More freight trains crossing Maine as cargo traffic increases in New Brunswick

At the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick, 70 miles east of the Maine border, there has been a wave of change recently, and it has been aggressively expanded to accommodate more vessels looking to deliver East Coast expeditions. Meanwhile, the port is also continuing to upgrade the province’s rail network to better distribute freight to the western and southern points.

As major North American freight ports grapple with a backlog of ships awaiting unloading, more freight trains are crossing Maine, improving economic prospects for remote Maine towns along the track. But it’s not without its challenges — for some Maine towns, the trains also bring complications.

In Vanceboro, the US Customs and Border Patrol has decided to reduce the number of hours vehicles can cross the St. Croix River, which separates the two countries, so that they can move personnel to manage the increase in rail traffic. . In Jackman, about 150 miles west along the tracks, cars and trucks face long waits as trains halt traffic on Route 201, and the sound of train horns – a requirement of safety when crossing the road – sometimes wakes people up in the middle of the night.

But for Ken Stannix, the mayor of McAdam, the increased rail traffic through his city to the United States represents a much-needed economic boost for rural towns in northern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick.

Stannix said hundreds of millions of Canadian dollars have been spent on recent improvements to the Port of Saint John, and tens of millions more in Canadian dollars are being spent improving the rail line from Saint John to McAdam, which is at only five miles east of Vanceboro. He said two trains, each nearly two miles long, leave McAdam and cross the border at Vanceboro every day, but that number is expected to increase to 12 over the next three years, a 500% jump.

“They’re not spending that money to run a few freight trains through Vanceboro,” Stannix said of rail improvements in New Brunswick. “The growth prospects are enormous. New Brunswick and Maine have everything to gain from this growth.

Improving east-west transportation corridors through Maine has long been a goal of economic development officials who view Maine’s long, looping border with Canada as an asset. Maine borders the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the east, giving the state the shortest route between the Maritime provinces and the rest of Canada. About 20 million people live in the densely populated corridor just across the western Maine border, between Quebec and Windsor, Ontario.

The Canadian Corridor also serves as a gateway for railroads carrying freight to Midwestern cities such as Detroit and Chicago.

The United States is also investing in rail in Maine. Nate Moulton, director of freight and passenger rail services for the Maine Department of Transportation, said $35 million in public and private funding has been used over the past two years to improve freight capacity on rail lines. from Maine south of Bangor, largely to handle increased shipments from Saint John.

“There’s no question there’s an increase in freight rail traffic in Maine, and that’s going to continue,” Moulton said. “We now have very good train operators. They need equipment, they need fuel, they need crews. This helps us have a robust rail infrastructure in Maine. »

In addition to bringing new jobs to a part of the state that has lost many in recent decades due to the decline of paper mills and other manufacturing businesses, the expansion of freight rail service in Maine has the potential to attract other businesses that want to take advantage of the growing transportation route, Moulton said.

“These are good jobs for Maine,” he said of the impact of increased rail traffic. “A lot of good things are happening.”

State Representative Richard Evans, whose district includes Brownville, stands with Canadian Pacific Railway Supervisor Craig Kuhn during a visit to the company’s rail yard in Brownville Junction in August 2021. Major Railroad Companies Canadian Pacific Railway and CSX are planning or pursuing multi-million dollar upgrades to parts of Maine’s rail network as increased ocean freight shipments to Saint John, New Brunswick bring more freight trains to through Maine. Credit: Photo added

The most recent rail operators to come to Maine are Canadian Pacific and CSX, which have acquired local rail lines in Maine to handle the large volumes of freight crossing the border.

After pulling out of Maine in 1995, Canadian Pacific returned two years ago when it acquired Central Maine and Quebec Railway, expanding its West Coast and Midwest reach to Brownville, Hermon and Searsport. Thanks to an agreement with the Canadian company NBM Railways – which owns tracks that extend east from Brownville through Mattawamkeag and Vanceboro to Saint John – Canadian Pacific has direct access to the cargo port of New -Brunswick.

Earlier this summer, Florida-based CSX acquired Pan Am Railways, extending its reach from Illinois and Florida through New England to Bangor and Mattawamkeag. Prior to the purchase, Pan Am had applied for a federal grant to help defray half of the estimated $42 million cost of rebuilding its line between Waterville and Mattawamkeag, a distance of approximately 110 miles, which will allow the line to carry heavier and longer trains. of Saint John, according to the online trade publication Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports.

Additionally, CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration are splitting the $35 million bill for improvements on its line between Yarmouth and Waterville. The company has yet to begin upgrading the line from Waterville to Bangor to Mattawamkeag, but a CSX spokeswoman said work is expected to begin next year.

Since 2020, Canadian Pacific has spent $90 million upgrading rail lines in Maine and Quebec, and its service from Maine to Saint John has grown significantly, said Andy Cummings, a spokesperson for the company. Due to heavier freight traffic through Maine, the company worked with US border officials to open a new container inspection station in Jackman earlier this year.

Cummings said the railroad also transports Maine forest products to out-of-state customers and is looking for other ways to expand rail service in Maine. She also has jobs to fill in Brownville.

“Global enterprise [in Maine and Quebec] has grown more significantly than we anticipated when we acquired the line,” Cummings said.

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