The State of Maine has reached an agreement to purchase 233 miles of track in Aroostook and Penobscot counties from the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the governor’s office announced on Oct. 19. The owners of the railroad had begun the process to abandon the line (Surface Transportation Board Docket No. AB_1043_1).
Under the agreement, which concludes more than a year of negotiations between the state and the railroad, the state will receive title to the line from Millinocket to Madawaska and branch lines to Caribou, Presque Isle, Easton, Houlton, and Limestone, free of any liens, along with overhead traffic rights to move freight over certain lines that MMA is retaining. These trackage rights will allow a new operator to connect with the Canadian National line at Van Buren and the Eastern Maine Railway in Brownville Junction. MMA will provide any needed interchange infrastructure and track at these interchange locations for the new operator.
“This agreement will ensure that Northern Maine continues to have access to rail service,” Governor John E. Baldacci said. “Improved rail connections are critical to Maine’s economy, and this line particularly will help to protect thousands of jobs and major employers in Aroostook and Penobscot counties. The economic impact of the successful rehabilitation of this line will be felt throughout Maine.”
The agreed purchase price is $20.1 million in cash. The governor’s office said that funding for the purchase includes $7 million from a June 2010 bond, $4 million from a November 2009 bond that is being repurposed, $7 million from state reserve accounts, $1.1 million from rail balances from canceled projects, and $1 million from a major shipper on the line.
As the sale is finalized, MaineDOT plans to issue a Request for Proposals to solicit a private rail operator to provide service over the lines being purchased. MaineDOT has already received expressions of interest from established railroads and expects keen competition for the franchise.
“This will certainly improve the business climate in Northern Maine,” said MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole. “Lifting this cloud of uncertainty not only helps stabilize these rail dependent industries, but with improved services lays the groundwork for future expansion and new business opportunities.”
The governor’s office also said that Maine was notified last Friday that the state will receive $10,546,436 in federal TIGER II funds for track improvements.
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