The Train Ride
A trip on the Downeast Scenic Railroad not only takes you back to a time of elegant travel in lovingly restored rail cars but also travels through a truly beautiful part of Maine.
From canopied forest where the light sparkles through the treetops as chickadees and nuthatches bounce from limb to limb to open marshland where beavers, herons, turtles, and moose might be seen, the restored section of the Calais Branch Line gives you a view not seen since the wealthy rusticators traveled from the cities to their summer homes on the line.
You travel over bridges, roll past schools and houses, hear the clack of the rails muffle on the thick woodland moss, and delight in the sound of the horn at the crossing. Watch as the powerful engine moves from the front to the back of the train to take you to Washington Junction rail yard, where you can see the heavy equipment that keeps the rail running and pass train components and cars currently being restored for use on the Downeast Scenic Railroad, before coming back to the Ellsworth depot.
On the way, be sure to look for the nests of the giant osprey and the big beaver hutches in the wetlands! Enjoy exceptional views of wetland marshes, glacial erratic including massive boulders, and river and stream crossings. While traveling and working on this stretch of the line, we have also observed many forms of wildlife, including blue herons, bald eagles, moose, deer, snapping turtles, and even bears!
The current traveling time is roughly 90 minutes and traverses a 13-mile section of the restored railroad.
At the core of the Downeast Scenic Railroad Project is the rehabilitation of the Washington Junction/Ellsworth to Green Lake section of the Calais Branch Line to create a 24-mile round-trip excursion ride. Other project components include the construction of storage/repair facility at Washington Junction.
DRHPT Progress, Milestones, and Achievements
The Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust has accomplished much since it began developing the Downeast Scenic Railroad concept in October 2004. Major to date accomplishments include:
- Downeast Scenic Rail participated in the Ellsworth Gold Days, this time with a train on the rails at long last, in eager anticipation of our 2010 public opening.
- Hosted an open house event at Washington Junction to celebrate the work to date on the now completely revived caboose and 1948 vintage diesel engine. The public in attendance, young and young at heart, enjoyed the trains and festivities.
- Began planning of new website for public launch in spring 2010.
Downeast Scenic Rail participated in the Ellsworth Gold Days, showcasing the work done to date on the line, and providing a look at the train in progress.
- Volunteers have been hard at work sanding, sealing, priming, painting and installing new windows in our caboose and making preparations to begin work on restoring MEC day coach #155.
- Roadmaster Charlie Freeman and his track crew installed and aligned 2 miles of track from Washington Junction to Main Street in Ellsworth.
- Completed the rebuild of the grade crossing at Beals Avenue in Ellsworth.
- The Trust has entered into an agreement with the Maine Eastern Railroad to provide tie and timber installation on a larger scale beginning in September. ME General Manager Deny Mohn will be sending their tie crew North for several weeks to complete the contract. This has all been made possible by donations to our Buy-A-Tie program and through the generous donations we have received of both ties and funding to be able to contract this work.
- Right of Way restoration continues, volunteers have reset crossbucks and made operable the crossing signals at Washington Junction Road in Hancock as well as begun work restoring the crossing signals at Wyman Road.
- Bob Campbell, signal maintainer for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad for donated his time to restore the signals and boxes at these crossings with assistance from Shawn Melvin.
- Ron MacQuinn and Harold MacQuinn Contractors for provided gravel and ballast for the Beal Avenue crossing rebuild, as well as the City of Ellsworth, Ellsworth Public Works Department with civil engineering expertise provided by Rob Chester.
The Downeast Scenic Railroad takes possession of a 53 ft flat car having it moved from Waldoboro, Maine to Washington Junction. This car has be donated by the MaineDOT and is a 1940’s vintage car used by the Maine Central Railroad to move lumber and pulp wood. The car needs minor repairs which volunteers will complete and will be used in maintenance of way service.
The Ellsworth American published a story “All Aboard” in the June 14, 2007 edition about the Downeast Scenic Rail project.
- All of New England is devastated by torrential rains and wind on Patriots Day. Again the line is spared severe damage unlike many other railroads in the region thanks to the work of the volunteers.
- The City of Ellsworth Council votes to approve it participation in a memorandum of understanding between the partners of the S.T.A.R. Center and endorses the City manager and planner’s cooperative work on behalf of the city.
