Portland Maine Passenger Stations

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Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby gokeefe » Sun Jul 12, 2009 1:54 pm

I would like to open this new thread for consolidated discussion of the history of railroad passenger stations in Portland Maine. Over the years Portland has had several railroad passenger stations. Although separately they do not seem to merit separate threads of their own as a group they bring together several different strains of New England railroading history.

Union Station: Maine Central (MEC), Boston & Maine (B&M), Portland and Ogdensburg (P&O)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_(Maine)_Union_Station

India Street Station: Grand Trunk (GT)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_(Maine)_Union_Station

Portland Transportation Center: Amtrak (AMTK)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland,_Maine_(Amtrak_station)
Photo: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3201/2724661473_fab93341ba.jpg

Commerical Street Station: Eastern Railroad (ERR) Boston & Maine (B&M)

Preble Street Station: Portland, Saco & Portsmouth (PS&P)
http://tinyurl.com/mll3fv Go to page 38 for illustration. [Note: I may have incorrectly attributed this illustration as 'Preble Street' instead of 'Commerical Street', please post the correct location and I'll make an edit to this post]

Useful "Guide Book for Portland and Vicinity", published by Hon. Wm. Willis, 1859, Portland, Maine."
http://www.archive.org/stream/guidebookforport00will/guidebookforport00will_djvu.txt

I have been unable to locate photographs or other evidence of the Commerical Street station and delayed posting this topic as a result. If anyone can find photos or other material related to this early Portland railroad station that would be appreciated.

If anyone does find photos or useful websites of the Commerical Street station I would like to add these citations to this first post and will credit the finding user.

Additionally there was recent discussion by Ms. Patricia Quinn of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority of building a new passenger station in downtown Portland, possibly on Commerical Street at the International Marine Terminal.

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=250761&ac=PHnws
EDITOR'S NOTE

Downtown Downeaster in Portland?

Councilors pitch the idea of an Amtrak train that would roll into the city's western waterfront area.
By TOM BELL, Staff Writer

April 14, 2009

PORTLAND — Could Amtrak trains one day roll into the city's western waterfront area and drop off passengers within walking distance of the Old Port?

The idea is feasible, say some city councilors, who are pitching it as a way to improve the city's transportation links and foster development on vacant land near the Casco Bay Bridge, possibly generating millions of dollars in tax revenue for Portland.

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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby markhb » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:05 am

Hey, it's an old thread!

I found this 1876 view of Portland; if you zoom in it shows both the Preble Street Station (which seems strange... there is a small building at Preble & Kennebec Sts. and then a larger one to the east) and a station in the area of the former Scotia Prince terminal which could have been Commercial St. Station.

gokeefe, your tinyurl link for Preble St. Station doesn't work for me, and I've tried playing with it in Google Books to no avail. If you can find the original reference and post a new link I'd love to see it.
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations: Present and Future(?)

Postby markhb » Fri Nov 12, 2010 12:03 am

Well, I had hoped that someone would reply to this thread so I wouldn't wind up replying to myself, but here goes. If gokeefe doesn't mind, since there has been some discussion over the years of relocating the Downeaster from its current location, I'd like to expand the scope of this thread to also include discussion of possible future station locations in Portland. I've been mulling over this set of bullet points in my head for a while now, and I'd especially love to hear other people's assessments. Note that in this post I am thinking in regards to an Amtrak station, and so I'm not going to consider the "L/A commuter rail to GT India St" proposal that was floated last spring.

One thing I remember is that, when the Downeaster was first starting to come into being, there was some interest in creating more of a station than currently exists today. IIRC, there was even a contest of sorts for station designs, intended to be placed in the Union Station area. However, even before the train started running, the idea of extending to Brunswick was broached and it was decided that Portland, no longer intended to be a terminal but rather a middle-of-the-line stop, didn't need as much of a facility. Concord Coach had relocated from Marginal Way to Thompson's Point sometime between spring 1996 and November 1997; at some point it was decided that that would make a convenient platform location, and the Portland Transportation Center was born.

