Friday, November 20, 2009

I asked the State MDOT about Railways (& Trail)

here is a responce I recieved - no author, no date.....

Re: Friday October 23, 2009 Comment Posted to the MaineDOT Rail Plan Website

Dear Mr. Donovan,

Thank you for the comments you posted recently on the MaineDOT Rail Plan Website. Like you, the Maine Department of Transportation’s Office of Freight Transportation is committed to creating an efficient, cohesive rail transportation system throughout the State. Comments like yours are invaluable in helping Department of Transportation work toward achieving its goals.

In your posting, you posited the query “What is the Law?”, regarding the promotion of rail transportation in the State of Maine. The answer is that the State has taken a two prong approach to the promotion of an effective rail transportation system in-state. The first of these prongs is the preservation of the existing rail lines and corridors throughout the State. The second of these prongs is the promotion of future rail service of these preserved rail lines and corridor by private operators. The Legislature has enacted a comprehensive set of statutes in furtherance of these goals.

As a threshold matter, the Legislature’s commitment to effective, efficient rail transportation in Maine is clear from the statements of public policy embedded in the State’s railroad statutes. In the State Railroad Preservation Act, 23 M.R.S.A. §§ 7101 to 7156 (1992 & Supp. 2008), the Legislature proclaimed that “a viable and efficient rail transportation system is necessary to the economic well-being of the State.” 23 M.R.S.A. § 7102. As part of the same Act, the Legislature recognized that “the State must take active steps to protect and promote rail transportation to further the general welfare.” Id. In addition, the Maine Legislature created the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority for the “general purpose of promoting passenger rail service” throughout the State. 23 M.R.S.A. § 8111 (Supp. 2008).

Current Maine law allows for the preservation of rail lines and corridors within the State in a multitude of situations. The Railroad Preservation Act vests in the Department of Transportation the authority to temporarily lease and rail lines and make contracts for the continuation service where preservation of the railroad line is necessary to protect the public interest. 23 M.R.S.A. § 7105(2). The Act also vests the Department with the authority to purchase or lease certain rail lines or corridors, under the right of first refusal, before the termination and/or abandonment of rail service or offer of sale of the rail line. 23 M.R.S.A. § 7105(3)(A). Lastly, the Railroad Preservation Act protects existing railroad rights-of-way from abandonment by providing that the end of railroad service does not mean or infer abandonment of the right-of-way property interest when there is interest in the eventual restoration of rail service by private or public entities. 23 M.R.S.A. § 7105(3)(B). In fact, the Act acknowledges that “it is in the best interests of the State to retain” these railroad rights-of-way “intact”. This is all part of a comprehensive effort by the Legislature to prevent the extensive in-state network of railroad lines for vanishing. In doing so, the Legislature has recognized how daunting the task of replacing these lines in the future would be.

By way of example, the Downeast Sunrise Trail represents a coordinated effort by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Conservation to preserve these unused railroad corridors for future rail use under the statutes identified above. The Downeast Sunrise Trail’s purpose is to permit a limited alternative use for the Calais Branch rail corridor, which the Department believes with benefit the populace and the economies of Hancock and Washington Counties, while preserving its future rail use. Future rail use remains the priority. As you astutely noted in your comments, the Legislature enacted 23 M.R.S.A. § 7108(2) providing that “[t]he Department of Transportation reserves the right to terminate at any time the use of the Calais Branch rail corridor for recreational purposes and to use the Calais Branch rail corridor for railroad purposes.”

The issue then becomes finding private operators to reinstate rail services on these lines. Although the Department of Transportation is plainly in favor of reinstated rail service, it is prohibited by law from operating a railroad. “In no event may the department or any other unit of State Government directly operate a railroad over a railroad acquired under this Chapter. The department may own the railroad line and lease or otherwise contract for its use by a private operator.” 23 M.R.S.A. § 7155. Rather, the State is limited to providing incentives to private entities to reinstate service, such as the Department’s use of the funds from the Railroad Preservation and Assistance Fund to purchase and maintain railroad lines, or the Department use of the Fund to provide financial assistance to short line operators. In fact, the reconditioning of the Calais Branch rail corridor through the Downeast Sunrise Trail project is itself serves as an incentive to private short line operators because it rehabilitated what was in many respects a dilapidated, cost-prohibitive corridor.

In the recent past, the Department has issued requests for proposals for reinstatement from short line operators for reinstatement for railroad service on several rail lines, but these efforts have been largely unsuccessful due to insufficient demand and the costs of reinstating service. However, the Department remains committed to its mission of creating a network of short line operators providing efficient, cohesive rail transportation system throughout the State.

Again, thank you for your comments and your efforts to provide effective, efficient railroad service in Maine.

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