Among the campaign promises, we need a substantive discussion of Maine’s brewing transportation crisis. By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi
The case for investing.
As voters head to the polls, the MBTA board outlines a four-point plan for addressing the transportation funding shortfall.
What the next governor should know.
Seven transportation leaders say what they think are key issues for the incoming governor and legislature.
Port of Eastport ships cattle to Turkey; prepares RFPs for conveyor and bulk yard
Fore score and 14 years ago.
Members raise $20,000 for MBTA Infrastructure Development Fund.
Enjoying the ride.
Downeast Scenic Railroad launches excursion service.
Crystal Manzer’s fish story.
Manzer’s record setting catch.
By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi, MBTA President
We’re going to hear a lot of promises in this campaign, but we need to make sure there’s real discussion about addressing funding for our deteriorating roads and bridgesAfter labor day, elections tend to heat up. And this year has been no exception. When Maine voters go to the polls on November 2, they will be voting for a new governor. They also will have the chance to reverse the tide of neglect and deterioration that plagues Maine’s transportation system.
The truth is, while it can be so easy to dismiss statements made on the road to the governor’s office – and the statehouse – as campaign rhetoric, it is an important opportunity for voters to help shape the issues of the coming administration. It is the first time that many of the candidates meet face-to-face with voters and hear their concerns. It is the time when they test drive positions on issues that will occupy the state agenda for the coming four years. It’s also, as we are finding once again, the time that candidates make promises (e.g., “no new taxes”) that can abruptly end productive discussions of the issues.
The Maine Better Transportation Association and our members are working hard to make sure that substantive discussions about transportation funding don’t fall victim to spur-of-the-moment promises.
This spring and summer, our board of directors, policy committee and senior policy advisor John Melrose of Maine Tomorrow worked to craft a document we hope will give shape to the transportation policy discussions with those running for Blaine House and the Maine State House. Transportation: The case for investment details four principles that should guide our state leaders as they work to address the severe transportation funding shortages that are on the horizon for Maine.
Maine faces a $3 billion transportation funding shortfall over the next 10 years and the consequences for not addressing the problem are dire. If we just listen to campaign promises of no new taxes, we will not get our potholes filled, our bridges repaired and much-needed safety improvements made. We need to take steps now to fill that gaping hole in the transportation budget, and we need a governor and legislature who are partners in the effort to make real change.
The real issues, as Transportation: The case for investment details it, are responsibility, setting priorities and relying on the simple principle of users paying for the infrastructure and services that keep Maine people working, our families safe and businesses competitive.
Already in this campaign, we’ve heard a lot about transportation from the candidates.
In early September, the Associated Press sent the five gubernatorial candidates a three-question survey. One of the survey questions asked how to address the need for highway funding due to increasing costs of maintenance and falling fuel consumption.
The candidates’ answers to this question show there is still a lot of work to be done to get our message out. According to the Associated Press:
“[Libby]Mitchell called for ‘robust’ capital expenditures through bonding. [Paul]LePage said a ‘bloated transportation bureaucracy has consumed too much of Maine’s highway budget, and our roadways have suffered as a result.’ [Eliot] Cutler said highways and bridges have been neglected for too long and public safety’s at stake.
‘I am not ready to call for an increase in the gas tax, but it would be irresponsible and disingenuous not to consider one, given the magnitude of the problem we face,’ said Cutler.
Agreeing that more money is not necessarily the answer, [candidate Kevin] Scott promised to examine priorities and ‘establish realistic expectations’ for highways and infrastructure.
[Candidate Shawn] Moody said gas tax revenues will continue to shrink as cars’ fuel economy increases, so the state needs more creative solutions that do not simply rely on gas taxes.”
There is a lot of information MBTA members can glean from these statements. It is clear that the candidates are beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem facing the state and that we have our work cut out for us, as we head into the final weeks and days of the election.
We need to keep raising the issues and promoting a thoughtful discussion that will continue into the new administration. Blanket promises denying an increase in the gas tax may assuage nervous voters, but do not contribute to a substantive discussion of the issues.
