A passenger train stopped at the Gardiner, Maine railroad station Tuesday for the first time in six years. About 80 passengers climbed down briefly at the shuttered station, and many took photographs of the historic occasion.
“We never thought we’d see a train up here again,” said John Coughlin of Windsor, a member of the DownEast Rail Group that met at the station in the 1980s.
The two-engine, three-car Maine Eastern Railroad carried dignitaries and invited guests between Brunswick and Gardiner along what’s known as the railroad’s “lower road.”
“It’s an opportunity for Maine Eastern to show the neighbors between here and there that the train is viable and can run on these tracks,” said Gordon Page Sr., director of passenger operations. “It’s a look at what’s possible.”
Maine Eastern currently runs a Rockland excursion line, stopping in Wiscasset, Bath and Brunswick. The carpeted Elm and Magnolia passenger coaches and the Alder Falls six-bedroom sleeper and lounge car normally ply that line.
If Amtrak’s Downeaster ever makes it as far north as Brunswick, Maine Eastern is looking at line expansion. The Downeaster now has four trips a day between Portland and Boston, and a fifth round-trip is to be added at the end of October.
“We’re showing the community the route is viable and just needs some capital investment,” said Gordon Fuller, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Maine Eastern Railroad, as he rode back to Brunswick.
He said his company - based in Rockland and Morristown, N.J. - wants to be involved in any expansion of passenger service in Maine.
A renaissance for railroads
Railroad traffic is growing worldwide at such a rate that most of the rail systems in the industrialized world are stressed to carry all the freight and passenger traffic being pressed on them, so around the world, corporations and countries are spending large sums of money to keep up with the demand, International Herald Tribune writer Don Phillips reported today from Washington.
David Briginshaw, the editor of The International Railway Journal, said in an opinion article in the October issue, “The outlook for rail has never been better than during the period when most of the world’s railways were first constructed.”
For the first time, the journal said, the annual market for railroad equipment, infrastructure and technology will soon surpass €100 billion, or $125 billion, if it has not already done so.
In 2003, the latest year for which figures could be assembled, the German company SCI Verkehr estimated that the total was €97 billion.
In that year, the market for railroad locomotives, cars and other rail vehicles accounted for 61 percent of total spending – but infrastructure was the fastest growing market at 32 percent, led by new rail lines and line upgrades in the Middle East and Asia.
In terms of total spending, Europe led with €34.2 billion. The U.S. spent the equivalent of €20.5 billion and Asia €20 billion. Most of the European money is going to passenger traffic, including a new high- speed line from Paris to Frankfurt, but much of the rest of the world’s spending is for freight traffic.
For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has begun spending significant amounts of money to modernize its neglected railroads – €8.9 billion in 2005 – although economists warn that significantly more will be necessary to keep up with growing demand and avoid creating an inevitable drag on the Russian economy.
Railroads in the United States have been greatly aided by crowded highways and a shortage of truck drivers, and even trucks are often hauled long distance on railroad “intermodal” trains. In China, highways are so inadequate that freight usually travels mainly by rail.
U.S. rail lines are spending billions of dollars each year for new freight capacity but are still hard- pressed to keep up. Spending rose from $6.4 billion in 2005 to an estimated $8.3 billion this year, according to the Association of American Railroads.
BNSF chairman Matthew Rose, which runs one of the four major U.S. railroads, recently took transportation reporters on a tour of his railroad.
He surprised everyone with a plan to increase freight haulage between the Port of Los Angeles and Chicago. Rose said the line, which handled train traffic just fine for more than a century with long stretches of single-track and sidings, would eventually become a three-track main line all the way.
BNSF is spending $2.6 billion on capital investment in 2006 alone. Many other railroads are adding capacity in a similar fashion.
“It is very clear that the railway landscape is changing quite considerably,” Briginshaw wrote in the journal’s editorial.
Even the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials seems to be getting on board.
For many years, the association considered itself a highway body, but after years of supporting more and more highways, it has begun a campaign to promote greater use of railroads, which are far more efficient than trucks when it comes to land use in moving freight.