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Lawmakers Debate Use Of State-Owned Rail Corridors

Downeaster Anniversary
Robert F. Bukaty
The Amtrak Downeaster travels through Portland, Maine on Dec. 8, 2011.

Advocates for expanding rail capacity in Maine are at odds with those who would like to see hundreds of miles of state-owned rail corridors used for other purposes, such as recreational trails. The issue is now before the legislature’s transportation committee.

Maine owns a number rail corridors across the state, but only a few are in use. Lawmakers are considering several bills that would expand rail service from Portland to Lewiston, and up to Bangor. Joseph Leonard of Bangor told the committee that the state has not met its promise to the voters, who in 1989 approved the purchase of some 200 miles of rail corridors.

“Maine still has not invested in any major way to expand passenger rail despite having the majority support of both Republican and Democrat voters," Leonard says.

The committee is also considering measures that would promote the use of rail lines for other purposes. Some members questioned whether the state could afford the more than $100 million it would take to rebuild the rail lines. But supporters say the state should position itself to get some of the expanded federal funds available for rail service under the Federal Recovery Act.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.