I hope you will continue to work with us to move the issue of transportation funding through the election and on to the agenda at the Maine State House and in the governor’s Office for the next four years. Please take some time to read Transportation: The case for investment on the MBTA web site (www.mbtaonline.org) and share these powerful policy ideas about reshaping how Maine funds critical transportation infrastructure and services.
Transportation: The case for investment
This November, as Mainers head to the polls, their votes for governor and state representatives and senators have the power to shape the future of transportation in Maine.
The problem: An aging transportation system – and an obsolete funding approach
Maine’s transportation network is vast and the resources to fund it are limited. To make the situation worse, our commitment to operate and maintain the system – one that includes 22,803 public road miles, 3,700 bridges, 36 public airports, 600 miles of bike and pedestrian trails, three major ocean ports, 11 ferry services, 1,187 miles of active rail and 16 fixed route transit services – has not kept pace with other state priorities.
Since the 1970s, Maine’s funding priorities have shifted away from transportation, and Highway Fund revenues have not kept pace with state transportation needs. Roads and bridges are most affected by this shortfall in funding, and there is an enormous backlog of deteriorating roads and bridges. Over the next two years, Maine’s Highway Fund faces a structural budget shortfall of $720 million; in the next 10 years, Maine faces an estimated $3.3 billion gap.
We can fix this: Principles for a solution
Maine’s transportation system is vast, multimodal and we have a limited population base to share the cost of its maintenance and modernization. Yet, through innovation, efficiency, improved prioritization and fiscal discipline, we can get the job done.
By making a commitment to improve our transportation system, Maine will see great benefits:
- improved mobility
- lower transportation costs
- reduced traffic-related injuries and deaths
- cost-effective transportation options
- improved quality of life
- economic growth
We can fix our transportation system – and share the benefits for our generation and our children’s – by adhering to the four core principles described below. For a more detailed explanation of these recommendations, please visit www.mbtaonline.org.
Principle 1: Advancing the user-funding model
Whenever possible, transportation services should be paid for by the individuals and businesses that use them at a level sufficient to fully fund the service.
The Maine Better Transportation Association advocates for a shift in how our state funds our vital transportation networks – road, rail, transit, air and marine. By advancing a user-funding model, we can increase efficiency and safety, improve mobility and lower transportation costs for individuals and businesses throughout Maine.
We need to take steps to stabilize funding for our transportation system, from increasing the gas tax to restore the Highway Fund’s buying power and using public funds to leverage private investments that will increase the competitiveness of our ports to adjusting vehicle fees to reflect inflation and dedicating a larger portion of transportation-related sales taxes to transportation investments.
Highway: Increase fuel taxes to restore Highway Fund buying power.
Highway: Modernize the gasoline tax to reflect fuel efficiency.
Highway: Adjust vehicle fees to reflect inflation.
Highway: Seek federal funding fairness.
Ports / Passenger & Freight Rail: Innovate to leverage private investment.
Multi-modal: Dedicate a portion of the growth of transportation-related sales tax.
Multi-modal: Grow the STAR (State Transit, Aviation and Rail) account.
Multi-modal: Partner with New Hampshire to secure future of
Principle 2: Addressing the backlog
The capital repair backlog should be eliminated and future repairs paid for according to a predictable schedule.
In all, MaineDOT estimates we will need $3.3 billion over the next 10 years to make progress in addressing the backlog of transportation needs – $2.8 billion alone to address critical road and bridge needs. The Maine Better Transportation advocates that the Governor and Maine Legislature rethink how our state prioritizes its transportation investments to ensure that we make progress to address – and eventually – eliminate that backlog of critical repairs and improvements to our transportation system.
That will require revising capital transportation investment goals, adopting a pay-as-you-go policy for basic maintenance such as paving, using bonds for extraordinary transportation needs and enlisting support from the General Fund to help pay down the backlog of repairs.
Highway: Require/revise capital goals.
Highway: Pay for paving with cash, not bonding.
Highway: Use bonds for extraordinary needs.
