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Rail News: Passenger Rail

STB overrules Guilford's latest attempt to prevent Amtrak Boston-to-Portland service

In its long and arduous battle — sometimes bordering on the absurd — to restore service between Boston and Portland, Maine, Amtrak has taken another step closer, courtesy of Surface Transportation Board.

STB Chairman Linda Morgan June 29 announced that Guilford Rail System must allow Amtrak to test Guilford’s track to determine whether it would be safe to operate passenger trains at 79 mph over certain routes between Plaistow, N.H., and Portland, Maine.

TrainRiders Northeast, a citizens group, lobbied to get a law passed in 1991 directing the state to restore train travel to northern New England after a more than 30-year absence. In 1995, the 117th Maine legislature formed Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority for the sole purpose of reinstating passenger rail service in and around Maine.

"It’s been an uphill battle all the way," says Wayne Davis, TrainRiders Northeast chairman. "We were promised the trains in 1993 and we’ve been going in six-month increments ever since."

Disputes between Amtrak and the freight railroad have continued for several years, and resulted in STB rulings in May 1998 and October 1999.

In 1999, Guilford argued that 132-pound rail would be necessary to operate 79 mph trains; STB ruled that 115-pound rail was sufficient, as long as the track was upgraded to certain criteria and maintained according to Federal Railroad Administration safety standards. Guilford’s argument then morphed into a dispute about whether and how Amtrak would be allowed to enter Guilford’s system to test the track to verify it met the engineering criteria.

STB determined that a Track Loading Vehicle (TLV), developed by Transportation Technology Center Inc., could run over the line at very slow speeds for two days checking for spots where additional support might be required. On a third day, the TLV would measure the locations to ensure the track met the prescribed criteria. STB further decided that a single engineering test, followed by regular inspection, should be all that would be needed.

Guilford responded by criticizing the testing methodology and argued that STB should require repeated testing. STB held firm in its decision.

Guilford also argued that the testing itself would be unreasonably burdensome and disruptive. Again, STB disagreed, noting that Amtrak would compensate Guilford for all costs incurred relative to the testing, and ordered Guilford to allow Amtrak access to the line so that testing may begin.

With STB’s most recent decision in hand, Amtrak plans to run geometry cars July 8. The TLVs will take about two to three weeks to get from TTCI in Colorado to Maine.

Although TrainRiders Northeast members had hoped to inaugurate Downeaster Boston-to-Portland service on Amtrak’s 30th anniversary May 1, Davis now says he’d be surprised to see service by mid-August or early September.

"We take one day at a time," he says, "knowing the entire transcontinental railroad was built in less time."

Kathi Kube

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/5/2001