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Gray Arrow VIEWPOINTS

Downeast Scenic Railroad historic
Friday, July 21, 2006 - Bangor Daily News << Back

By Thomas J. Testa

Many thanks to Wayne E. Reilly for his column titled, "Rail, boat outings amused Mainers" (BDN, July 17). He did a wonderful job bringing back to life summer travel in Maine's Golden Age.

One popular trip he highlighted was the Maine Shore Line, which linked Bangor, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor via the Mount Desert Ferry in Hancock. Completed in 1884, the Maine Shore Line later became part of the Calais Branch line, which spans 126 miles of terrain between Brewer and Calais.

The Maine Shore-Calais Branch Line brought not only summer visitors from New York, Philadelphia and Boston, but also moved goods in and out of the area, creating new markets and bringing the world to Downeast Maine. Sardines packed in Eastport were eaten in Chicago, granite and lumber from Washington and Hancock counties were used to help build a fledgling nation, while fabrics, steel, sportsmen and visitors were delivered to Downeast depots.

Many years have passed since its heyday as the premier passenger line to Downeast and Mount Desert Island. Nevertheless, interest in historic rail lines has never been greater. While the Calais Branch is currently being segmented for various uses, the original portion - the Maine Shoreline Railroad - is being given a new life. This beautiful and unique rail corridor is being thoughtfully rehabilitated in an effort to preserve a piece of our past, for the enjoyment of generations in the future.

The first project of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the railroad history of Downeast Maine, is to rehabilitate this segment of the line as a self-sustaining excursion railroad - to be called the Downeast Scenic Railroad - and create an Ellsworth-based historic museum-depot.

Although more than 25 scenic railroad operations have been established in New England since 1987, there is no operating preserved railroad in Eastern Maine - a region whose development has been shaped by the railroads' ability to rapidly link the coast with inland towns and distant cities.

The Downeast Scenic Railroad project follows the model of other successful rail preservation efforts around the country such as the Adirondack Scenic Railroad in New York, the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire, the Valley Railroad in Connecticut and the Black Hills Central in South Dakota.

Each of these has become a major magnet for tourism in its region. All were started by groups of individuals who not only saw the historic importance of these lines, but also acknowledged the nation's interest in their preservation and operation as a salute to those who so long ago had the vision to tie our country together by rail.

As its builders envisioned, the railroad was the connection that made an entire region's economy and way of life flourish. The restoration of such a historic treasure pays homage to those who created this backbone of the local economy, which first introduced the "rusticator" to Maine, gave its citizens the opportunity to travel the world, and hosted several U.S. presidents during its 100 years of service.

This wonderful historic asset sits right in our back yard. As we have preserved lighthouses, windjammer schooners, churches and schoolhouses, conserving this piece of Maine's history is a celebration of where we have come from and how our world has been shaped by these marvels of 19th and 20th century technology and vision.

Scheduled to begin in 2008, The Downeast Scenic Railroad, with its planned 11-mile excursion, will give riders who remember a chance to reminisce, and those who have never experienced the rails a chance to learn how this region of Maine has prospered because of a rail line.

We hope you will take an interest in this important restoration project for the Downeast-Acadia region. Join us, and participate in the preservation of this historic treasure.

Come take a ride with us!

Thomas J. Testa is the president of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust. A Bar Harbor resident, his family has owned and operated restaurants in Bar Harbor and Palm Beach, Fla., for more than 80 years.

  

Bangornews.com Staff

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