Highway: Pay down the backlog with General Fund cash and bonds.
All Modes: Increase bond terms.
All Modes: Make tough choices.
Principle 3: Targeting investments to help Maine grow
Transportation investments should be better targeted to promote economic development.
The Maine Better Transportation Association advocates for targeted transportation investments that support safe, efficient transportation options – roads, rail, ports, aviation or transit – and help keep business costs down, attract good employees and attract new businesses.
Maine can provide these essential services to our citizens if we target our transportation investments to strategies that will help our economy grow. For our highway system, we need to modernize and prioritize how we fund urban and rural highway investments. To make freight more cost efficient and promote new business growth, we need to reinvigorate Maine’s Three Port Strategy and continue public-private investment programs including the Industrial Rail Access (IRAP) and Small Harbor Improvement (SHIP) programs.
Highway: Modernize the urban compacts.
Highway: Prioritize investments on arterials, major collectors.
Highway: Use special financing tool for investments that spur economic development.
Highway: Reform Maine’s traffic movement permit law.
Freight/Ports and Rail: Continue the Industrial Rail Access (IRAP) and
Small Harbor Improvement (SHIP) programs.
Freight: Reinvigorate the Three Port Strategy.
Principle 4: Innovating to maximize the value of our investments
Innovative technologies and management structures should be adopted to extend the value of our transportation infrastructure, and to leverage private investment for the public good.
Doing what always has been done or relying on legal frameworks established nearly a century ago will not be enough. The Maine Better Transportation Association advocates that Maine should do all it can to identify, evaluate and implement the most effective innovations – public-private partnership opportunities, tolling portions of the interstate, design/build innovations to save cost and time, enhancing connections for passenger and freight movements.
All Modes: Create a task force to identify public-private partnership (PPP)opportunities.
Highway: Transfer portions of the interstate to the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Highway: Investigate a privately funded east-west highway.
Highway: Promote design/build innovations.
Highway: Act on Simplification Study, if costs can be contained.
Passenger: Encourage easy connections.
Conclusion: Getting there from here
We welcome Maine’s leadership to be a part of the solution and to work with us to help solve these problems. By making hard choices, addressing the backlog of repairs, targeting our transportation investment and taking advantage of innovative technologies and management structures, we can create a modern, user-funded transportation system that will serve Mainers for generations to come.
What the next governor (and legislature) should know about transportation in Maine
“We need to get our infrastructure in this state up to par. We will not be able to compete in the world economy if we don’t!”
Brian Bouchard, H.O. Bouchard
“First, we need to get our infrastructure in this state up to par. We will not be able to compete in the world economy if we don’t!
Second, we need to get our arms around manufacturing or this state will truly be only a place to vacation. Many of our businesses are considering moving out of the state of Maine to do business.
Third, we want to be business friendly but we only bark about it, never walk the talk! How serious are we to have commerce in Maine?
Fourth, remember what got us on the map and start working back to those days where farming and forestry along with manufacturing and fishing were the heart of our economy.
Finally, healthcare needs serious attention or we will not be able to afford that benefit any longer for our employees. Our little company spends $1 million for health insurance!”
“. . . in terms of the state’s economic development, we need to be a player in the freight area.”
David Cole, MaineDOT Commissioner
“My hope is that our next governor will expand on the work of our current governor in growing freight opportunities for Maine businesses. There is no question that from a competitive factor in terms of the state’s economic development, we need to be a player in the freight area. By strengthening our three-port strategy, we have managed to open up opportunities in our Maine ports. The state must continue to be aggressive in linking our ports to world markets. This will not only help our businesses, but it also benefits our regional railroads, which have limited capital. Bringing in more overhead traffic will help our rail system, while helping other businesses thrive. For example, if one of our ports brings in products from South America, those goods likely will have to be shipped on one of our railroads, so that even more businesses benefit from these imports. We need more critical mass and an integrated freight policy is key to tapping into world markets.
It is all about connections, and Maine is situated in a way to maximize and grow our links to world markets.”
