• ex-Maine Central Calais Branch

  • Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.
Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.

Moderator: MEC407

  by PennsyFan
I'm wondering if anyone could tell me what would be involved in restoring operation on the Calais Branch. I'd imagine Maine DOT would be happy to sell/lease to anyone who wanted to restore service. How much would it cost to make the track usable? Are there any former customers who could be persuaded to return to rail? I know that the ex-CPR east of Calais is in use by a shortline called the New Brunswick Southern and interchange would be possible there. If anyone could help me out on this it would be much appreciated.

This line 127 Miles has been abandoned since 1985. There have been many plans to start up operations on this line but none have moved forward. Most of the traffic on this line would come from the Domtar Paper Mill and the LP OSB mill in Baileyville Me. which is now handled by GRS Woodland to Calais branch then forwarded to NBSR at St. Stephen NB to Matawampkeg Me. and back to GRS. There might be a possibility of some sort of rail service from Bangor to Ellsworth or on to Trenton to move passengers and take some of the cars off of the roads to Bar Harbor. Whatever is done will be almost a complete rebuilding of the track and crossings.
  by trainsinmaine
The Calais Branch (Calais Subdivision, more properly) rails have, for the last several years, been nicely kept clear of weeds, bushes and debris. I don't recall whether the work has been done by the State or by railfan volunteers. The section of the line between Dennysville and Calais has been damaged by water from beaver bogs, etc., and I understand whole sections of ballast have been pretty much washed away. As for the rest: the last mile of the line, in Calais proper, was removed in the '90s and turned into a walking/biking trail; many of the crossings between Bangor and Calais have been paved over; and, of course, there would be a great deal of ballasting and tie replacement to be done. I'm not in a position to know what sort of shape the track per se is in. From a layman's standpoint, what I've seen of it looks good but rusted.

All that having been said, I think the line has potential. RRBUFF's aforementioned proposal of passenger service between Bangor and Ellsworth, supplemented by busses to Bar Harbor, would be a tourist draw, as would longer excursions on other parts of the line (especially in the Machias-East Machias area). As he said, this has been talked about but nothing has moved forward. Opportunities for freight business are pretty limited beyond Ellsworth, unless Domtar and some of the blueberry growers were to express an interest in using rail for shipments. (Now, if Eastport ever expands as a port, THAT'S another story!)

The Calais Sub is a beautiful stretch of railroad. I hate to see it lying here as a rusted relic. Worse still, I'd hate to see it abandoned, with the ROW used for yet another rail trail. I have nothing against rail trails, but this is one track worth saving.

  by Cowford
There is NO worthy freight potential on this line. Even if the line was to be reactivated, GRS would most likely continue to route Calais area tonnage via McAdam/Keag. If Eastport ever arose from the grave (it's a shame the planned refinery was never built there years ago), the traffic could be just as easily routed via the NBS connection... of course they'd have to put back in place the Eastport branch.
  by PennsyFan
Thank you all very much for your help.

  by caboose
Does anyone know who is keeping the line clear of brush and other material? :)
I think the State fo Maine DOT has provided the weed control and brush cutting. Beside being a abandoned rail line it is now listed as the Calais Rail Trail. The Trail part of the program has never progressed very far so its just a rail line open for hiking and snowmobile Xcountry skiing etc. As the ties are still in ATVs are in for a bumpy ride, but use the trail in some locations. There is also a group in the Ellsworth area that does some maintanence on the line for section car use.

  by Pacobell73
Any news of late?

There is nothing new to report. The line is still in limbo since 1985.

  by Tom Testa
The Calais Branch has many firends. In the mid 90's Peter Dearness of the New England Southern Railroad began negotiations with the State of Maine to operate freight on the line. During that time he began to clear brush and open the line up. Until that time there had been no maintanence on the line since it's abandonment in 1985. They cleared some 90 miles of the lines 126 miles. Mr. Dearness's negotiations with the state fell through in the late 90's, but work on the line by volunteers still continued, including Dearness. All hoping that someday the obvious will be seen and the line reopened.

NARCOA members joined in and have assisted over the years in keeping the line open during visits several times of the year. In the late 90's State Reprensentative Eddie Dugay, D-Cherryfield secured $500,000 for MaineDOT to use toward custodial maintanence of the line.

MaineDOT, along with NARCOA volunteers have kept the line in about the best shape it could with the limited funds which have just about run out.
MaineDOT sprays on a two year cycle. The western end being done last year and the eastern end scheduled for this spring.