Two things I think are key are that, while it's important for the Downeaster to broaden its base by generating more round-trips coming into Maine, they can't lose the commuters who are their current cash cow, and also that a lot of Mainers drive into Portland to take the train into Boston for a day or a weekend of fun, and limiting the available parking is likely to reduce usage and alienate potential riders (who are also taxpayers).

Current:
Portland Transportation Center, Thompson's Point
Pros:
  • Already exists; no initial capital expense needed
  • Very convenient to Interstate 295; very good for originating southbound traffic
  • Parking appears adequate for current demand (I can usually find a spot)
  • Train-bus transfers incredibly convenient
  • Adjacent to overnight trainset service location; minimizes non-revenue movement
Cons:
  • Inconvenient to almost all Portland destinations, business or tourist, without taking a cab;
  • No room to realize rail-related development
  • Location unfriendly to get-off-and-explore visitors due to poor pedestrian access (unless they like looking at cement and propane)
  • Owned by Concord Coach; NNEPRA has to pay rent
  • Would be difficult to add a second platform for train-to-train transfers
  • Configuration of Mountain Junction requires reverse move to continue north to Brunswick

Possible Future:
West Commercial Street, west of Casco Bay Bridge (near PTC yard 1?):
Pros:
  • New station would presumably be owned by NNEPRA, saving rent
  • Closer to downtown than current location
  • Adequate parking could possibly be built depending on how much of Yard 1 PAR still needs
  • Less convenient to I-295 than current station but still not awful
  • Yard 8 Wye eliminates reverse move to continue to Brunswick
  • Close proximity to NNEPRA offices makes it easy to file service complaints :)
Cons:
  • Industrial area; possibly a worse location than Thompson's Point in regards to proximity to tourist activities and pedestrianism
  • Most surrounding land is owned by PAR; limited potential for new development unless they want to sell (although Portland Trails and the city do want to build a new trail across the street, along the old rail line and incorporating the Beach St. tunnel).
  • Waterfront location guaranteed to be a political hot potato

Commercial Street, near Center St.:
Pros:
  • New station would presumably be owned by NNEPRA, saving rent
  • Convenient to downtown
  • On the cusp of the Old Port; many tourist areas would be walkable (Downtown would as well, but it's a long uphill).
  • Yard 8 Wye eliminates reverse move to continue to Brunswick
Cons:
  • Poor access from I-295 and most commuter routes into the city;
  • Trains will have to run down Commercial Street again; we just tore those tracks out 20 years ago;
  • Not much room for a platform;
  • If the station is to be on the inland side, Commercial Street will need a grade crossing;
  • Conversely, if the station is to be on the wharf side, waterfront politics come into play, not far from the recently controversial Pierce Atwood redevelopment.

Union Station Area:
Pros:
  • New station would presumably be owned by NNEPRA, saving rent
  • On mainline; travel to and from Brunswick in a straight line
  • Traditional Portland station location
  • Assuming the station is behind the old MEC HQ, perhaps plenty of potential parking
  • Closer to downtown than PTC; Sports Complex (Hadlock Field, Expo, etc.) is walkable
  • Neighborhood offers more to see than Thompson's Point
  • Again, close to I-295

Cons:
  • Directly adjacent to the county jail
  • Area behind MEC HQ occasionally hosts very sketchy behavior (personal observation)
  • Any attempt to eliminate Union Station Plaza shopping center likely to be treated as removing services from a low-income neighborhood
  • Neighborhood, while better than the Thompson's Point industrial zone, still not the best "first impression" the city has to offer
Note: I've seen people on here allude to "we all know the issues in that area" w/r/t Union Station; if there's anything I missed I'd love to hear it.