“A strong transportation system is vital to moving products and people, to generating jobs, and to creating wealth. . . our next governor must understand its essentiality.”
Dana Connors, Maine State Chamber of Commerce
“I think in today’s economic struggles, in which we are trying desperately to regain the confidence of the consumers as well as the investor - in order to grow our economy - it is important to take nothing for granted. Our governor must know that the importance of transportation cannot be overstated; let’s not forget its importance while we search for a magical solution that may not exist.
Transportation is at a crossroads – and it is easy to put off the funding discussion, but every time we put it off, the costs climb, and the revenues decline. There are few – if any discussions more important at the state level, or the federal level.
A strong transportation system is vital to moving products and people, to generating jobs, and to creating wealth. It is critical to an economy on the move, and our next governor must understand its essentiality.”
“. . . that a structural gap of $3 billion seems insurmountable but isn’t, if you would make it a priority. . . the priority that it should be.”
Senator Dennis Damon, Co-Chair, Transportation Committee
“Governor, you need to understand how desperate our transportation infrastructure is in terms of its repair, or its building, and that a structural gap of $3 billion seems insurmountable but isn’t, if you would make it a priority. Not just a priority, but the priority that it should be. There are few programs or impacts that you can make that will positively move Maine forward greater than getting our transportation infrastructure to a reasonable and sustainable level.
It is vital for our health, our safety and our economic development and it has been ignored for too long.
When I say our transportation infrastructure, I am not just talking about road and bridges but our entire system: rail, marine, aviation, trails, everything. They all work together, and they all need to be enhanced.”
“. . . become familiar with the Highway Simplification Study.”
Gregory A. Dore, Maine Chapter-American Public Works Association
“I would like to urge the new governor to become familiar with the Highway Simplification Study. That will help him or her to better understand the need for increased funding in our transportation system. This study will also shed light on our need for the state, counties and municipalities to work together in order to become more efficient and cost-effective at maintaining our system.”
“Maine’s ports are a source of competitive advantage for Maine’s businesses. . .”
John Henshaw, Maine Port Authority
“Maine’s ports are a vital, strategic asset for the state of Maine. They are an integral part of its transportation infrastructure. More importantly, they are a source of competitive advantage for Maine’s businesses. Historically, the state’s ports have been a source of prosperity. Today, Maine’s ports provide direct access to overseas markets for Maine products. Maine forest products pass through the ports on their way to markets in Europe and Asia. Maine ports attract significant amounts of imports. It is likely that in the future, Maine’s ports will play an important role in the shipment of goods to domestic markets, as the need to find cost-effective modes of transportation is required to reduce highway congestion, to reduce harmful emissions, and to reduce maintenance requirements on our highways. Maine ports will play an even more vital role in the state’s economy into the future. We are privileged to count them as an asset.”
“. . . provide transportation people want enough to pay for through user fees. . .”
John Melrose, Maine Tomorrow
“Central to transportation funding is the need for policymakers to recommit to the principle of user financing. First, we need to provide transportation services that people want enough to pay for through user fees and not provide what they are unwilling to pay a fair price to use. Second, we must distribute federal and state transportation user fees consistent and proportionate to how our transportation system is used.”
“Keep pace with freight and passenger rail progress. . .”
Jack Sutton, MRG, Inc.
“Maine must keep pace with dynamic national trends in freight and passenger railroad progress, driven by transportation economics, development patterns and environmental realities.
Freight rail is fundamental to Maine’s industrial economy. It supports essential extractive, manufacturing and distribution industries and provides the infrastructural framework for passenger rail services. Private operators provide freight rail services, aided by targeted public assistance in the form of some branch line ownership, infrastructure upgrades, and support for customer and interline connectivity, through the Industrial Rail Access Program, state bonding and federal assistance.
Maine’s passenger rail future is anchored on reaching the full potential of Downeaster Portland-to-Boston service, and its forthcoming extension to Brunswick. Planning must embrace door-to-door aspects of passenger transportation, including regional development patterns, station locations with adequate parking, bus connections, taxis, bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.”
