August 28 ,  2009  






Port’s quest for rail funds steams ahead
 by Edward French


The port of Eastport is seeking to grab a tiger by the tail, as it goes after Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funding under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for restoring freight rail service for the port. The cost for bringing a rail line near the port could range from $36.8B$57.5 million, with an additional $2.8B$5.8 million for track upgrades in Canada, according to a study commissioned by the Eastport Port Authority. The report, by HNTB Corporation, a rail consulting firm, is being used for an application for the federal stimulus funding that will be submitted by September 15. A decision on the application is expected by early 2010.

Eastport Port Director Chris Gardner is optimistic that the restoration of the rail line could be "a game-changer" for Washington County. He believes that the federal stimulus funding is intended for such proposals. Noting that the federal government is spending $53 million to rebuild a federal courthouse in Bangor, he comments that for the same amount of money "you can rebuild one federal building in Bangor or you can rebuild an entire county."

"People ask why not Searsport or Portland, but we have the deep water," points out Gardner. For a rail line to be financially feasible, large amounts of bulk cargo need to be moved, but the shipping of bulk cargoes requires deep-water ports. Pointing out that it would cost more to dredge the other ports to a sufficient depth, he says it makes more sense to bring rail to a deep-water port than to bring deep water to a port with rail. The port of Eastport has the greatest depth of water of any port on the east coast of the U.S., approximately 70 feet at mean low water.

"We know if we get it, we'll have to produce," the port director says of the rail line restoration. The shipment of wood pellets by rail is one possibility, but he says two sources would be necessary to provide a sufficient amount of wood for shipping pellets. Maine and Canadian sources would be needed, and a reliable rail system is required for moving the pellets. Containers are another possibility, and he observes that containers that are being shipped through the port at Halifax have to go around Maine to be sent to Montreal or the Midwest. Bulk cargoes such as fertilizer or salt are also possible for rail shipment through the port.

Noting that the port's request has strong support from the congressional delegation, the governor and the county legislative delegation, Gardner believes that the chances for the funding being approved are good. Port representatives have met with municipal officials in all of the affected communities C Calais, Baileyville, Baring, Charlotte, Pembroke and Perry C and Gardner says that no negative comments about the proposal have been received.

The port authority is providing the funding for the $100,000 study. A request has been made to the federal Economic Development Administration to provide some of the funding.

Site for transload facility eyed

The report considers the options and costs for upgrading and restoring the rail line from Perry, where cargo would be loaded onto trucks for the port, to Calais, where the line would connect with the New Brunswick Southern Railway line. Cost ranges are based on whether the tracks are upgraded for 263,000 lb. or 286,000 lb. rail cars and whether they are upgraded to Class I, with 10 mph operating speeds, or Class II, allowing for 25 mph operation. Nine bridges would need to repaired or replaced. Bridges needing repair work would be: Sprague Falls, Cattle Pass, Baring Bridge, Salmon Falls and Round Falls Stream. Ones needing replacement are: Moosehorn Brook, Ohio Brook, Pennamaquan River and Little River. The total cost for bridge replacement would be $5 million.

For a rail-to-truck transfer, or transload, facility in Perry, the report recommends that it be designed to accommodate a wide range of commodities at a site that has room to expand. The potential footprint could range from 21.7 acres to 69.5 acres. Transload options can include international and domestic containers, center-beam flat rail cars for lumber and other building materials, dry bulk transfer, liquid bulk transfer, warehousing for dry goods and distribution, over-dimension and overweight shipments such as machinery, and ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metals.

Four possible sites for a transload facility in Perry were considered, and the report recommends a site that would be the farthest along the rail corridor toward Ayers Junction. The site is removed from the developed areas of Perry and is just east of Porcupine Mountain. The only potential visible impact would be where the access road would intersect Route 1. Two options for the access road are suggested: one across from Mahar Lane and one farther south that would connect with Davis Road and access Route 1 where the old Route 1 connects in. Gardner says the port authority will not be considering eminent domain to acquire any land, as he believes that they can negotiate with landowners for one of the sites being considered. The other potential sites are: east of Route 1 and just south of Route 190 where it intersects with Route 1; west of Route 1 and north of the railroad right-of-way and the Little River tidal estuary; and along the rail corridor between the Golding Road and the South Meadow Road.

Concerning other challenges in restoring the rail line, the report notes, "The current rail operations to and from Washington County are unique in that the current operator, Pan Am Railway, operates the 11 miles of active track in Washington County as an isolated operation from the rest of their railroad. To reach the balance of their system, the New Brunswick Southern/Eastern Maine Railroad moves the rail cars over 99.75 miles of their railroad from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, north to McAdam and then west to Mattawamkeag, Maine. This is a less than ideal situation for a number of reasons as it requires three trains, three operating crews and two physical interchanges. This results in higher transportation costs by adding another rail carrier to the move and adds considerable time to rail movements in and out of Washington County. This time issue is further exacerbated by the unwieldy track arrangement between Calais and St. Stephen."

Because the 4.7-mile-long Milltown spur of New Brunswick Southern connects in the wrong direction at both of its ends, the report recommends that, for significant increases in rail traffic and lower operating costs, two new short segments of railroad should be added. One would abandon the present rail bridge over the St. Croix River at Milltown and construct a new bridge upstream, so that a direct move can be made from Pan Am to the New Brunswick Southern Milltown spur. The second segment would be the construction of 1,500 feet of new track in New Brunswick, where the Milltown spur connects to the line north to McAdam. The estimated cost for these projects is $6B8 million, and the permitting time could be two years.

The provincial and federal governments and New Brunswick Southern Railway recently announced that $36 million would be invested in the New Brunswick Southern rail lines, including the lines from St. Stephen to McAdam to the Maine state line in Vanceboro.

The report estimates that the documentation and permitting process for the project in Maine would likely take 15 months to complete.



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