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Momentum grows to bring passenger rail back to Bangor

By Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town

May 21, 2015

It’s been more than 50 years since passenger rail last served the city of Bangor, but today there is growing support to bring it back to our region.

When I proposed a bill to take initial steps toward bringing passenger rail back to Bangor, I knew that expanding service northward would be a unique opportunity to boost our local economy. I also knew that my own family has had great experiences traveling by rail. Though the bill failed to clear its final hurdle this session, the idea has gained incredible momentum that continues to grow.

My bill would have directed the Maine Department of Transportation to analyze the cost and feasibility of extending passenger rail service to Bangor. The first steps in making this idea a reality will be a study of the condition of existing rail lines in the area, research on possible federal and other funding sources and an analysis the potential economic benefits.

The measure was supported by Bangor city officials, who wrote to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee to urge its passage. Many from the surrounding area and even further away also lent the measure their support because they recognize that expanding passenger rail northward is an important economic opportunity with the potential to benefit the entire state.

That’s because ridership grows as service expands. Other cities and towns between Bangor and the current “end of the line” for passenger rail have also expressed their support. Even beyond Bangor, Maine’s tourist destinations would also have the opportunity to build on passenger rail’s expansion.

Since expanding passenger rail service from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick a few years ago, the Amtrak Downeaster’s ridership has exceeded projections by about 50 percent. According to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, about half of these trips are for vacation travel or to events.

In other words, we know people are using passenger rail service when it’s available. We also know they are traveling by rail to attend events and patronize the locally owned businesses that are the backbone of our economy.

Of all the important issues we work on at the State House, some truly strike a chord with the people we represent. My passenger rail bill has been one of those. The response has been overwhelmingly supportive. We have heard from many people – in the Bangor area and all across the state – who believe working to bring passenger rail back to our region takes us in the right direction.

Despite the fate of this particular measure, I am committed to the pursuit of passenger rail expansion. The potential benefits and the outpouring of public support show this is an idea whose time has come.

I will share more information about my work at the State House, as well as the Legislature’s work on the budget, as we move through the final weeks of session. If you would like to receive periodic e-mail updates, please let me know by emailing me at Rep. Dunphy. You can also follow me on Facebook at Rep. Michell Dunphy.

As always, please feel welcome to contact me by email or at 745-3088 with questions or concerns. It is an honor to serve as your representative.

Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, is serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives. She represents Old Town and Indian Island and is a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.