Friday, August 14, 2009

Maine short line seeks ownership deal with state

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Hermon, Maine-based Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway said Thursday it has asked the state to consider purchasing and maintaining its track and right-of-way. The property is worth about $17 million, according to President and COO Robert C. Grindrod, who estimates upgrades of $6 million are required, followed by an annual maintenance cost of $2.5 million.

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The railroad seeks the state’s interest as it announced it would sell or abandon approximately 241 miles of track linking Millinocket and Madawaska, citing fiscal woes. Operations will continue during the abandonment process, Grindrod said.

“The reason for this action is purely economic,” said Chairman Edward A. Burkhardt. “For some time, MMA has faced weak lumber, paper, and other forest products markets, and the economic downturn has greatly affected traffic on these lines. This portion of MMA’s network is heavily loss-making, and as such does not generate sufficient cash flow to provide for necessary capital expenditures to ensure sustainability.”

“One solution would be for the state to acquire this segment of our network and to assume the future capital investment requirements,” Burkhardt said. “This would, of course, require funding, which would have to come from federal stimulus monies or would have to be addressed by the legislature. MMA considers this the best possible solution as it would result in rail service being maintained at all stations.”

Both officials said that they have discussed the situation with Gov. John Baldacci and officials at Maine’s Department of Transportation.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, born in 2003 from the bankrupt Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, serves customers in Maine and Vermont, as well as the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, operating over roughly 745 miles of track.