The last time the Midcoast was inundated with days of rain, a bank along the Georges River washed out adjacent to a section of railroad track below the former Maine State Prison site. Less than a month later, thanks to a stint of relatively dry weather and the efforts of the Maine Department of Transportation, the banking has been rebuilt in a fix that is considered permanent.

“The DOT really worked well with us on this, and the trains are up and running again,” said Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director Ray Sisk.

Two local businesses depend on the tracks year-round, so a quick repair was essential. Chemrock in Thomaston processes perlite, which is used by FMC Corporation in Rockland for its manufacturing process and is shipped by rail from Portland. The washout was discovered Jan. 26 when a supply of perlite ore was being transported.

“The DOT doesn’t have too many people who are rail specific, but they were able to get the work done before it had a financial effect [on the local companies],” Sisk said.

The repair was finished just in time for Chemrock, whose General Manager Frank Bertrand had put into place a contingency plan that involved the company’s headquarters in Pennsylvania and plants in Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, as well as Maine Eastern Railroad and a few Ferraiolo Construction trucks. Chemrock, which employs 10 people, takes perlite, a volcanic ore, expands it with heat and then grinds and separates the result by size and shape. FMC, whose work force is about 120, uses the expanded and sorted mineral in its manufacture of a variety of products.

“We like to have an abundance of ore this time of year because of snowstorms and bad weather,” Bertrand said. “We got a lot closer than I like to be [to running out].”

Just a few days before Bertrand would have had to put his cross-country shipping and in-state trucking plan into place, the DOT completed the track repair. The day after completion, 600 tons of raw material were delivered to Chemrock.

“We’re good, have plenty of stuff in the silo. We’re catching up right now,” said Bertrand, adding that Chemrock has been in Thomaston since 1967 and recently completed a needed upgrade thanks to a capital improvement project.

DOT Director of Rail Transportation Nate Moulton credited the DOT geo- and biotech staff members for being able to assess the problem and come up with a solution quickly.

“We’re lucky to have them on staff,” he said. “It happened on a Monday and we were there the following Monday. It took three or four days to engineer it and then about 10 days for the actual work.”

The tracks themselves were not affected by the washout. Given the time constraints, the job was not put out to local bid but to the several companies the DOT has on a short list for train site work. Shaw Brothers out of Gorham did the job, using rock from a local quarry.

“We have a dump truck that runs on the rails and swivels,” Moulton said. “The excavator was stepped down the hill and then worked its way back up. I think there’s 27 yards of rock there.”

Moulton added that there will be trimming work to do on the tracks come spring and attention needs to be paid this spring and summer to the slope that goes up to the former prison site.

“There are a lot of clay and soil issues,” he said.

Sisk said the state of Maine is initially responsible for the cost of the repair, but because the washout was the result of a natural hazard, federal funds may well come into play.

“In fact, the storm period is still open because of the situation on the Kennebec, so there’s a good chance [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] will provide here,” he said.

“We’ll pursue that, but either way it’s done,” said Moulton.

VillageSoup’s Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to