Auburn city councilors refuse to fund study on passenger rail transport

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Cover of the May 2018 Lewiston-Auburn Passenger Rail Study conducted for the Maine Department of Transportation.

AUBURN – City council voted unanimously on Tuesday to curb funding for a study on passenger rail travel between Portland and Lewiston and Auburn.

They said they would not accept a request to disburse the final $ 10,000 required to fund the final phase of a $ 200,000 feasibility analysis to determine whether passenger rail access for Auburn and Lewiston should be to chase.

Lewiston approved a similar contribution to the project this year.

“It’s a big black hole,” Councilor Leroy Walker said. Given the track record of the passenger rail push, it’s best to “shut them down now,” he said.

“It looks like this is turning into a money pit,” Councilor Belinda Gerry said. She was puzzled why the city got so little for a $ 50,000 contribution it made several years ago for an earlier study.

Mayor Jason Levesque said he will contact other communities along the route to see if they are willing to shoulder some of the costs.

The bottom line, he said, is that there is still “a strong desire in this community to exhaust all options to see if this is feasible.”

Returning passenger service to the region will likely cost as much as $ 300 million, according to a 2018 study, and will likely require an ongoing subsidy to operate. But donors said it will also stimulate economic activity, facilitate transportation between Maine’s two largest metropolitan areas, and help get more gas-powered vehicles off the road.

State Senator Nate Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston, said in a letter to Auburn officials last week that completing the final phase of the study “is essential to put Maine in a competitive position for
receive federal funding to complete construction and begin service, ”a critical decision given the possibility of new federal infrastructure funding in the near future.

Libby, who is in her final year in the State Senate, called the money a “modest investment that brings our communities closer to expanding passenger rail service through existing rail lines in western and central Maine.” , so the 100,000 residents of Lewiston -Auburn metropolitan area will soon be able to take advantage of larger, smarter, and more cost-effective transportation options.

Libby said the legislature and Gov. Janet Mills approved a law in June that asked the Maine Department of Transportation to complete a study that would determine whether Lewiston and Auburn may be linked to the passenger rail network that stretches from Portland to Boston and beyond. The measure required Lewiston and Auburn to contribute 10% of the price of $ 200,000.

Libby said once the communities are on board, the Maine DOT “is ready to move quickly to hire a consultant and begin this work.”

The law requires the DOT study to do “an economic assessment of commuter and passenger rail service that is based on the data and the potential next steps included in the Lewiston-Auburn Passenger Rail Service Plan completed in May 2019.

It is supposed to incorporate two options from this plan for further consideration to examine both the Pan American rail corridor already in use for freight trains and the St.Lawrence and Atlantic public corridor between the Auburn junction and Yarmouth, a section of track which is not in use and has been considered for a new rail trail.

The law calls on the ministry to “perform a high-level alternatives analysis for both rail corridors” in order to recommend a preferred route as well as compare the idea with other transport links between Portland and the Twin Cities.

The last passenger rail service to Lewiston ended in 1967 when the Grand Trunk Railway, which operated throughout New England and the eastern provinces of Canada, abandoned its last link between Portland and Montreal.

The legislation requires the DOT to report its findings to the Legislature by March 1, 2022, Libby said.


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