The following two would each depend upon reconstruction or replacement of the Back Cove trestle:
Marginal Way, near Franklin Arterial
Pros:
  • New station would presumably be owned by NNEPRA, saving rent
  • On mainline; travel to and from Brunswick in a straight line (assuming an SLR routing between Portland and Yarmouth Junction)
  • Very close to downtown; distances are walkable and the station feels more like downtown.
  • Bayside could make good use of a redevelopment push
  • Very good access to I-295
  • High visibility for the Downeaster; make the train its own advertising
Cons:
  • Expensive rehab or replacement of the Back Cove trestle required
  • Grade crossings required, across all 3 primary northern routes onto the peninsula (Forest Ave., Preble St., and Franklin Arterial
  • Proposed routing apparently anticipated reconstruction or replacement of the black Park Ave. bridge at St. John St., but I never understood why that would be the case.
Note: This was the city of Portland's preferred station location some 10 years ago; whether that was sincere or mainly to convince PAR to come to the table is beyond my knowledge. The "increased visibility" design goal was the City's at the time. Also, since most of Bayside is built on fill the water table makes it very expensive or impossible to put the trains into a tunnel.

Bayside, Union Branch Yard:
This plan, which I made up, would partially sink the original Union Branch low enough to bridge the tracks at Forest Ave., Preble & Elm Sts. and Franklin St, and build a substantial station with sufficent tracks and platforms on each side to service commuter rail from both the north and south, with Amtrak continuing on a through-track and platform on the north side of the station. Concord and Trailways bus services could be served from this location as well.
Pros:
  • Substantial presence downtown; distances are walkable
  • On mainline; travel to and from Brunswick in a straight line (assuming an SLR routing between Portland and Yarmouth Junction)
  • Bayside could make good use of a redevelopment push; old warehouses near the proposed station could stand reuse
  • Very good access to I-295
  • High visibility for the Downeaster; make the train its own advertising
  • Unified multimodal transportation center
  • Location relates to the historic Preble St. Station
Cons:
  • Expensive rehab or replacement of the Back Cove trestle required
  • May not be possible to partially submerge tracks
  • Subsequent development in the area, including the DHS building, extension of Chestnut Street, and Bayside Trail, has made this idea moot;
  • Only funding source identified was "Mark wins Powerball," and that hasn't come through yet. :)

One thing came to me while I was thinking about the Commercial St. locations and potential parking availability: why not create a platform and parking area at Deering Junction to serve commuter and weekend family travellers? There's tons of room with the former buildings gone, plenty of room for a siding and platform, and it's convenient to US 302 and Maine 26/100, plus Falmouth via Allen Ave.

As I said, I am anxious to hear people's thoughts.
"...And then I thought, every time some company creates a more powerful locomotive does Superman become more powerful as well or is he stuck at 1938 locomotive power levels?" - A friend of mine elsewhere
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby Hamhock » Fri Nov 12, 2010 8:52 am

Would you mind if I suggested an additional station location to consider?

Image
Adaptive re-use of the Portland Post Office

Pros:
  • Surplus government-owned property (Scarborough mail-sorting facility makes this location obsolete); could be ripe for affordable purchase by city/NNEPRA; ample space for NNEPRA offices, eliminating additional rent expense for current office location
  • Visually-attractive building on National Register of Historic Places gives beautiful introduction to Portland
  • Across the street from Deering Oaks Park, a few blocks from Hadlock Field, very close to downtown
  • Width of property gives room for multiple tracks/platforms, allowing for expansive future use (peninsula-loop light rail, commuter rail, etc.)
  • easily accessible to I-295
  • gives another badly-needed shot-in-the-arm to Bayside neighborhood
  • Union Branch right-of-way/trackage in immediate vicinity
Cons:
  • Requires tear-down of post office add-on building (non-historical) to create space for platforms
  • Requires conversion of Union Branch to below-grade to avoid clogging-up Forest Avenue and to create space for approach to station tracks/platforms
  • Stub-end terminal requires either new connection onto main line to continue to Brunswick or reverse move, though either would be cheaper than rebuilding Back Cove trestle
  • Eminent domain seizure/resale of certain "blighted" properties would be desirable for purposes of parking garage and area redevelopment, though the resale could help finance overall project
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby gokeefe » Fri Nov 12, 2010 9:58 am

Hamhock,

What a great idea!

