Maine Rail-Trail Plan 2020-2030

The Maine Legislature in 2021 will certainly have feisty discussions on competing plans for rail lines connecting Portland and Yarmouth, and connecting Yarmouth upriver through North Yarmouth, Pownal, and New Gloucester to Danville Junction in Auburn. Scroll below for more analysis of this possible “Royal River Greenbelt.” We’ll be watching these bill titles:

  •  LR 1491 Rep. Moriarty Stephen of Cumberland. Title: An Act To Create the Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council Process.  Analysis: this procedural bill was nearly passed last year, but for pandemic adjournment.  It would create a process by which the Commissioner of Transportation could convert rail lines to trails with public process and accountability. In the 129th Legislature, this was LD 2124 (click here for text).  
  • LR 936 Rep. Bell Art of Yarmouth. Title: An Act To Establish So-called “Trail until Rail” Corridors.  Analysis: this planned bill likely has the same intent as LR 1491.  
  • LR 1628 Sen. Chipman Ben of Cumberland County (Portland). Title: Resolve, Directing the Department of Transportation To Complete a Feasibility Analysis To Initiate a Commuter and Passenger Train Service between Portland and the Lewiston and Auburn Area. Analysis: the incomplete prior plan didn’t quite get to the point of recommending the use of the Pan Am line (soon to be owned by CSX, rather that the Saint Lawrence & Atlantic (SLA) line, for rail.  If the SLA line is not used for rail, it might be used for trails — the Royal River Greenbelt.   
  • LR 1530 Sen. Chipman Ben of Cumberland. Title: An Act To Establish a State Passenger Rail Plan.  Analysis: this plan might set priorities for the Portland-Auburn corridor, freeing up key corridors for trails. 

The Maine Trails Coalition unveiled on October 29, 2020, its statewide rail-trail plan, proposing to convert certain rail lines to trails.  This February 2021 update provides more information. 

A portion of the statewide plan is the newly proposed 17-mile “Royal River Greenbelt” (Yarmouth to Danville Junction)” along with planned off-road trails continuing to downtown Auburn.  Below is a narrative and  of that proposed new rail-trail connector, excerpted from the statewide plan. In addition to that narrative, consider that the new connector would become a major recreational connector for many local parks and preserves and trail systems, with significant implications for the towns of New Gloucester, Pownal, North Yarmouth, and Yarmouth. Conservation assets within easy walking or biking distance from the proposed new rail connector (see map below) include:

JEWELLS ON THE PROPOSED NEW NECKLACE (Royal River Greenbelt and/or Casco Bay Trail):

  • Yarmouth’s West Side Trail 
  • Yarmouth’s Royal River Park
  • Yarmouth’s East Elm Street Boat Access
  • Yarmouth’s Riverfront Woods Preserve 
  • Yarmouth’s Sweetser Farm Preserve 
  • North Yarmouth’s Dunn’s Depot Royal River Boat Access (OTHP and Baston Park) 
  • North Yarmouth’s Old Town House Park 
  • RRCT’s Dunn’s Depot Trails
  • North Yarmouth’s Chandler Brook Preserve
  • RRCT’s Packard Farm Preserve
  • Maine BPL’s Bradbury-Pineland Corridor and Pineland Public Reserved Land
  • Pineland Farms
  • RRCT’s Pisgah Hill Preserve
  • RRCT’s Intervale Preserve and Royal River access
  • RRCT’s Lower Village project (planned)
  • RRCT’s Big Falls Preserve
  • RRCT pdf map illustrating the assets/routes/ above.  This same map is pasted below in jpg format.
  • Casco Bay Trail Alliance map illustrating the assets/routes above

ADAPTED EXCERPT FROM STATEWIDE PLAN:  

ROYAL RIVER GREENBELT
Yarmouth to Auburn
DISTANCE: 17 Miles
RAILROAD CORRIDOR: St. Lawrence and Atlantic Line
LOCATION: The segment of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line runs from Yarmouth through North Yarmouth, Pownal, New Gloucester and into Auburn, ending at Danville Junction. Much of the corridor runs alongside Royal River or Chandler Brook.
OWNERSHIP: State of Maine.
STATUS OF RAIL SERVICE: There is no active rail service.
OBSERVED CONDITION: Maine DOT has maintained this corridor to some degree since its last use in 2015, and the rails may still be usable at slow speeds.
CONNECTIVITY (RAIL): The southeast end of the segment continues through Yarmouth and into Portland, but the bridge to downtown Portland would presumably need total replacement, and no facility exists for connecting service beyond Portland. The northwest end of the segment is at Danville Junction in Auburn, and the Saint Lawrence and Atlantic line continues from there to Bethel and on into New Hampshire and Canada. Importantly,
the entire Portland-Auburn route is through communities that are also served by a separate rail line that remains active, and that also runs to Danville Junction.
CONNECTIVITY (TRAIL): The southeastern end of the segment connects to the Beth Condon Pathway and West Side Trail and, once constructed, both the south-bound and north-bound destinations of the East Coast Greenway. The northwestern end in Auburn has no existing continuation path, but a natural greenway opportunity exists using the 300-foot right-of-way along route 202 into downtown Auburn and Lewiston, and the riverside
greenways there.
COMMENTS: In 2018-2019, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority conducted a two-part feasibility assessment of establishing passenger rail service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn using either the currently active rail corridor between these cities or
this corridor (Transit Propensity Report, Operating Plans and Corridor Assessment).
CONTACT: The Casco Bay Trail Alliance is the regional group actively advocating for this rail-trail project. Sue Ellen Bordwell, sebordwell@gmail.com and Jonathan Labonte, Lewiston and Auburn Railroad Company, jlabonte08@gmail.com.