Port of Eastport ships cattle to Turkey; prepares RFPs for conveyor and bulk yard
By Kathryn Buxton
When a news brief appeared in the Bangor Daily News, reporting the Port of Eastport had received a temporary exemption from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ship livestock, it sparked interest in Maine’s transportation and business circles. The port has not shipped livestock in recent memory, and is much better known for moving forest products – mostly hardwood pulp produced at the Domtar mill in Baileyville.
Since the mill shut down temporarily in early 2009 because of the recession and decreased demand, the port has been aggressively marketing its assets to shippers in an effort to diversify its business. One of those shippers that heard the call was Texas-based Sexing Technologies, a genetics company specializing in the collection and sexing of beef cattle semen.
The news that the shipper would be using Eastport to move 470 pregnant cattle to Eastern Europe is one signal that the port’s marketing efforts may be paying off. After suffering a drop in freight traffic in 2009, the port is expecting to close out 2010 at record levels, according to Chris Gardner, executive director of the Port of Eastport.
“We’re projecting a record year eclipsing our previous tonnage totals in the 370,000 ton range. Between Domtar’s existing business and the introduction of the cattle project, 2010 could certainly be one of our best,” said Gardner.
Branching out into new markets is at the core of a planned port expansion. The port hopes to soon break ground on construction of a conveyor and bulk yard. The expansion, estimated to cost between $6.5 million and $8.5 million, is being funded in part with $2 million in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant funding and $4.5 million from the recent bond issue passed by voters in June. The port plans to provide the remainder of the funding, which it hopes to borrow at municipal rates.
The facility will serve Maine firms shipping bulk commodity items such as wood pellets and chips, primarily to markets in Europe. That is where the demand is, Gardner said.
The key, according to Gardner, is being big and efficient. Because the margins on pellets and chips are low, “every time you touch them, you have to be extremely efficient,” said Gardner.
The new facility will include an eight-acre storage yard. (If demand grows, the port has the option of expanding to an adjacent 12-acre parcel). It also has the capacity to load ships that Gardner describes as “floating boxes” with wood pellets at a rate of 1,000 tons per hour and wood chips at 700 tons per hour.
Gardner has a noticeable hint of urgency in his voice when he talks about the pending project. “We’ve got customers pushing us to get this done,” said Gardner. He said the port hopes to complete construction in the third quarter of 2011.
The project has already suffered one setback. It was put out to bid when the port had to postpone the process to comply with TIGER grant requirements. The port has been working with the state and federal governments and plans to reopen the bidding process later this fall, and Gardner hopes to break ground before year’s end.
Making it work
Despite the temporary setback, there is a feeling the port will do all it can to make its venture into new markets work – whether it’s moving livestock or forest products. Case in point is this recent cattle shipments.
Sexing Technologies wanted to ship dairy cows to Turkey and approached port officials and the local ships’ agent, Federal Marine Terminals (FMT). The Texas-based company planned to gather the livestock from farms throughout New England (and as far away as Wisconsin) at Roebuck Farm in Turner. Then they would ship the dairy cows in two shipments from Eastport.
The livestock shipments required an exemption from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that normally requires a special permit to ship livestock. It also required considerable preparation. Sexing Technologies arranged for 35 specially outfitted containers for the cattle to be shipped to the port to transport the cattle and four truckloads of feed and bedding for the journey. A network of temporary chutes to move the cattle onto the cargo freighter had to be constructed. Then there were the odds and ends. A local electrician and plumber and some other craftsmen were called in to make modifications to the containers. FMT stevedores also helped load the cattle, working outside the chutes and assisting cow handlers brought in by Sexing Technologies to keep the animals moving.
The first shipment of cattle went off without a hitch in mid-July, according to Port of Eastport Director Chris Gardner. A second shipment left from Eastport in late September. Out of 470 dairy cows that boarded the freighter Artisgracht in Eastport, all 470 arrived, as well as two calves that were born en route.
