Augusta Lower Road

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Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Thu Jul 24, 2008 6:56 pm

The impending expansion of Amtrak Downeaster Service to Brunswick has opened up the possibility of regularly scheduled passenger rail service to the far southern end of the former Maine Central Augusta Lower Road, which is now owned by the State of Maine and operated by the Maine Eastern as part of their overall contract for service on the Rockland Branch.

The Augusta Lower Road has a long history of service to Central Maine and served as a major part of the Maine Central's freight and passenger operations up until about the time of the sale of the company to Guilford Rail System, which now does business as Pan Am Railways. Although many state owned rail corridors in Maine have been sucessfully rehabilitated, rebuilt and restored to operation the Augusta Lower has not yet been selected for substantial capital investment as have its cousins to the west and east of it, the Lewiston Lower Road and the Rockland Branch.

The Lower Road occupies a special position in Maine. It runs along the main north-south transportation axis, crossing through the state capital in Augusta. It is one of only two north-south rail links in Maine, the other being the generally rural Back Road from Lewiston through Winthrop to Waterville and points north. It is roughly equidistant from the boundaries of the populated areas in Maine in the west and the east. It runs in tandem directions to daily commuter flows in the area which are roughly north-south to/from Portland area and to/from Augusta.

The ROW alignment is better positioned and built than other similar branch lines that have been restored to service owing to its longer period in active service after the Guilford takeover and its status as a Maine Central trunk for the better part of a century. In the last few years construction of the Kennebec River Rail Trail has successfully created new pedestrians spaces in the vicinity of the line making it more accessible to the community in general for future passenger service.

Some open questions for discussion at this time include but are not limited to:

Is there a market for commuter service on the Lower Road connecting to the Amtrak Downeaster in Brunswick or even going all the way to Bath for BIW employees?

Where would the stations be?

What could/would/should the service frequency be?

What type of equipment would be used for service?

How much infrastructure restoration needs to occur for service to begin?

Is the Automatic Block Signal (ABS) system that is in place worth restoring to operation and if so why?

What are some potential customers for freight service if any?

How long after service arrives in Brunswick will it take for service on the Augusta Lower Road to begin?

The Lower Road is a vital part of Maine's transportation infrastructure that has been dormant for decades. Although there have been some light freight and excursion services on the line, there really hasn't been serious freight traffic since ca. 1984 and no scheduled passenger service since 1960. Serious consideration should be given to the potential this corridor has for Maine's future economic and community development.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby shadyjay » Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:23 pm

Personally, I think the Lower Road is one of those forgotten mainlines in New England that needs to be upgraded and/or restored. I also group the ex-B&M Northern Line from Concord to West Lebanon in this category, along with the Pan-Am Conn River Line in Massachusetts. The question with the Lower Road is that would a full upgrade to Augusta or Waterville yield enough pax revenue. In the case of the Northern and the Conn River Lines, both could be intercity pax corridors. Is there enough traffic to warrant service to Waterville... or beyond to Bangor?

Portions of the Lower Road have been upgraded in Augusta, only to be gravelled over by the city in the interim. Pan-Am IIRC stills comes into Augusta from the north (Waterville), but south of there to BWK, the state of Maine owns the line. Hence restoration would be easier and there'd be less complaining from Pan-Am (not that they'd ever complain ;-)

Once Brunswick is reached, I'm guessing you'll see the Lower Road see more activity, but in my opinon, not a second before. They seem to hyping Brunswick up as the junction point to northern Maine. Let's get there first, and then see what happens.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Mon Jul 28, 2008 8:38 pm

shadyjay wrote:Personally, I think the Lower Road is one of those forgotten mainlines in New England that needs to be upgraded and/or restored. I also group the ex-B&M Northern Line from Concord to West Lebanon in this category, along with the Pan-Am Conn River Line in Massachusetts. The question with the Lower Road is that would a full upgrade to Augusta or Waterville yield enough pax revenue. In the case of the Northern and the Conn River Lines, both could be intercity pax corridors. Is there enough traffic to warrant service to Waterville... or beyond to Bangor?

