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Home >Railroad Information >History of Railroading in Maine

History of Railroading in Maine

Railroad technology was first developed in Great Britain, and included Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive of 1804 and George Stevenson's locomotive "Rocket" of 1829. The first railroad companies in Maine were chartered in 1832 and 1833, and, after some initial difficulties, the first trackage was completed in 1836 by the Bangor & Piscataquis Canal & Railroad from Bangor to Old Town. This became the second railroad in New England after the Boston & Lowell Railroad, which began operations in 1835.

After a century of expansion, little work was done to enlarge the rail network in Maine. The peak year of railroad mileage in the country was in 1920, and in Maine in 1924, with approximately 2,380 miles. From the 1920's onward, the abandonment, and in most cases, the removal, of track were the norm in Maine. A line was built to connect the South Portland shipyard to rail early in World War II. Not until the 1970's, 80's, and 90's was any more new significant work done on Maine's railroads. Interestingly, American railroads today carry more freight than was moved in the first Golden Age of railroading.

Aroostook Valley Railroad

The construction of the Aroostook Valley Railroad (AVR) began in 1909 with a line from Washburn to Presque Isle, and was operational in June 1910. In following years, branch lines were constructed in New Sweden, Carson, and Caribou. The financing of the AVR was done through the issuance of stocks and bonds which were paid off in 1952.

In its prime years, the AVR owned 31.99 miles of mainline track. Normal operations called for a train to make one round trip per day between Presque Isle and Caribou. It was eventually abandoned and closed up in early 1996.

Bangor & Aroostook Railroad/Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway

In 1864, a group of businessmen from Bangor obtained a charter from the state of Maine to construct a railroad from Bangor to Moosehead Lake. The first president of the line was Hannibal Hamlin. In 1868, the state of Maine granted 75,000 acres to the company for the construction of the railroad.

In 1891, the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (BAR) was incorporated as it combined the Bangor & Piscataquis Railroad and the Bangor & Katahdin Railroad. In 1893, a BAR train operated to Houlton. One year later, the main line reached Caribou and the branch to Fort Fairfield was completed. By 1905, connections were made to Patten, Limestone, Ashland, and Van Buren. Also in that year, the railroad extended to the deepwater port of Searsport.

The pulp and paper industry is the primary source of traffic for the BAR. Other major sources of traffic are: potatoes, petroleum, mill products, and chemicals. In 1995, Iron Road Railways bought the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad. In 2002, after bankruptcy, the BAR was bought by Rail World, Inc. The name of the BAR was changed to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad

The Belfast & Moosehead Lake (BM&L) Railroad was founded in 1867 and became operational in 1870. Maine Central Railroad operated the line for 54 years until it reverted back to the city of Belfast in 1926. Passenger service was a vital part of the line's operation and continued to be so until insurance rates and the decline of passengers forced its discontinuance in March of 1960.

The Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad operates 33.07 miles of railroad between Belfast and Burnham Junction, Maine. In 1973, some 3,516 railcars were handled on the rail line. A study that same year showed that in 1973 there were 32 firms that used the B&ML Railroad.

Since the mid-1980's, excursion trains have been the primary traffic on this line.

Boston & Maine Railroad

The Boston & Maine's origins go back to the earliest days of railroading in New England. The Boston & Lowell and the Andover & Haverhill Railroads extended rail service to the Maine border in South Berwick by 1843. The Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railroad was formed to build a railroad from Portland to South Berwick in 1842. This connected with the Boston & Maine in South Berwick. In 1887, Boston & Maine purchased the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railroad. In 1965, the Boston & Maine's extensive passenger service from Boston to Portland was abandoned.

The Boston & Maine Railroad operated 42.81 road miles in the state of Maine. All of their lines were operated in York and Cumberland counties. In 1973, there were six through trains per day and 309 firms utilizing the Boston & Maine service.

Maine Central Railroad

The Maine Central Railroad Company was organized in October, 1862 in Waterville. The main line from Waterville to Portland via Augusta and Brunswick, known as the Lower Road, was purchased in 1870. In the same year, Maine Central acquired railroad from Augusta to Skowhegan, now known as the Skowhegan branch. In 1871, Maine Central acquired rail line from Brunswick to Lewiston and from Leeds Junction to Farmington. In 1883, it then acquired the rail line from Bucksport to Bangor, which is now known as the Bucksport branch. The line from Bangor to Mattawamkeag was purchased in 1955.

What is now known as the Calais Branch between Bangor and Calais was originally built in 1832 with wooden rails and horse drawn power. This was the first railroad built in the state of Maine. Guilford Transportation Industries (GTI) acquired Maine Central Railroad and the Boston & Maine Railroad in the early 1980's. 

St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad/ Canadian National Railroad

In 1843, John A. Poor of Portland advocated building a railway from Montreal to Portland in conjunction with a railroad through Maine east to Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. This resulted in the formation of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad in Maine which is today known as the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad. The railroad was opened for traffic on July 18, 1853 and was taken over by the Grand Trunk the same year.

At Portland, the Grand Trunk developed extensive port facilities including two grain elevators, and established a connection with the Boston & Maine railroad which ran from Portland to Boston. The major source of tonnage was the export and import of Canadian traffic at Portland. However, after 1933, tonnage at Portland dropped dramatically as Canada's policy of favoring their own ports became more pronounced.

During the period 1960 through 1974, a number of fires destroyed most of the railroad's waterfront facilities and the last grain elevator was dismantled. A portion of this waterfront property was then sold to the state of Maine and is the current site of Port of Portland. This railroad is currently affiliated with the Canadian National railroad and runs through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec. In October 1994, a rail/truck intermodal facility was opened in Auburn with the help of the Maine Dept. of Transportation. The St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad is affiliated with the Canadian National  Railroad, and runs from Portland to Montreal, Canada.

Maine Eastern Railroad

MaineDOT has returned 90 miles of that trackage to active operation (Brunswick to Rockland and Augusta) through a lease and operating agreement with Maine Eastern Railroad (a subsidiary of the Morristown & Erie Railroad) in the fall of 2003. Maine Coast Railroad provided freight and excursion service from 1991-2000.  Safe Handling Rail provided service from 2001-2003. 

Eastern Maine Railway

Eastern Maine Railway, a subsidiary of the Irving Group, operates on trackage between Brownville and Vanceboro. Canadian American Rairoad operates trackage from Brownville to the Quebec border and beyond. The entire line, part of trackage running from St. John, NB to Montreal, was constructed in the 1880's by Canadian Pacific, Ltd. CP divested all lines east of Montreal in the 1990's.


This page last updated on 4/15/14