“Hats off to Federal Marine Terminals. They pulled off a nearly flawless operation and the USDA ground inspector gave us rave reviews,” said Gardner.
Optimism in the air
There is definitely a feeling in Eastport that there is potential for diversification and growth. Skip Rogers of FMT said he is fairly certain Eastport will see more livestock shipments in the near future and has already heard from a company interested in shipping cattle to Romania.
He also sees the investment in the new bulk yard and conveyor as a positive step that has generated a buzz around the port. He calls the pellet/wood chip export market “our next niche” and expects the facility to “get used pretty quickly.”
“It’s going to be too fine a facility to sit here idle,” said Rogers. “This is our most logical option given our location and the resources we have around us.”
He also firmly believes that the investment of federal, state and local funding will pay off. “We need to diversify this port and be better positioned and the best way to do that is build on the resources that we do have.”
Fore score and 14 years
MBTA members and friends ‘Golf for Good’ at the 14th Infrastructure Golf Classic
It was a beautiful summer day to get out of the office, off the work site and onto the golf course. And playing hooky felt even better knowing that it was for a good cause.
The event was the 14th annual MBTA Infrastructure Golf Classic, held this year on July 15 at the Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro. The event, thanks to the generosity of members and friends, was a success. More than 140 golfers participated and together they helped raise $20,000 for the MBTA’s Infrastructure Development Fund.
Of course, the tournament is also a chance for friendly-but-fierce competition. This year was no exception with two of last year’s winners battling it out for the top spot. The team from H.O. Bouchard took home the top honors – Low Gross – for the second year in a row but only after securing the return title in a tie-breaker with The Rowley Agency team (last year’s Low Net winners). Teams from Nitram Excavation & GC and Pratt & Sons also made it into the winners’ circle, taking home the first and second prizes in the Low Net category.
The MBTA Infrastructure Golf Classic has been held every year since 1996. That is when the MBTA board decided to build a war chest of sorts to help educate the public about the importance of investing in Maine’s transportation infrastructure. Earle Cianchette of Cianbro, an MBTA past president, was the leading force behind the first tournament.
“This is such a fun event, because it gives members a chance to take a break from what is a very busy time in the transportation industry,” said MBTA President Deborah Dunlap Avasthi.
“But it’s also an event with a message at the core of our mission to advocate for safe, efficient transportation in Maine,” Avasthi continued. “We need to build support in our communities and among our state and business leaders – and the Infrastructure Development Fund gives us the means to do just that.”
1st Place / Low Gross
H.O. Bouchard – Brian Bouchard, Harold Bouchard, Jeff Bouchard and Peter Hughes
2nd Place / Low Gross
The Rowley Agency – Gary LaPierre, Phil Mattingly, Jason Cadorette, Adam Lamarre
1st Place / Low Net
Nitram Excavation & GC – Tom Martin, Steve Martin, Dave Holden, Brent Cross
2nd Place / Low Net
Pratt & Sons – Jonathan Pratt, Reggie Pratt, Jason Griffiths, Dan Ward
Closest to the Pin/Women
Rhobe Moulton (10’ 10”)
Closest to the Pin / Men
Tom Errico (19’ 1”)
Bob Leland (2 putts out of 3 tries)
Casino Hole (3-way tie)
Fred Reichel, Tim Layne, John Wardwell
The Lane Construction Corporation
The Louis Berger Group, Inc.
Casco Bay Steel Structures, Inc.
Fay, Spofford & Thorndike
Hudson Asphalt Group
T.Y. Lin International
Nortrax Equipment Co., LLC
The Rowley Agency, Inc.
Lunch & Beverage Sponsors
Bruce A. Manzer, Inc.
Whited Peterbilt of Maine
Wyman and Simpson, Inc.
Berkley Surety Group
Berry Dunn McNeil & Parker
Ted Berry Co., Trenchless Technologies Team
H.O. Bouchard, Inc.
Brown Industrial Group, Inc.
Chase Excavating, Inc.
Ciment Quebec, Inc.