Portions of the Lower Road have been upgraded in Augusta, only to be gravelled over by the city in the interim. Pan-Am IIRC stills comes into Augusta from the north (Waterville), but south of there to BWK, the state of Maine owns the line. Hence restoration would be easier and there'd be less complaining from Pan-Am (not that they'd ever complain ;-)

Once Brunswick is reached, I'm guessing you'll see the Lower Road see more activity, but in my opinon, not a second before. They seem to hyping Brunswick up as the junction point to northern Maine. Let's get there first, and then see what happens.


Shadyjay,
In answer to your question regarding sufficient passenger revenue I think there is almost no question that the next interval is Brunswick/Bangor not Brunswick/Augusta. Brunswick/Augusta-Waterville is really on a half step that were one to look at it on a map would simply seem to have a big giant red arrow pointing towards Bangor. It would seem foolish at best to consider expansion to Augusta-Waterville with little or no consideration of immediate or at a minimum rapid expansion onwards to Bangor.

The interesting part of this is that the Brunswick expansion really creates a slippery slope for rail expansion in Maine. While it may or may not seem wise to expand past Portland it is unquestionably dumb at face value to expand to Brunswick and then stop because there are so many major population centers that are so tantalizingly close once you bridge the gap between Portland and Brunswick.

Finally, once you get to Bangor, expansion to the North or to the East also becomes an interesting possibility. The expansion past Bangor is something that clearly has to wait for now, the consideration of the expansion past Brunswick is something that needs to go into the early planning/discussion phases right now. Ties and rails are being laid in place as we speak and NNERPA is in all likelihood negotiating with Amtrak for changes to service to make Brunswick service operable.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:54 pm

Proof is in the Pudding...

http://www.amtrakdowneaster.com/press_release.php?media_id=44

This is the first reference I have ever seen to service by Maine Eastern in Augusta with a timeline attached and a definite committment by the state to open up the tracks in Downtown Augusta.

Keep in mind that this means upgrades and Maitenance on the Lower Road including:

1. Reactivating all grade crossings

2. Tie replacement

3. Station reopenings in Augusta, Gardiner and possibly Richmond

4. More rolling stock moved to Maine by Maine Eastern from base operations in Morristown, NJ.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Sun Aug 31, 2008 10:58 am

More evidence of impending service to Augusta if the expansion to Brunswick is completed successfully in 2010.

http://downeastriders.us/blog/?p=10

There is little question now in my mind that Maine Eastern has not only a definite committment to go to Rockland on the day the Downeaster gets to Brunswick but also to Augusta as well. It'll be interesting to see how much work they will do on the rail line in order to make that happen. A lot of grade crossing signals will need to be reactivated and a tie replacement program will need to be undertaken.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Thu Oct 16, 2008 9:54 pm

Concord Trailway's new Boston-Augusta bus bervice in Augusta began recently that unfortunately in is a brand new facility now where near the railroad tracks downtown. Greyhound/Vermont Trailways still serves Augusta at the Airport. I think it'll be interesting to see if there is any attempt to integrate this service when and if rail service ever returns to Augusta. I still believe it can and will happen but haven't seen any encouraging signs recently. Probably because most of the focus is on the expansion to Brunswick.

Kennebec Journal Article:

http://kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com/news/local/5458921.html
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Sat Nov 07, 2009 8:16 pm

The former Statler Tissue Mill now being taken apart in Augusta has given Pan Am Railways some extra business along the portion of the Augusta Lower Road that they still own.

The activity was described in detail in an article published in the Kennebec Journal today:
http://kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com/news/local/7051906.html
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Sun Nov 08, 2009 4:53 pm

Some minor restorative work is taking place on the Lower Road at Winthrop Street in Hallowell. The track in Hallowell north of Winthrop street has some drainage problems and is slowly sinking into the ground. A large pile of ballast has been placed on the second track that leads towards the former round house. Some of the ballast has been spread onto the tracks.

