Maine's Biggest Railroad Is For Sale

Jul 1, 2020

Pan Am Railways, the biggest railroad in Maine and one of the largest regional railroads in the company, is for sale. The railroad was assembled by financier Timothy Mellon in the early 1980s. Mellon bought the Maine Central, Boston and Maine, and Delaware and Hudson and merged them into the Guilford Transportation System.

The company’s early years were marked in Maine by a bitter strike by union employees and years-long battles with the state over the conditions under which Maine could operate a passenger train over its tracks. That happened in 2001 when the Amtrak Downeaster began service. The trains run over Pan Am’s tracks in Maine and New Hampshire.

Christopher Parker, associate editor of Rails & Ports Media, says the sale is likely to draw many potential buyers. "The Monopoly game was built on this sort of circumstance,” says Parker, “Who can own what and block the other person off at the pass."

Among the potential buyers are Canadian National — which, Parker says, has indicated it wants to expand its track holdings in eastern North America — and longtime rival Canadian Pacific, which recently bought the Central Maine and Quebec Railroad.

Parker says Maine has a lot at stake in the sale.

“Certainly the paper industry would be impossible without the railroad to bring the paper out and bring the supplies in. And,” Parker adds, “there's substantial economic benefit across many businesses and tourism as well from the Downeaster train.”

The on time performance of the Downeaster, like most Amtrak trains, has a lot to do with the company that owns the track it runs on. Pan Am has helped Downeaster trains maintain a very high percentage of on-time performance. Parker says Canadian Pacific gets an “A” rating from Amtrak for keeping its trains on time. Parker points out Canadian National gets a “D.”

And if the Pan Am name and logo look familiar, that’s because Guilford bought them from the iconic airline after it went out of business in the late 1990s.