Clean Harbors Environmental Services
Concord Coach Lines
Dearborn Brothers Construction, Inc.
Down East Emulsions, LLC
Gorham Sand & Gravel, Inc.
Grace Construction Products
R.J. Grondin & Sons, Inc.
A.H. Harris & Sons, Inc.
Macdonald Page & Co LLC
Main Line Fence
Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc.
Blasting Services, Inc.
Michie Precast Corp.
Nitram Excavation & GC, Inc.
Pike Industries, Inc.
Pratt & Sons
E.J. Prescott, Inc.
Shaw Brothers Construction, Inc.
Skillings Shaw & Associates, Inc.
Swardlick Marketing Group
Golf Planning Committee
John Paradis, Chair, Nortrax
Deborah Dunlap Avasthi, Willis of Northern New England
Tom Biegel, Shaw Brothers Construction, Inc.
Greg Dore, Town of Skowhegan
Jim Hall, George C. Hall & Sons, Inc.
Jim Hanley, Pike Industries
Larry Hutchins, Hudson Asphalt Group
Eric Martin, The Lane Construction Corp.
Tom Martin, NITRAM Excavation & GC
Larry Roberts, The Louis Berger Group
Tharryn Smith, Cianbro
Scott Warchol, Maine Turnpike Authority
Our gratitude goes to Cross Insurance for donating the $10,000 Hole-In-One prize. And to Concord Coach Lines for providing golf tees and Bangor Truck Equipment for providing water for the golfers’ carts.
Enjoying the ride
Downeast Scenic Railroad launches excursion service
You would think that after launching a railroad, you would sit back and enjoy the ride. But Tom Testa and members of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust (DRHPT) are busy on a warm fall weekday painting rail cars and getting things ship shape. For some people running a railroad is a labor of love.
“We’ve got a whole crew out here painting coaches today,” said DRHPT President Tom Testa enthusiastically, speaking from the railroad’s maintenance facility in Washington Junction in Hancock. In addition to impromptu work sessions like this one, the group has no fewer than four volunteer work days scheduled this fall. That is in addition to running the excursion railroad’s first season of foliage rides. For some railroads, it’s the color of the leaves that affect the schedule.
The group’s pride and joy, the Downeast Scenic Railroad, opened for business on Saturday, July 24, and already has carried more than 3,600 passengers. That is well above the group’s ridership projections for its first season, according to Testa.
He expects the enthusiastic response to the service will carry through to its October 17 close. Testa said riders and support have come from all over. But support has been especially welcome from those close at hand. Many of the service’s first passengers have been local residents, friends and family who have watched the DRHPT stockpile equipment, build the train’s Main Street depot and Washington Junction maintenance facility and rehabilitate the old Calais Branch Line over the past four years.
There also have been passengers and rail aficionados from further afield, as well, and that ridership is expected to grow as more people hear about this piece of rolling history. “We’re thrilled with the response,” said Testa. “We’ve had people from Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey. . .” Testa reels off an impressive roster demonstrating that word about the service is getting out among tourists visiting the state and a railroad community always on the lookout for new treasures.
That is a good sign for the excursion service that runs 90-minute rides traversing the line from the group’s Main Street depot in Ellsworth to Ellsworth Falls, back along Main Street to Washington Junction, and ending back at the depot. DRHPT plans to eventually link the service to Green Lake about 13 miles away and carry 72,000 passengers annually.
‘No champagne spilled’
The launch of the service is the culmination of four years of hard work, building the Main Street depot that serves as the train’s boarding point, rehabilitating vintage rail cars and refurbishing tracks that were last actively operated by Maine Central Railroad in the mid 1980s as a freight line. Passenger service on the line, begun in 1884, was stopped in 1960.
DRHPT has a 15-year lease on the line, plus two five-year renewal options from MaineDOT, which purchased the line when Maine Central Railroad abandoned it in 1985.
