Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MMA Railway foresees abandonment of 230 miles

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The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, currently operating about 750 miles of rail line in Maine, Vermont, Quebec, and New Brunswick, continues preparing to abandon about 230 miles of route between Millinocket and Houlton, Maine, the latter just west of the U.S.-Canada border.

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MMA President and CEO Robert Grindrod says the biggest problem is a steep decline in demand for forest products, spurring the move to discontinue service. “I would say it’s been in decline for some time, and the recession of 2009 made it substiantially worse,”he said. “The principle traffic on the line we're seeking to abandon is lumber and other forest products and I would say that demand for those products have been in decline in the Maine market, that is, Maine origins to other locations, since about the second half of 2006."

MMA initiated the abandonment filing last August, but expressed hope that either another short line might acquire the route, possibly with funding assistance from the state of Maine. "We are looking and talking actively with the state of Maine. They are the only other party that has contacted us thus far," said Grindrod.

Maine reportedly has applied for federal TIGER grants to fund the purchase of the rail line. But MMA Board Chair Ed Burkhardt says the number of applications makes it less likely that such funding will be available, given that Maine itself hasn’t made any purchase of the line a priority.

“I think this is pretty vital that rail service be kept to the majority of Aroostook County, but they didn't prioritize this, so the chance of getting the stimulus money isn't good," said Burkhardt.