The Calais Branch is currently under an assault which began 10 years ago by trail proponents. The Sunrise Trail Coalition has been gathering support from state legislators and the governor to take up the rails and make it part of the East Coast Greenway. The ECG is a non-motorized only use and when they realized that they did not have enough support they began touting it as an economic benenfit. They then cozied up to the ATVers to bring in more support. Now they are collectively proposing a multi-use trail. They have enlisted the help of Senator Dennis Damon D-Trenton and Co-Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation to put forth a Multi-Use Trail Bond for $5M presumably to be used to convert the Calais Branch. They like to say they can get federal money, but not for motorized use. So who is driving this and what do they know?
No one seems to know where they are on all this other than thinking as well that the rail scrap will provide some huge windfall. Their goal at the moment seems to be just to get the rail up and then they will fight about the rest of it.

Senator Damon was a long time rail supporter until just before the fall elections of 2004, when he had a sudden change of heart. Funny how that always happens at those times when the number of trail supporters are counted versus the number or rail supporters.

As a longtime businessman in Bar Harbor I know the seasonal tourist market. We are simply too far north and with a very short season any economic benefit they tout is small, very small. This is simply local ATVers who want a new place to play, and that will get boring after the 5th ride, as we all know. We do not have the population base nor even the tourist base over a long enough period who is predisposed to be engaged in these types of activities to have any serious level of use.

Even snwomobile use in Down East Maine is sporadic. We do not have a consistent enough snow cover year in and year out to build any type of predictable trade in that. This year was pretty good, last year was bare as is all too often the case.

So the bikers and the ATVers will get a toy and then they have to fight over who will use it. They have no plans of how to maintain it other than looking back to the state or local municipalities, neither of which has any money, Maine is now borrowing $450M just to fund its budget.

Freight use is a possibility. There are businesses that are feeling the pinch of trucking costs, road congestion and delivery problems. On line commodities are aggregates, pulp, bio-mass material, lumber, heating oil, and fertilizer. Eastport sits there as a world class deep water port with no rail connection. The best near term use would be excursion rail in the Ellsworth area with its high visibility and high tourist traffic count. It would be something to build upon to show the line has viability. The rail is 85 lbs. needs tie work, realignment, some rail replacement and ballasting, and yes the grade crossings are buried.

A trail comes at the expense of the people of Hancock and Washington County's future and any hopes that rail can help revitalize a devastated economy, especially in Washington County. It would be a shame to see this great asset for future economic benefit wasted, but it appears that is what could to happen.

Tom Testa-A long time friend of the Calais Branch

Good reply Tom. As long as the rail is in place there is a possibility of renewed Rail service. With the closure of the LP OSB mill in Woodland,and the limited use by Domtar of the Calais to Woodland line, they basically just use rail now for chemicals, the future of this line may be downhill. Domtar now ships most of its pulp by truck to their mill in Kingston Ontario. There is only one boxcar in the yard today.

  by bwparker1
Nice update Tom .

I say just put a trail next to it if they are so hell bent on a rail trail, similar to what folks want to do with the MEC Mountain Sub up through Freyburg, which is build parallel to the original rails still in place.

There is no such thing as a multi use ATV trail, we have one of those here in PA http://www.ssrt.org/ and you're nutz to set foot or bike on it against ATV'ers. They are in general rude and not very happy to have you on "their" trial even though all are supposed to be allowed to use it. There are a few very mice and respectful users but they are the expcetion to the rule.

I hope that the rails can stay in place long enough for someone to create a viable return to service.

Thankfully the State owns it.


Former resident of Freeport, Maine and frequenter of Down East areas (Machias, Bar Harbor, etc.)


  by Trains
Back in August, the Ellsworth American published a series regarding this branch. I remember one of the articles was about a group of people who rode speeders along the line to clear out culverts, cut back brush, etc. Downeast Magazine published something similar as well over the summer. So if anyone keeps back issues of the Ellsworth American they probably can fill you in even more.

  by Cowford
I'd be surprised- no, shocked- if the Calais branch EVER returned to service. Maybe... maybe... small section(s) for a tourist train. There is simply no relevant freight potential on the line.

That line's been dormant for so long and wasn't in good shape even when the Maine Central operated it. I vote for ripping up the line and using the proceeds to convert it into a first class rail trail. And why not? If it was ever reopened for freight, the line would have to be rebuilt from the roadbed up, anyway.