CROWN OF NEW ENGLAND
RAIL LINK BETWEEN PORTLAND, MAINE AND
This paper will acquaint readers with opportunities offered by the ex-Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division railroad line in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Its goal is to stimulate interest in preserving the line’s continuity and to reactivate it as a key part of a Crown of New England rail link between the Amtrak-served locations of Portland, Maine and White River Junction, Vermont.
Crown of New England rail passenger service, by a regional operator, would link White River Junction with Portland, traversing the upper Connecticut River valley in VT, NH’s White Mountains and the attractions of Mt. Washington Valley, to coastal Maine at Portland. Stops along this route, through some of New England’s most spectacular scenery, will generate new opportunities for tourists and for regional economies. Patronage for Amtrak’s Vermonter and Downeaster trains would increase with tourists, some on loop trips from distant points without private automobiles. The proposed service should be designed to complement the seasonal passenger service now established on that segment of the Mountain Division now operated by Conway Scenic Railroad as the Crawford Notch Line.
Publicly owned segments of the proposed route are from South Windham to the NH state line in Maine (MDOT), west from the Maine line to Whitefield, NH (NHDOT) and from Wells River to White River Jct., Vermont (VAOT). Segments in private ownership are from Portland to South Windham (Guilford Rail System), and Whitefield to St. Johnsbury, VT (Guilford Rail System – leased to Twin States Railroad). The New Hampshire and Vermont owned segments are licensed to Conway Scenic Railroad for passenger operations and Northern Vermont Railroad, respectively.
Physical connections exist to Northern Vermont Railroad at St. Johnsbury and to St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad (via NH&VT Railroad) at Whitefield. A potential re-connection exists via the New Hampshire North Coast Railroad from Rollinsford and Conway Scenic Railroad to Intervale, NH, if and when the idle segment between Ossipee and Conway, NH now owned by NHDOT, is rebuilt. Should Vermont’s Lamoille Valley Railroad be preserved, an additional connection is possible at St. Johnsbury for Swanton, VT.
The Crown of New England concept offers the three northern New England states an unparalleled opportunity to utilize the full length of the Mountain Division and its connection from St. Johnsbury to White River Junction to promote common regional interests in stimulating tourist-based economies while restraining traffic congestion. States can co-operate effectively in matters of common interest. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont should collaborate to assure that the Mountain Division rail line remains intact and to exploit its full potential to their best mutual advantage.
· Increase patronage for Amtrak’s Vermonter and Downeaster trains to and from existing and planned Amtrak stations at White River Junction and Portland, respectively. The proposed link will generate seasonal volume for Amtrak routes to Vermont and Maine by attracting vacationers, sightseers, skiers, hikers and bicyclists to northeastern Vermont, the White Mountains, the Saco River region of Maine and the Maine coast. Mutually supportive marketing by Amtrak, the prospective Crown of New England operator, the three states and regional business interests would benefit the tourist economies of Portland, Saco River region, Mt. Washington Valley and upper Connecticut River valley.
· Reduce auto traffic. Automobile road capacity is taxed in some of the region’s congested and sensitive areas. The Rt. 16 by-pass now under construction in the Conway area will relieve local back-ups, but traffic loads are steadily increasing throughout the area. Reliable, peak season rail service to the North Country, accessible by Amtrak from New York, Boston and Portland, will encourage domestic and international travel to the region without personal automobiles. Opportunities will arise for local transportation providers to move tourists between stations and local destinations. Bus, van, and taxis services will benefit, along with auto and bicycle rentals for local touring.
· The re-opened Mountain Division may be attractive for the special trains of high-end rail tour operators.
· The Mountain Division corridor may also offer opportunities for hiking, biking, cross country skiing and snowmobiling, where these activities can be safely isolated from railroad operations. Rail commutation to Portland, and shuttle service in the Conway - North Conway locality are further considerations.
· Target local rail freight potential accessible from the Portland end of the Mountain Division may include gravel, lumber, steel, bulk cement and propane fuel. Freight opportunities potentially served from the west include the paper mill at Gilman, VT and industrial development in the Whitefield area. Year-around operations and overhead freight between Portland and St. Johnsbury are discounted due to high costs of winter operations through Crawford Notch and the parallel St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, which now operates regularly between Portland and Montreal.
Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, together with Amtrak, regional business interests and prospective operators are encouraged to recognize and achieve the potential afforded by the proposed Crown of New England service between Portland and White River Junction. In summary, the states are encouraged to provide leadership to: 1) organize effectively and work with all interested parties to reach this goal, 2) preserve the continuity and integrity of the rail route in the interim, 3) upgrade the track and assure its maintenance to appropriate passenger standards, 4) facilitate timely selection of qualified operator(s) and initiation of rail services.
488 West Road, Belgrade, ME 04917 Ph/fax: 207-495-3498 e-mail: email@example.com
This summarizes the writer’s presentation to the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association’s meeting in Ashland, NH on July 23, 2001 and updates a paper on this subject dated August 28, 1996.