Passenger rail advocates launch ‘Grand Trunk Flyer’ between Auburn and Portland

AUBURN — Passenger rail advocates argued Thursday to reuse the old Grand Trunk Railroad between Portland and Auburn for new battery-powered passenger service.

In a presentation to the Portland-to-Auburn Rail Usage Advisory Council, convened by the Maine Department of Transportation, rail advocates said they envision the “Grand Trunk Flyer” making daily round trips, eventually extending to the Ocean Gateway terminal in Portland.

The inactive route follows the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line, which was also the subject of a popular proposal to create a multi-use “railway path” along the line.

Proponents of the plan said the rail trail would not interfere with efforts to add passenger rail between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn because rail service could use the parallel Pan Am rail line, which would bring passengers to the center Portland Transportation near Thompson’s Point.

However, those behind the ‘Grand Trunk Flyer’ proposal argued Thursday that the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line is an ‘irreplaceable asset’ that could be used for intercity light rail at a cost well below that estimated by previous studies.

Tony Donovan, a Portland real estate agent and director of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said there is a perception that railroad tracks, owned by Maine citizens, “cannot be used for trains.”

He said the team behind the “leaflet” proposal had determined that the light rail could operate on the track close to its current state.

Al Fazio, an engineer at BRT Services and former deputy chief engineer at Amtrak, said a 2019 report that looked at passenger rail travel between regions had several errors. He said many places across the country have seen redevelopment around light rail corridors that can provide zero-carbon transportation, “getting people to work even if they can’t afford a car”.

BRT is a professional company in Havertown, Pennsylvania that specializes in supporting railroads with high-volume services, according to its website.

According to a press release on the proposal, reaching downtown Portland would require rebuilding the trestle running through the former B&M Baked Beans property to the east end of Portland. They are considering stations at the new Roux Institute, as well as Falmouth, downtown Yarmouth, Yarmouth Junction, the Pineland Farms campus in New Gloucester, and the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport in Auburn.

The statement said the Maine Rail Transit Coalition is preparing for a demonstration of the new train, which will operate between Presumpscot Street and Yarmouth, starting next year.

Donovan and Fazio said “people need to see it and touch it”, and the demonstration could show people that the technology can work on the line.

“This railroad, and all state railroads, are available now to provide equitable access to housing, jobs and services,” Donovan said. “It must be used to address the immediate crisis we have in climate change.”

During a question and answer session, one person asked how the connection to Auburn would be made since MDOT’s rights to the line terminate at the New Gloucester/Auburn municipal line, which is thousands of feet away. from the nearest public road.

Former Auburn Mayor Jonathan Labonte, who served on a local passenger rail committee, said Auburn is “preparing an assessment of the corridor from Danville to downtown along Washington Street, and that connectivity would be part of the assessment”.

When asked who might possibly operate the service, Fazio said it probably wouldn’t be Amtrak, but there might be a “cross-platform” connection at Yarmouth Junction with the Amtrak service that connects Brunswick to Boston.

In 2021, Lewiston partnered with Portland to fund a study of passenger rail transport between regions.

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