new vigor, new solutions and transform the state’s failing automobile, truck and asphalt-based transportation into a permanent, sustainable transportation backbone. Please call or write your legislator today, to support these and other rail bills.


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