Central Maine likely to incorporate branch into existing network

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MaineEasternFranz
A Maine Eastern locomotive leads a freight in Wiscasset, Maine. Starting next year, the freights will be pulled by Central Maine & Quebec engines.
Justin Franz
ROCKLAND, Maine – While the president of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway says his company can expand freight traffic on the state-owned Rockland Branch, a change in operators on the line may signal the end of its popular seasonal excursions, at least for now.

Earlier this week, the Maine Department of Transportation announced the Central Maine would become the exclusive freight operator on the state's former Maine Central line between Brunswick and Rockland. The CMQR is slated to replace the line's current operator, the Maine Eastern, on Jan. 1, 2016. The Central Maine and the Maine Eastern, a subsidiary of the New Jersey-based Morristown & Erie, were the only two bidders for the 10-year contract.

Central Maine President John Giles tells Trains News Wire that state officials approached his company about bidding on the contract earlier this year. This summer, Giles and other Central Maine officials inspected the 57-mile Rockland Branch and soon after decided to put in an offer. Although there are currently only a handful of customers on the line – most notably Dragon Cement in Thomaston and Bath Iron Works in Hardings – Giles says he believes there is potential for more. He says he identified at least three or four potential new customers on the line during the recent inspection trip.

"We see potential," he says. "There is business out there."

The promise of finding additional freight customers on the line would be especially attractive to state transportation officials hoping to thin out tractor-trailer traffic on nearby U.S Route 1, which is often congested during the summer.

Giles says the new railroad will likely be integrated into its current operations in northern Maine, on the former Bangor & Aroostook and Canadian Pacific. The Central Maine took over the former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic in 2014 after that railroad went bankrupt following the deadly Lac-Megnatic, Quebec, oil train wreck.
Although it’s unclear how Central Maine will operate this branch, Giles says he does know the company is not getting into the excursion business. Since 2004, the Maine Eastern has operated summer excursions between Brunswick and Rockland. However, Giles says he is open to working with another operator if they want to run passenger trains, including the Maine Eastern.

But Maine Eastern officials tell Trains News Wire that this year will be their last running the popular seasonal excursions. Morristown & Erie Marketing and Logistics Manager Rudy Garbely says all of the passenger equipment, including the railroad's two former New Haven FL9s, will return to New Jersey at the end of the season. "The last day of our 2015 excursion season, October 31, may well be the last day that the general public will ever have the opportunity to ride this line," Garbely says.

Nathan Moulton, the director of the Maine Department of Transportation Rail Program, says all bids for the contract were reviewed by four individuals on a criteria based on the respondents operating experience, cost revenue to the state, terms for accommodating passenger service operators, respondents financial condition, and plans to do its own maintenance and provide its own equipment.

"[Central Maine's] management and marketing team has a lot of experience in short line railroads in areas with light density freight and has a history of growing business and operations on lines similar to the Rockland Branch," Moulton says. "It was felt that they give the state and the businesses on the line the best potential for growth."
 
As for passenger excursions, Moulton says he is hopeful that another operator will step up and run them. In 2004, the state spent more than $30 million to upgrade the railroad to handle passenger trains. "Maximizing the use of state-owned rail lines to the benefit of Maine business and Maine people is always our goal and priority," he says.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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