Maine state legislators will file a bill shortly that could condemn unsafe railroads and transfer ownership to a safer carrier.
The legislation is aimed chiefly at transferring ownership of Maine rail properties owned by Guilford Transportation to another railroad because of the company's continuing labor and safety problems, the bill's sponsors said.If passed, the legislation would give power to the state's transportation commissioner to seize track belonging to Guilford, said Rep. John L. Martin, (D-Eagle Lake), Maine's speaker of the house.
No Guilford officials were available for comment Thursday afternoon.
Guilford, owner of the former Boston & Maine and Maine Central Railroads, leased those roads' trackage to its subsidiary Springfield Terminal Railway Co. in 1987.
STR has been virtually shut down by a strike that began Nov. 12 and has kept 1,000 United Transportation Union and about 200 Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employes workers off their jobs, said Michael Maloof, the UTU's general chairman.
Besides labor troubles, STR has been cited by the Federal Railroad Administration for numerous safety violations. Two STR employees have been killed in switching accidents and the railroad has suffered episodes of operating mishaps.
Rep. Martin said the death of an STR worker in a switching accident last week in Saco, Maine, was the final straw needed to push the bill to fruition.
But shippers and labor groups launched their own concerted lobbying effort, said Kenneth P. Allen, Rep. Martin's executive assistant.
They (STR) are not servicing the shippers and there is a real question of public safety, he said. Their tracks are in such disrepair trains crawl along to avoid derailment.
One shipper, Scott Paper Co. of Philadelphia, has already complained to the Interstate Commerce Commission it has suffered because it cannot move freight due to STR's labor troubles, Rep. Martin said.
Mr. Allen added STR's payroll has dropped from 1,100 to about 100 and its operating system from 800 miles of track to 300.
He also said if Guilford's property was seized, it could be transferred to the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, Canadian National or CP Rail, all of which operate in Maine. But Guilford's properties also could be transferred to its employees in the event of a buy-out, he said.
Maine's Department of Transportation would make no comment on the bill,
because the DOT has not seen its content, said Russell Spinney, deputy commissioner.
But he said if not pre-empted by federal regulations and Maine did opt for seizure, the state would have to pay about $100 million for Guilford's trackage and land.