excursion rail plan |
February 07, 2006
ELLSWORTH - The
Maine Department of Transportation and a local nonprofit
organization have reached an agreement that would bring an
excursion train to the area within three years.|
Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust of Bar Harbor
recently signed a 15-year lease with the state to reuse a
29-mile portion of the Calais Branch line, which was once used
to move passengers and freight between Brewer and Calais.
The Downeast Scenic Railroad would offer sightseeing
and dinner train tours from Washington Junction in Ellsworth
to Green Lake in Dedham. Tours would be about 24 miles
round-trip and last about 90 minutes.
also call for building a railroad museum and
"The lease says we must be up and running by
2009, but our goal is to have things begin maybe in 2008,"
said Crystal Pace, the trust's executive director.
economic impact study indicates the train would have 45,000
riders its first year and 72,000 riders its second
"This operation is something that we envision
could be self-sustaining," Pace said. "People are excited.
There are a lot of different aspects of this project that I
think people can connect with."
The excursion train
proposal was initiated by Thomas Testa, who owns restaurants
in Bar Harbor and Palm Beach, Fla. The trust's board members
include a teacher, an attorney, a doctor and a former state
senator. Testa is the group's president.
line from Ellsworth to Dedham would require a significant
investment to improve the condition of the tracks, which have
been out of service since 1985. Pace said the trust expects to
spend about $2.3 million to rehabilitate the line, with money
coming from donations and grants received through a
fundraising drive that is now under way.
those high start-up costs, the lease with the state allows the
trust to pay nothing for the first five years. After the fifth
year, the organization will be required to invest a minimum of
$10,000 in materials to maintain the tracks.
Moulton, DOT's manager of rail transportation, said the
project is in line with the state's goal of preserving the
tracks for rail purposes while also making it available for
mixed recreational use.
In the lease, the state retains
the right to develop a trail within the railroad corridor for
other recreational activities, such as biking.
puts a rail reuse back in the corridor," Moulton said of the
passenger train project. "It's another attraction for the
region. It's an innovative way to use this corridor and
benefit the whole region."
Moulton said the state will
bear no financial responsibility for the project but will
assist members of the trust as they develop their plan.
"It sounded like a decent proposal and a good reuse of
this line," he said. "We want to see them