In Gardiner one of the crossing signal boxes has been refurbished at the street crossing close to the location of the Gardiner Waterfront project. Signals for the ABS signal system are still in place, however they would require repairs in order to be activated.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby Cowford » Mon Nov 09, 2009 1:31 pm

The former Statler Tissue Mill now being taken apart in Augusta has given Pan Am Railways some extra business along the portion of the Augusta Lower Road that they still own.


At least PAR gets to haul some additional scrap metal. Five bucks says that whatever the redevelopment plans are in store for that property, they don't included rail.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Mon Nov 09, 2009 3:07 pm

I think the city is looking at mixed use redevelopment. The rail corridor will be preserved. I certainly haven't seen any indications to the contrary. The city seems to be aware of the fact that at some point in the future passenger rail service will return. They just don't know when.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby gokeefe » Wed Nov 11, 2009 3:09 pm

Photographs recently posted to 'NERail The New England Railroad Photo Archive' of previously mentioned grade crossing work in downtown Gardiner.

Unlike the photographer's expressed optimism regarding Amtrak service as best I can tell the crossing is being worked on because there is some road work being done and the crossing must be restored once the road work is finished. The road that crosses the RoW leads to the Gardiner riverfront.

http://photos.nerail.org/showpic/?2009111113020525194.jpg

http://photos.nerail.org/showpic/?2009111112585924946.jpg
Note: The lettering referenced by the photographer in his captions may refer to the 'East Neck Road' in Nobleboro, ME. It appears the old box is a 'transplant' from the Rockland Branch with appropriate mileage and lettering for such.

Here's a google map of where the 'East Neck Road' in Nobleboro crosses the Rockland Branch.
http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&source=hp&q=E+Neck+Rd,+Nobleboro,+Lincoln,+Maine+04555&ie=UTF8&cd=1&geocode=FS7UoAIdnbXb-w&split=0&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=23.875,57.630033&hq=&hnear=E+Neck+Rd,+Nobleboro,+Lincoln,+Maine+04555&ll=44.090479,-69.486315&spn=0.002042,0.004801&t=h&z=18

To my knowledge this is the first confirmed instance of track or signal work done by Maine Eastern on this RoW since they began operating the line in 2003. Although very minor in scope at least it is evident that the Lower Road is not entirely forgotten to the powers that be.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby CN9634 » Wed Nov 11, 2009 3:58 pm

It is more likely this work is being financed by the State as they usually have an annual budget of highway/rail crossings. The rebuilds usually include resurface and lights. You can check the MDOT website for a complete list of projects. http://www.maine.gov/mdot/
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby jcpatten » Wed Dec 02, 2009 7:13 am

There's very little past Bangor that would attract passenger rail, unless you continue on into Canada. Going north is Aroostook County, which is sparsely populated. MM&A is abandoning all their track north of Millinocket. East of Bangor is Washington County, an even more economically depressed and probably even less populated area. Guilford Industries abandoned the MEC's Calais branch back in the 80s for just that reason.
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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby bwparker1 » Wed Dec 02, 2009 10:22 am

jcpatten wrote:There's very little past Bangor that would attract passenger rail, unless you continue on into Canada. Going north is Aroostook County, which is sparsely populated. MM&A is abandoning all their track north of Millinocket. East of Bangor is Washington County, an even more economically depressed and probably even less populated area. Guilford Industries abandoned the MEC's Calais branch back in the 80s for just that reason.


http://www.mmarail.com/downloads/mma_rail_map.pdf

Do you have STB proof that backs up your statement about the abandonment north of Millinocket? Wouldn't it be East Millinocket, where the newer of the two paper mills in the area is located?

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Re: Augusta Lower Road

Postby jcpatten » Wed Dec 02, 2009 12:05 pm

bwparker1 wrote:Do you have STB proof that backs up your statement about the abandonment north of Millinocket? Wouldn't it be East Millinocket, where the newer of the two paper mills in the area is located?


"STB proof"? I suppose I could find something somewhere, but I'm quoting what I've heard locally about MM&A wanting to have the State buy their rail lines in northern Maine. As to Millinocket vs East Millinocket I'll leave that to MM&A to decide.
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