Opinion: Portland to Auburn, Maine, Rail Trail – Why Not Both Rail and Trail?
A plan by the Casco Bay Trail Alliance to convert 25 miles of unused railroad tracks to a walking and bike trail from Portland to Auburn is on hold over a conflict with the railroad. But why can't we have both?
The Portland Press Herald reports that the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad which abandoned the trackage in 2015 and sold it to the state, wants to extend its option to resume freight service for another three years. For most of the 2000s, the only customer on the 25-mile route from Portland to Auburn was the B&M Baked Beans factory who received a couple of hoppers of beans a month delivered from Canada. The railroad got permission to abandon the line and sell it to the state because they a 25-mile trip for one customer with two hoppers a month was cost-prohibitive. I shot this video below in 2010 of this run to B&M with the hopper in Yarmouth.
So now that proposed rail trail from Portland to Auburn from Deering to Danville Junction in Auburn is likely on hold for three years, leaving a lot of people disappointed. But why can't we have both the rail and a trail?
The old Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division line from Portland to St. Johnsbury Vermont was abandoned in the 80s and sections of it turned into a rail trail with the rail still intact in many places. The trail and the rail sit side by side at a distance where if fright service was ever to return the line, they could both exist safely.
These aren't high-speed rails so any trains that pass by would be doing so at speeds likely to be 25 mph or less. Bridges can be modified to carry both trains and pedestrians and bicyclists as has been done on the Mountain Division Trail. That way we can have the trail and still keep the option of rail service if customers open new businesses along the line. Seems like a win-win to me.
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