Gov. John Baldacci spends a fall day reviewing rail projects

By Ramona du Houx

October 31st, 2010 

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Pan Am railways helped to expand to Lewiston. photo by Ramona du Houx
“The investments being made in rail infrastructure are critical to strengthening our entire economy,” said Governor Baldacci.

Improving Maine’s railway systems has always been a priority of the governor’s. In October he was able to view improvements by train, which are underway as the result of railway owners working with State officials and the federal government.

“Rail is good for the economy and good for the environment,” said Dave Fink, president of Pan Am Railways.

“Rail is an important mode of transporting goods and people in Maine and will become only more important as Maine seeks to decrease our dependence on costly fossil fuels,” said Baldacci.

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CEO David Fink and Gov. John Baldacci onboard a Pan Am train. photo by du Houx
It takes a gallon of diesel to move a ton of freight 500 miles by rail, compared to 83 gallons of diesel to move a ton of freight by truck, according to Dave Fink.

President Obama recently outlined a national plan to improve rail infrastructure over six years, for freight and passengers service coast to coast. Maine was already on board with bond issues for rail infrastructure improvements approved by voters.

After a tour at Pan Am’s locomotive repair facility in Waterville, the largest in New England, the governor boarded a train with shippers and officials of Pan Am Railways, the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad, and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Pan Am Railways is using the Supplemental Energy System, which allows engines to be shut down temporarily, while ensuring that the vital fluids are kept at temperatures warm enough to protect the engine. Prior to the technology, engines would have to idle at the facility.

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Governor Baldacci, members of the Lewiston-Auburn delegation and officials from Pan Am Railways and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad cut the ribbon to open the Danville Junction Gateway Project. photo by du Houx

“It’s an honor having the governor see what we’ve both envisioned for Maine,” said David Fink, CEO of Pan Am. “Maine’s vision for rail has been leading the way in New England.”

At Danville Junction in Auburn, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Gateway Project, a key project for the region’s Portland-Montreal passenger vision. The project will enable the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad and Pan Am Railways to switch railcars simultaneously, saving time and increasing efficiency. Transit times will be reduced, and safety will be improved.

“Improving the junction is the first step to making sure passenger rail comes here,“ said Baldacci. “Legislators standing here with me, and members of the Appropriations Committee fought hard for this bond funding.”

Voters in June approved a bond package that included $2 million for Danville Junction. The project is also funded by federal grants and private railroad investments.

At Royal Junction, Pan Am crews installed new rail for the Downeaster expansion to Brunswick. The Downeaster Expansion Project expansion is funded with State and federal support. Since the first shipment of rail arrived on August 2nd, crews have installed about 14 miles of rail between Brunswick and Yarmouth.

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Workers putting the rails in place for the Downeaster to expand to Brunswick. photo by Ramona du Houx

The expansion is employing over 200 workers at an average wage of $27 an hour.

Since it began operation in 2001, the Downeaster has welcomed more than 3 million passengers, and this past year it was Amtrak’s most successful train. According to Patricia Quinn of the Northern New England Passenger Authority, 36,000 more riders will board the Downeaster because of the expansion.

On the way to Rigby Yard in South Portland, passengers viewed the recently completed Portland Wye Project, which included significant improvements for passenger and freight rail operations, reducing operating costs and laying the groundwork for additional improvements.

“Rail expansion is good for the environment and will help to encourage new development all across Maine, creating jobs and private-sector investments,” said Baldacci. “We will have a more cost-effective way to connect Maine people and businesses to the markets around New England and around the world. Smart investments, like those we are making in freight and passenger rail, will strengthen Maine’s economy for years to come.”alt

Maine’s Three-Port Strategy, using Eastport, Searsport, and Portland, will link to rail connections that can ship goods across America and around the world.