Maine Eastern Railroad plans to reduce its passenger runs
Rockland — At a time when Amtrak has expanded its passenger rail service north of Portland to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine Eastern Railroad is reducing its passenger service between Rockland and Brunswick from two trips to one trip a day.
"Up until 2012, we ran two seasonal round trips between Rockland and Brunswick," said Gordon Page, vice president and director of passenger service for Maine Eastern. "In 2013 we will reduce it to one trip."
Two years ago, there was hope that the Maine Eastern would connect its passenger service to the coming Amtrak Downeaster with its stops in Brunswick and Freeport.
Page said the Amtrak schedule is not feasible for a commuter service between Rockland and Portland, however, because the first train for Boston leaves Brunswick at 7:05 a.m., and passengers from Rockland would have to get on board at 4:30 a.m. for a commute.
The change in schedule will also have an effect on potential riders in the Waldoboro area, where community leaders have been considering a train station near Moody's Diner on Route 1.
"We haven't talked with Waldoboro officials in several months," said Page.
Theodore Wooster, a selectman and retired businessman living in Waldoboro, said there has been a lot of discussion in his town about a train connection to Brunswick and Portland on the Downeaster.
"That Downeaster schedule isn't cast in stone," Wooster said. He could foresee commuting possibilities not only to Portland and beyond but to destinations along the way.
"There are a number of people who commute to work at BIW [Bath Iron Works] who could use the train," he said. "The train could take the pressure off that traffic in Wiscasset without having to build another road.
Wooster said he looks ahead in the next decade and sees the state's energy and transportation needs working together, with the train helping to relieve pressure on vehicle traffic.
"It needs publicity," Wooster said of the train issue. "We've got to find ways to pull this thing together."
"Please keep in mind that we are still a freight service," Page said.
Page said Maine Eastern Railroad is not an Amtrak train but a “doing-business-as” part of the Morristown & Eerie of New Jersey. The company is beginning its 10th year operating freight and passenger excursion trains between Rockland and Brunswick over a track owned by the state.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the Downeaster, two years ago received a $38.3 million grant as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2010 to expand the Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick. Construction to rehabilitate the 28-mile track between Brunswick and Yarmouth, owned primarily by Pan Am Railways, took two years.
Long used as a freight line, the track had to be upgraded to hold high-speed passenger trains up to speeds of 79 mph, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of NNEPRA.
Passenger service from Portland to Brunswick began in November 2012.
Page said the refurbished track is important to the Rockland area, because freight and passenger trains ride the same rails.
The bigger boon for Knox County will be his company’s ability to expand freight service for local and area businesses. He sees the arrival of trains as a positive economic development tool for Knox County.
For years, his company has been handling concrete products for Dragon Cement in Thomaston, and through an agreement with Pan-Am Railways of Guilford, can interchange freight in Brunswick on through trains to other parts of the country, or with ships at the docks on Penobscot Bay.
"One six-car train can carry as much freight as 20 tractor-trailer trucks," Page said.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or at email@example.com.