I took a look at the site and to my own delight discovered that the Union Branch is in fact a two track right of way. I also rediscovered that both Union Branch bridges across Park Avenue are intact. This would have obvious advantages for Amtrak operations into and out of the station as there would be no concerns about bottlenecks. This would also be a very high visibility location that would allow people to experience all of downtown Portland between from the Old Port & Commercial Street, to Congress Avenue and the Western Promenade.

Additionally, locating at the Post Office would leave the 'Back Cove Option' open should future service or need for capacity require additional track capacity along rail corridors north of Portland.
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby markhb » Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:20 pm

Actually, that is a good idea. Of course, the first big hurdle is having the building declared surplus; regardless of the loss of the sorting work, the customer-facing functions would need to be moved somewhere with enough space for all those post office boxes, plus perhaps some of the offices might need to stay in a customer-accessible location rather than off-Broadway.

So far as the Payne (new) building goes, when I was in high school it was the Federal Building, and home to most of the US government offices in the city that weren't in the court or customs houses. I know that some of the large mail-handling equipment went in there; is there enough left of the interior that it could be reclaimed for government offices, or is it completely gutted out? Having the station there would be a great idea, but the tightwad in me would perhaps like to see the government in its own building, rather than paying rent at One City Center.

I'd love to know if anyone has any idea what reconfiguration of the Park Avenue bridge was considered when the city was talking about the Marginal Way location. Here's the spot; another question would be if there's enough room to build a wye from the Union Branch bridge to the PAR mainline northbound (interesting that the Union Branch isn't even connected to PAR at all now, probably since the second track was removed).
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby markhb » Sat Nov 13, 2010 9:43 am

Sorry to follow my own post again, but it occurred to me this morning that some of you might be interested in this video the Maine Historical Society has online, a short QuickTime aerial film of Portland taken c. 1940 before the arrival of Urban Renewal. While I'm sure they now wish they had included Union Station in the film, you can barely see the old GT station (or at least I think I can see it's clock tower) at one point. But, you get a good view of the old GT piers, the rail yard still exists where the Scotia Prince terminal was to go, the Payne building had yet to be built next to the Post Office, and this morning as I rewatched it I noticed this:
UnionBranch.JPG
Presumed Copyright City of Portland
UnionBranch.JPG (16.61 KiB) Viewed 8631 times

An actual movement on the Union Branch!
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby Watchman318 » Mon Nov 29, 2010 9:21 pm

I like the way you guys think. ;)

I was Google-Mapping around the area of that double-track overpass yesterday, wondering what that "track to nowhere" was that curves up around the ball fields, etc.
It seemed to end shortly beyond a couple of the main drags, where the crossings look to have been removed or paved over.

Mark, the link for that JPG seems to have "gone away."
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby markhb » Tue Nov 30, 2010 12:35 am

Yes, the double-track overpass is the old Union Branch. The tracks across Forest Avenue were recently ripped out, and quite a bit to the east has been paved over, but you can pick them up on the other side as they initially parallel and then cross Kennebec Street, leading to the large vacant area that was the former rail yard and is now primarily a large vacant area with a concrete trail down the middle.

I noticed that that image went away. I had initially included it as an attachment to my message, and even now I don't know if it got wiped because message attachments routinely get wiped, because there was a board crash just after I posted it, or because I listed it as presumably being copyright the City of Portland. The more I thought about it, though, the copyright of a film from 1940 would depend on whether there was a copyright notice on the film itself; the Maine Historical Society doesn't mention any copyright holders on its page that I linked to that features the film. So it may well be public domain.

Anyway, via Photobucket, here is the image again, complete with a movement on the Union Branch right at the foot of State Street and at the edge of the park:
Image
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby markhb » Wed Jan 12, 2011 12:46 am

I hate to follow my own post (for the third time in a 1-page thread no less!), but the new edition of The Forecaster is reporting that NNEPRA is preparing to make a presentation to the Portland City Council's Transportation Committee next week regarding possible locations for a new train station.

