Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Maine creates oversight group for beleaguered short line

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Maine Gov. John Baldacci said Tuesday he has created a watchdog group to oversee the proposed abandonment of about 240 miles of right-of-way and possible state purchase of the property.

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Baldacci announced the move one day after state legislators in both houses approved a $57.8 million bond package containing $14 million to purchase northern Maine’s last major rail line, operated by Hermon, Maine-based Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. The measure had sailed through the state House but the state Senate had balked at the proposal, with fiscal conservatives objecting to the potential debt burden passage would place on the state.

“This task force will ensure that [the] abandonment andacquisition process is done openly and in a way that protects the interests of Maine taxpayers,” Baldacci said in a statement Tuesday. “It will also work with the Department of Transportation and other interested parties to develop an operating plan once the railroad is purchased.”

The plan include the creation of a public-private partnership with the state, either MM&A  or another carrier, and 22 stakeholders, including some of Maine’s largest manufacturers and businesses, to help acquire federal funding to save rail freight service in northern Maine. On a visit to Bangor, the state capital, earlier this month, FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo recommended such a partnership.