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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of rail system would work in Maine?
    • Maine’s rail system ideally needs to be safe, cost-effective and fully integrated with the state and regional transportation network of roads, seaports and airports. Although freight rail service has a long tradition of private ownership, economic conditions of the past several decades have led to state and federal involvement in freight rail – the state of Maine now owns over 325 miles of former freight lines – 100+ miles of which are currently in operation.
    • Maine’s passenger rail system must also be safe, cost-effective and fully integrated with the state and regional transportation network. NNEPRA has successfully initiated and maintained the Downeaster service for 7 years – and is engaged in a planned and coordinated effort to expand the service north of Portland. The Downeaster service traverses the federally designated Northern New England High Speed rail corridor and planned improvements to the current intercity passenger rail service are viewed as incremental progress toward implementation of a true high speed rail system.
  • How do we define a “successful” freight or passenger rail system?
    • A successful freight rail system is one that provides essential freight services to Maine-based industries and businesses in an economical and safe manner. By economical, we mean it must generate sufficient revenue to maintain the track and equipment needed to provide the required services to pay its employees and make a profit.
    • A successful passenger rail system is one that provides a safe and comfortable passenger rail service environment connecting persons to places they might not otherwise be able to travel to and doing so in a manner that time competitive with automobile travel. It provides improved mobility for residents and visitors within the state, and connectivity to the national passenger rail and intercity highway networks. It is expected that some level of public support is required for this service as fare revenue cannot provide adequate capitol for the operation and maintenance of most U.S. based passenger rail networks.
  • How are freight rail improvements funded?
    • Generally freight rail improvements are funded from revenues generated by the operating railroad in the course of conducting its business operations. However, there are circumstances in which public benefits may be realized from making a freight rail improvement that is not within the normal capacity of the railroads – therefore a form of public-private partnership may be appropriate. An example of this in Maine is the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP), which since its inception in 1997 has provided about $5M in matching funds to develop sidings, switches, and other rail infrastructure needed to enhance freight rail service to Maine businesses.
  • How are passenger rail improvements funded?
    • Passenger rail service is a public responsibility. Just as highways, local transit and airports receive public financial support for their construction, operations and maintenance, so too must passenger rail receive a share of pubic investment. Fares generally provide 30% to 40% of the financial requirements for operations and maintenance of passenger rail systems – with the balance coming from local, state and federal funds.
  • What do we need to do in order to have successful passenger or freight rail service in our community?
    • For a successful freight rail service there needs to be adequate freight generated (or received) to cover operational, maintenance and infrastructure costs plus a profit, and railroad infrastructure capacity and frequency of service to meet the requirements of the shipper/consignee.
    • For a successful passenger rail service there needs to be sufficient density of riders and destinations that people want to travel to on a frequent basis. Many rural states such as Maine have operated successful passenger rail operations in concert with Amtrak and local or state agencies in more densely populated areas. As a general rule though rail service should be reasonably competitive with automobile driving times in order to be successful. While high speed, frequent rail service in a few corridors nationwide may be able to compete with air travel times, in most cases the alternative to rail travel is to drive.
  • What freight moves on rail and what is the economic impact of freight rail?
    • Rail freight is generally heavy, high volume commodities that move long distances. Coal, stone and lumber products are typical freight rail commodities. However, with the advent of containers on rail cars (intermodal or multimodal services) many consumer goods are now moved by rail. In Maine the major rail commodities are: paper products, lumber and other forest products, chemicals used in the paper industry, gravel and other aggregates, fuels (oil and gas) and consumer goods.
  • What is the fuel efficiency of moving goods via rail versus truck?
    • As noted by the American Association of Railroads
      • Railroads move a ton of freight an average of 436 miles on one gallon of gas
      • From 1987 to 2007, freight railroads improved their fuel efficiency by 85%.
      • A single freight train can take 280 or more trucks off of Maine’s highways.
      • If all the freight that traveled through Maine in 2007 had moved by truck instead of rail, another 373,964 trucks would have traveled on Maine’s roadways.
  • What is the impact of truck size and weight legislation on the rail industry?
    • The rail and trucking industry work hand in hand in providing essential freight services throughout North America. At the same time they also compete for some business lines, and heavier trucks directly compete with traditional railroad markets such as rolled paper and construction materials. MaineDOT supports raising the truck weight limit on the interstate to 100,000 lbs as it would benefit all Maine businesses and in particular in those regions that have no other viable options.
  • How could the Maine rail network improve our economy?
    • Maine’s rail network has been an essential part of the growth of the state’s economy for over 125 years. The potatoes and paper industries have long been the mainstay of freight railroading in the state, but changes in those industries have impacted the vitality of Maine railroads today. A vibrant, strong and interconnected freight railroad system will continue to assure that Maine goods required to sustain and grow the economy will have sufficient and cost-effective mobility options needed to reach their target markets.
  • What is the risk of investing in rail?
    • Railroads are capital intensive industries – and are subject to fluctuations in the market place. The economic success of the railroad industry is based on volume, so when volumes decline, unit cost go up. In turn, this can make rail uncompetitive with other modes of transportation.
  • What is the risk of not investing in rail?
    • Without a strong and vibrant passenger and rail freight system, a state or region faces the prospect of becoming less competitive in the national and global marketplace – of having increased costs for moving goods and persons into and out of the region – and cementing a reliance on the already dominant trucking and automobile modes of transport. Additionally, increased roadway congestion, roadway maintenance and repair and air pollution are likely to result from a lack of investment in rail.
  • How will the Maine Rail network connect to the national rail network?
    • Maine’s regional and local carriers have connectivity to the major North American Class I railroads – Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX.
  • What can qualify as a rail stimulus project?
    • Projects that provide a quick infusion of funds to construct needed improvements or capacity expansion, support a growth of jobs and economic activity, are strategically sound and can move forward quickly.
  • How do I get more information about railroads?
    • For further information on freight and passenger rail, please refer to the weblinks tab provided on the Maine State Rail Plan project website.


This page last updated on 11/19/09