Randy Billings in The Downeaster wrote:PORTLAND — The operators of the Amtrak Downeaster will meet with the city's Transportation Committee next week to discuss a variety of initiatives, including a new passenger rail station on Commercial Street.
...
A new station on the waterfront near downtown, with a central platform to accommodate northbound and southbound trains, would solve those problems, [Patricia] Quinn said, noting the group would also look at improving its existing station.


They're discussing three locations, two of which I discussed above: just west of the Casco Bay Bridge (between the bridge and the Unitil gas property), and the waterfront side of the Center St. area (essentially the Portland Fish Pier parking lot). The third location would be in part of the former International Ferry (Scotia Prince) terminal, but MDOT is planning cargo-shipping enhancements there and doesn't seem excited about rail passenger service being mixed in. The article includes a very nice artists conception of how the west-of-the-bridge station could look, complete with a parking garage, a covered walkway to a small station building, gates for buses, and two tracks dead-ending at the station with a single platform between them. Note that although the image is wrapped up in a Javascript popup, you can right-click on it and View Image which will blow it up even more.

So far as the station goes, I hope that someone points out that the city is also looking at redoing the concrete park in Congress Square, and maybe the new station could use a clock tower....
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 12, 2011 6:38 am

Mark,

Sometimes there just isn't that much information to go around. This particular topic in general is highly specialized and action on the subjects at hand moves at a glacial pace. That being said it is more than clear that a new Portland station is now NNEPRAs next big priority. This clearly points towards the intention, directly alluded to on their part to ensure Northbound operations are successful.

I think it also shows how important they feel Northbound operations will be in their future. Making as big a change as this to me indicates that they are ensuring that more than just the southbound (arriving from northerly points) Downeaster can be sucessfully served.
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby Mikejf » Wed Jan 12, 2011 8:35 am

I hope the mention of a Commercial Street station is a joke. Unless they plan to put it out in the old yard (8???) by Sprague near the recently constructed Wye. But I have visions of them wanting to return the street running to Commercial Street to access the Deering community via the former GT/CN/SLR line over the back bay.

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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:39 am

miketrainnut wrote:I hope the mention of a Commercial Street station is a joke. Unless they plan to put it out in the old yard (8???) by Sprague near the recently constructed Wye. But I have visions of them wanting to return the street running to Commercial Street to access the Deering community via the former GT/CN/SLR line over the back bay.

Mike


I'm going to be pefectly honest and say that thought crossed my mind as well. That was all I could figure out as far as understanding how they would build a new station on Commercial Street. Explanation of this would be appreciated.
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby markhb » Wed Jan 12, 2011 11:08 am

In the pic that comes with the Downeaster article, the station would be at the eastern end of Yard 1, immediately west of the Casco Bay Bridge. If you look at the Google Maps link ("West Commercial St.") I gave way up the thread and scroll a bit to the east, it's between the bridge and the triangular paved area which is the Unitil property. Their next possibility would be just east of the bridge in the neighborhood of the old Scotia Prince parking lot; that's the one that MDOT doesn't like as they're planning on reconfiguring the cargo operations there. The third one is all the way east to Center St., which I also linked to above, in the Portland Fish Pier parking lot. That one would require a return to street running from there to the bridge area. None of the mentioned possibilities have been said to connect to the GT/SLR as far as I can tell; everything would go back to the PAR mainline via the Yard 8 wye.

Interesting that the pictured location (west of the bridge) is nearly identical to that of the 1800's Commercial St. Station.
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Re: Portland Maine Passenger Stations

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 12, 2011 11:25 am

Mark,

Thanks for the clarification and explanation. I'm hoping that whichever of these alternatives they choose they make sure that they have room for futher expansion. I still wonder at times as to whether or not Maine could start its own edition of the Auto Train but that is another topic for another thread.
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