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Date: Thursday, November 09, 2006
Summer Was Busy for Railroad Project Supporters Print E-mail
Written by Tom Walsh   
Thursday, November 09, 2006

ELLSWORTH — It’s been a busy summer of working on the railroad for supporters of the Downeast Scenic Railroad project, which last week took delivery of a wooden boxcar built in 1918.

“It was built for the Maine Central Railroad,” said Tom Testa of Bar Harbor, president of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust. “We’ll use it for storage of tools and equipment as we continue working on the tracks.”

In January, the Bar Harbor-based nonprofit acquired a 15-year lease on 29 miles of state-owned railbed between Brewer and Washington Junction. The Trust is now raising money to upgrade that segment of the 127-mile Calais Branch railroad corridor that links Brewer and Calais to accommodate an excursion train for tourists that would run between Ellsworth and Dedham.

The Trust’s lease with the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) requires that excursions begin no later than 2009 and operate at least 60 days a year. Testa said he expects the trips would begin in 2008.

The 24-mile, round-trip excursions to Green Lake would originate in Ellsworth at a 12,000-square-foot, $1 million depot and railroad museum that the Trust plans to build at a trackside location that has yet to be acquired.

The Trust expects to spend as much as $2.5 million as it rehabilitates railbed abandoned by the Guilford Transportation Co. in 1987. Fund raising for the project is ongoing. Overall, the Trust hopes to raise $6 million though donations and grants.

“We’ve raised $250,000 in the past two years, including $100,000 over the last year,” Testa said. “We’re working now on establishing a new campaign for the winter.”

The Trust has attracted about 200 members, Testa said. A basic membership costs $40. Memberships and donations are tax-deductible.

Members and other volunteers have been clearing brush along the rail line during weekend workdays since June.

“We needed to get everything exposed, because you can’t fix it if you can’t see it,” Testa said. “We now have all the ties uncovered and all the culverts open, with water flowing through them. There are some culverts that will need to be replaced, and we will need to do some crossing work. There are paved-over crossings where we will need to get the asphalt off the rails.”

Volunteer work crews also focused on switches along the route.

“We now have all the switches working,” Testa said. “We had to find the ones that didn’t work. Almost all of them did; they just needed a little love and help.”

The Trust spent about $50,000 on track repairs this year. Testa said costs would be “significantly higher” next year as the process of replacing rotted or damaged railroad ties begins.

“We’re working with MDOT now in laying out a game plan for how best to do it,” he said. “We want to start in Washington Junction and work west.”

In addition to a depot in Ellsworth, the Trust plans to build a maintenance and storage facility in Washington Junction for the rolling stock it will acquire.

The old boxcar that was delivered by truck last week to a Washington Junction siding is the second acquisition for the project’s livery. A 45-ton GE locomotive has also been donated to the project. It’s now in Alabama.

“Getting it up here is next on our list,” Testa said.

Mack Page, who runs the City Point Central Railroad Museum near Belfast, donated the 40-foot boxcar to the project. He acquired it from the city of Belfast, where it had been used by the now-defunct Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad.

“It was built by the Keith Car Co. in 1918 for Maine Central and was in service until the 1960s, when they began using it for maintenance,” Testa said. “It was part of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake station in Belfast until 1999, when it was abandoned.

“There are very few of these vintage, pre-1930s cars around. So many have been destroyed. I really feel like we are saving something with a little history to it.”

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