- The Trusts 2007 funding program is underway with a goal of $200,000 for the years line rehabilitation work. This work will focus on the 4 miles segment from Washington Junction to Ellsworth Falls. Plans call for the work to be finished in 2008 with a goal of operating within this 4 mile segment by late summer 2008. The total to complete work in Washington Junction and the mile operating segment inclusive of equipment and materials is projected to be $600,000. This will then allow revenue operations with the second phase being the completion of rehabilitation work on the remaining 10 mile segment to Green Lake.
Board members Art Pew and Gary Briggs attend Railroad Day on Capital Hill in Washington D.C. They Held meetings with Congressman Michaud. Senator Collins and Senator Snowe and their staffs as well as Transportation Committee Chair Ken Oberstar of Minnesota. The project goals are discussed and a grant request of $200,000 is approved by Congressman Michaud. The Trust will further pursue an appropriation request for the FY 2009 budget cycle.
The Trust holds an in-depth funding and long range planning meeting at the Ellsworth Holiday Inn. In attendance are Board members Gary Briggs, Chris Hall, Jack Sutton, Dan Innis and Art Pew. Presentations are made by Chris Hall discussing long term goals, Tom Testa funding needs, and guest speaker Harold Daniels from the University of Maine Center on Tourism presents his department’s findings of a recent visitor survey which shows that train touring is the #2 desired activities by those choosing to spend time in the coastal Maine area. This ranks ahead of lighthouse tours and slightly behind sightseeing as a general category.
The Trusts paid membership now stands at 194. Board members are working hard to locate materials for the coming summers work plan, which includes rebuilding 14 culverts, ditching the line from Washington Junction to Nicolin Rd. and rebuilding 2 to 5 grade crossings, depending on materials and funding.
- The Trust signs a lease with MaineDOT to take possession and to operate the 30 mile segment of the Calais Branch. The signing of the 15 year lease, with two 5 year options, will now allow the Trust to move forward with the line rehabilitation plan and move the Downeast Scenic Railroad project one step closer to becoming a reality.
- Maine Biz clip, February 2006 announces “Deal advances excursion rail plan”
- Bangor Daily News “Perspective” publishes piece on the DRHPT and Downeast Scenic Rail, February 7, 2006
- Feature news story “Tourist Train Deal on Track” appears in Ellsworth American, January 26, 2006
MaineDOT awards an $80,000 planning grant to the S.T.A.R. Center project which requires a 20% match which will be divided between the 4 partners to begin reviewing sites and access issues.
The Trust Board approves usage or the corridor for snowmobiles during the 2006-2007 riding season. The trust enters into agreements with the Eastern Maine Snowmobile Club and the Bald Mt. Snowmobile club to use the corridor for snowmobiling from December 15, 2006 to March 31, 2007. This continues the MaineDOT policy of winter use of the corridor by these organizations.
- The Trust takes delivery of a 1918 Maine Central Railroad boxcar donated by Mack Page of City Point Central RR in Belfast, Maine. While not usable on the rails this vintage car will be restored in the summer of 2007 by volunteers and used as a storage facility in Washington Junction.
- Work on the line culminates with the chipping of brush and trees cut over the course of the summer. This two day project covered 14 miles of the line. With ditching scheduled for the summer of 2007 the volunteers work with MaineDOT and Maine DEP to stake and mark all areas along the right of way where ditching will take place and permits for the work are granted by MaineDEP including the identification of spoil areas. 2006 Volunteer work hours total 2100.
The Trust hosts a meeting to discuss the S.T.A.R. Center. Moderated by Senator Dennis Damon and attended by the local legislative delegation as well as representatives from MaineDOT, MaineDOC, the Sunrise Trail Coalition, The City of Ellsworth and the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. WBRC Architects/Engineers representative Rob Frank and Trust President Tom Testa present a vision for a multi-use facility to be located in Ellsworth along the railroad right of way near High St. in Ellsworth. The Surface Transportation and Recreation Center (S.T.A.R.) a proposed would be the home to a railroad museum and depot for the Downeast Scenic Railroad, a new office for the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce and a trail head for the new Downeast Sunrise multi-use trail that will run from the end of the Trust’s lease at Mile Post 169.5 east 85 miles to Ayers Junction in Washington County.
The Ellsworth American editorial “All Aboard the Downeast Scenic Railroad” appears in the August 24, 2006 edition.
- Trust President Tom Testa, Vice Presidents Gary Briggs and Ken Jackman, Government Relations Committee Chair, Chris Hall, along with Senator Dennis Damon, Representative Bob Crosthwaite, Ellsworth City Manage Steve Gunty and Planner Michelle Gagnon, hold a meeting with Maine Governor John E. Baldacci in Ellsworth Maine. At the meeting the Trust board members presented the plans and goals of the project to the Governor and presented him with Downeast Scenic Railroad apparel.
