Nearly 70 years ago, planners first imagined a highway to speed travel from Portland to Westbrook. Construction began in Westbrook in the 1970s, but the highway was never completed. Now, a new study suggests an old rail line could provide that high-speed link.
"It's kind of a conversation starter, and, you know, hopefully, it'll spark some interest," says Patricia Quinn, executive director of Maine's Passenger Rail Authority.
Quinn says the agency joined the developers of Rock Row, a former Westbrook quarry being transformed for mixed use, in commissioning the study.
"Well, the folks from Rock Row came to us when they were in the process of purchasing their property and asked if we would be interested in partnering with them on a study that would, basically, look at what the potential might be for restoring the rail line that, basically, bisects the Rock Row property."
The study looks at the cost of upgrading an existing freight line, adding some new track along Portland's West Commercial Street, and subsidizing hourly, or half-hourly, service.
The study was extended to look at connecting downtown Westbrook to Portland's waterfront with interim stops at Rock Row and the existing Portland train station near Thompson's Point.
"If this is an idea that people, including the cities of Westbrook and Portland, businesses along the line, the private developments along the line, if there's an interest in exploring it further and moving it further toward some kind of service or service plan," Quinn says.
The study concludes that the project would cost an estimated $100 million to upgrade track and buy equipment. It would need an operating subsidy of $7 million to $13 million a year.
Portland City Manager Jon Jennings tells the Portland Press Herald a Portland-Westbrook rail link is an "interesting idea, but does have some challenges."