The Calais Branch extending from Brewer to Calais was famous for the Bar Harbor Express, a summer train that ran seven trips, seven days a week during the summer bringing wealthy travelers, known as “rusticators,” to their palatial cottages on Mount Desert Island. According to the DRHPT web site, Maine Central Railroad crews would work “diligently throughout the spring to ensure that the rails were properly level and all crossings and switches were maintained to their highest standards to guarantee that, ‘not a drop of coffee or champagne were spilled.’”
The line flourished through the late 1800s and early 1900s, but eventually became the victim of increased automobile and air travel. Today’s train, while paying homage to the train’s luxe history serving the wealthy, also showcases the region’s natural beauty. The 10-mile route passes through a thriving wetland, and passengers can spot beaver lodges, osprey nests, deer and other wildlife from its cars.
Up and running
The Downeast Scenic Railroad went active on June 26, giving DRHPT time to work out final details leading up to the launch in late July. That was when the town of Hancock and city of Ellsworth officially changed the line’s status from “exempt-inactive” to “fully active with no exemptions.”
Testa said that it has been gratifying to see the train take off, and said there has been a lot of community support. Currently DRHPT has 350 paid benefactors, businesses and individuals who through their membership have helped provide much needed capital for the railroad’s resurrection. Many are also hands-on volunteers. Testa also offers high praise for all the volunteers who with their hard work and boundless enthusiasm have provided the sweat equity needed to get the train up and running and ready to roll. In all, this group has given more than 37,000 hours of their time to the railroad.
All told they have cleared and repaired six miles of track, replaced 2,500 railroad ties, added new timbers for rails and fixed crossing signals, said Testa. They also have restored two engines, an ALCO S-4 locomotive with a 1,000 horsepower engine and a second GE-70-ton locomotive as a backup, passenger cars and a red caboose, which dates from 1926.
“We’ve got 40 people who have literally worked their tails off for five years,” said Testa who calls them all friends. “Yes, we’re all ecstatic to see this come together.”
Downeast Scenic Railroad
What: Excursion rail line offering 90-minute rides leaving from Main Street Depot in Ellsworth during summer and fall.
Mission: DSRR is owned and operated by The Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust and its mission “is to celebrate and preserve the railroad history of Downeast Maine. . . for the education, enlightenment and enjoyment of future generations.”
Details: The service will run two trips a day through October 17, 2010. Tickets are $8 for children and $12 for adults for the open air car and coach; $13 for children and $17 for adults for a seat aboard the enclosed 1926 Reading caboose which features a cupola and is limited to 12 passengers.
Advanced reservations: Call Cadillac Mountain Sports at 207-667-7819.
Group rates for 40 or more available, call 866-449-RAIL (7245).
Crystal Manzer’s fish story
By Wayne Salter
On Friday morning, September 17, at a Irving Oil customer appreciation event at the Ledges Lodge in Doaktown, New Brunswick, an MBTA member made fishing history.
Crystal Manzer of Bruce A. Manzer Inc. caught an incredible salmon. Crystal hooked the fish at around 10:30 a.m. at the Millbrook Pool on the Miramichi River. It immediately went to the bottom of the pool, where it remained for the next 30 minutes. Crystal, a first time salmon fisherwoman, did everything right. She maintained tension on the line thus burying the hook deep into the fish. After the half an hour the fish began to move, and Crystal continued to work the fish for another 30 minutes before landing her prize.
During this time the fish surfaced twice and Mark Barnes, of Shaw Brothers, made the comment it is not a salmon, it is a shark. It was 97 centimeters or 38 inches in length. When weighed, it came in at just over 22 pounds. Manzer’s catch tied for the largest fish caught at the Ledges Lodge this year. The lodge took a copy of the picture and it will be up on the wall for all fishermen to admire and envy.
The rules of river require that this fish had to be released, but we got this great picture of the fine fish and the happy fisherwoman.
For Crystal’s achievement, she unanimously was voted the Most Valuable Fisherperson trophy for the two-day event. Lloyd Lyons was the guide (he is with Crystal in the photo), with Mark Barnes, and Derek Cooling of Irving Oil present for the catch. Congratulations Crystal, from your friends at Irving Oil and the MBTA.