Maine lawmakers interested in saving rail line

| 8/26/2009

A rail line in northern Maine soon could have a sale sign attached, and some state lawmakers are interested in making an offer.

Rep. Charles Theriault, D-Madawaska, is among a group of lawmakers from the area working on a bill for consideration during the 2010 regular session that would allow the state to buy 241 miles of railroad. The tracks owned by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway stretch from Madawaska to Millinocket.

MMA officials cite high maintenance costs and the recession for wanting to get rid of the tracks that are valued at $17 million, the Bangor Daily News reported. Trains travel the line two or three times per week.

Theriault is interested in using $20 million in bonds to enable the state to take over the rail line in Penobscot and Aroostook counties and make upgrades. He said if the tracks were abandoned, it would isolate the area and hurt its economy.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Senior Member Larry Sidelinger of Nobleboro, ME, said it is wasteful to put money into railroads. Also, he isn’t happy about the lawmakers’ willingness to jump to the aid of rail at the expense of taxpayers.

“I don’t know of a trucking company in the land that’s subsidized by the government,” Sidelinger told Land Line. “We all have to stand on our own two feet. So why doesn’t the rail line have to do that?”

MMA owns 745 miles of track in Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick. The lines in Maine are used by freight trains transporting products that include pulpwood, heating fuels, wood chips and cooking oil.

With the company looking to either abandon or sell the portion of rail, they say the best option is for the state to buy the rail line.

Sidelinger said he would rather see lawmakers pursue options to benefit a much larger portion of the state’s transportation segment.
“How about putting that money into infrastructure that would help everybody, not just the railroad?” he asked.

The proposed legislation can be considered when the session convenes Jan. 6.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Maine in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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