- The Bangor Daily News Style section runs a feature story about the volunteer restoration of the Calais Branch Line, in the Monday, July 24, 2006 edition.
- An op-ed piece by Trust President Thomas J. Testa, about the Calais Branch Line, appears in the Friday, July 21, 2006 edition of the Bangor Daily News.
- The Trust completes and aerial survey of the line with the assistance of Board member and pilot Andrew Peterson. The line is photographed at low level to identify all water systems and to help plan for future work and potential problem areas.
- Work continues through the summer clearing brush and clearing ditches as well as replacing ties in Washington Junction to create a staging area for materials and equipment.
- The Trust receives a donation of a Hy-Rail Gradall and a Hy-Rail dump truck from Mr. Myron Moody. This equipment will help in future maintenance of way work. The Trust receives several donations of tools and various rail carts and a 20 ft flat car from Bob Ames of Ironhorse Construction of New Sharon, Maine.
- Trust board members and development committee members begin to meet with Local, State and Federal representatives to detail the project goals. Meetings are held with Congressman Michael Michaud, and Tom Allen, Senators Collins and Snowe’s representatives as well as the USDA, Eastern Maine Development Corporation, State Senator and Transportation Committee Senate Co-Chair, Dennis Damon, Senators Richard Rosen, Peter Mills as well as State Representatives, Transportation Committee House Co-Chair Boyd Marley, Reps. Robert Crosthwaite, Ted Koffman, Ed Mazurek and Charles Fisher.
- During this same period the Trust receives a grant to assist with its volunteer training program from the Maine Community Foundation and begins other grant writing work.
The Ellsworth American featured the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust and Downeast Scenic Railroad project on the front page of the newspaper November 17, 2005.
- The Trust begins lease negotiations with the Maine Department of Transportation for the 30 mile segment of the Calais Branch from Mile Post 141 in Brewer, Maine to Mile Post 169.50 in the Town of Hancock, Maine, just east of Washington Junction. The Junction was the point where Maine Central trains would diverge to Hancock Point (Mt. Desert Ferry), taking passengers on to Bar Harbor via ocean steamers. This service operated until 1931, passenger service did continue to Ellsworth until September 5, 1960 when the Bar Harbor Express ceased operation.
- Established the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust, Inc as a 501 (c) (3) not for profit entity following IRS guidelines, and established the Downeast Scenic Railroad as the primary focus project for the Trust.
Summer – Fall:
Volunteers open all culverts and clean debris from all waterways and remove many beaver dams. Maine Department of Conservation assists in live trapping and relocating several beavers. The goal of keeping the line dry is accomplished when a 50 year three day storm over the Columbus Day weekend results in no damage or washouts. The volunteer’s hard work shows the fruits of their labor during this extreme weather event. 2005 Volunteer work hours total 1400.
Volunteer crews begin clearing Calais Branch Corridor from Brewer to Washington Junction. During this period detailed inspections of the line, including bridges, culverts, switches, grade crossings, crossing signals, tie condition and overall right of way status are reviewed working with engineers from Stone Consulting and Design to determine full scope of work required for line rehabilitation.
$65,000 to perform an Engineering Study, Business Plan/Marketing Study and Economic Impact Study. All studies completed mid summer 2005. These studies confirm previous estimates. The line rehabilitation will cost $1.3 million for the 14 mile segment from Washington Junction to Green Lake. The annual ridership of this operationally self sustaining project would be 72,000 and would create over 200 jobs and add over $5 million annually to the local economy.
Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust
The mission of the Trust is to celebrate and preserve the railroad history of Downeast Maine. Our immediate and primary goal is to develop the Downeast Scenic Railroad for the education, enlightenment, and enjoyment of future generations.
“There are very few heritage railroad projects—new or existing—which have the strengths and potential that the Downeast Scenic Railroad has.” John Hankey, Former Curator, B & O Railroad Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Analysis of the DRHPT’s potential by Stone Consulting, Inc. shows that upon the start of full operations from Ellsworth to Green Lake, the Downeast Scenic Railroad is projected to:
- Generate $5M per year for the local economy
- Create approximately 200 combined direct and indirect jobs
- Become self-sustaining after the second year of full operations
- Have ridership totals of approximately 72,000 people per year
The Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service. All donations to the DRHPT are tax-deductible to the extent the law allows. Our office is located in Bar Harbor, Maine.