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Community to weigh in on study for potential train route between Portland, L/A area

There is no passenger or commuter rail system connecting two of Maine's largest cities, but advocates and leaders have long argued there should be. (WGME)
There is no passenger or commuter rail system connecting two of Maine's largest cities, but advocates and leaders have long argued there should be. (WGME)
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AUBURN (WGME)-- The last time passenger trains ran from Lewiston to Portland was in the mid-1950s, but state officials are studying the potential economic impact of a passenger and commuter train service between the two communities again.

For Lewiston-Auburn area residents like John Lombard, it's hard to get to Portland without a car.

"Sometimes I do [take the bus], every once in a while. But I've never gone to Portland on the Greyhound or nothing," John Lombard said.

If there were another option like a train, that could change things.

"I'm almost certain I'd go to Portland more often," John Lombard said.

"It would be a lot easier for me to see my kids when my dad goes to Portland," L/A area resident Linneah Lombard said.

Train service is a thing of the past in the L/A area.

"There used to be multiple passenger rail services and streetcar systems, for that matter, in Lewiston-Auburn and there was regular service to Portland and Boston," Auburn Transportation Systems Director Jonathan LaBonte said.

A Maine law passed in 2021 required Maine DOT to complete an economic evaluation study for commuter and passenger train service between Portland and the Lewiston-Auburn area. The report will include two potential routes and a bus alternative.

It follows the Lewiston-Auburn Passenger Rail Service plan published in 2019.

According to the Maine DOT, the goal of this evaluation is to further the project with regard to alternatives evaluation, station planning, and economic impacts. The department expects a draft report to be completed in early February.

This is an issue that's been studied repeatedly before, but any further progress has often been derailed.

"The Mills administration has reprioritized planning, and we think picking up those studies, dusting them off is going to set us on the right course," LaBonte said.

LaBonte believes a lot has changed even just recently during the pandemic that could help move this forward.

"Not only has there much greater momentum and urgency to look at climate change and the opportunities with our transportation system but southern Maine faces a real housing crisis," LaBonte said. "An opportunity to support that kind of urban development if there were high-frequency, high-quality transit service between Auburn and Portland, that would help."

There will be a public hearing where people can weigh in and hear about the latest study's findings this week.

The virtual meeting will be held this Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Zoom.

You can find the Zoom meeting information here.

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