The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, Serving Northern Maine
The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad was a company synonymous with the State
of Maine as all of the railroad's trackage was found within its
borders. The BAR, as it was also known, is a relatively recent fallen flag considering that most disappeared decades ago. After the railroad lost
a major part of its overall potato business in the late 1960s,
the result of Penn Central’s horrific service, it struggled to make ends meet. After a number
of acquisitions and attempting to survive on the remaining paper and
lumber business of northern Maine its owner by 2003 (Iron Road Railways)
declared the railroad bankrupt and its lines were sold off to Rail World, Inc. and the company renamed the new railroad the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway which later went bankrupt becoming the Central Maine & Quebec.
Bangor & Aroostook GP7 #64 and GP9 #76, each carrying a different livery of the railroad, roll northbound through Smyrna Mills, Maine on June 21, 1978.
The BAR was never a large railroad, consisting of less
than a 1,000 miles at its peak size. During its final years the road operated just over 800 miles after being acquired by Iron Road
The railroad was also late to the game being chartered in February of 1891 to
build from Brownsville, Maine north to Caribou. Interestingly, the
reason for the railroad’s creation was the very business that the company
survived on throughout its existence, potatoes and timber. Being that Maine was still extremely isolated even by the late 19th century
(so much so that for a very long time the northern areas of the state did not have
adequate highways and other important infrastructure), the BAR earned healthy profits for many years on this business. One
of its largest customers, Great Northern Paper, would supply the Bangor & Aroostook with business for decades and would be the driving force behind it gaining its one and only port connection along Penobscot
Bay in the early 1900s (Searsport and Cape Jellison).
Throughout the years the railroad's traffic base remained relatively unchanged hauling timber,
coal (early on for the paper mill operations), and potatoes to either
port or connections with other railroads (notably the Maine Central, Canadian Pacific, and Canadian National). Along with this the BAR operated a small fleet of
passenger trains between Bangor and northern points (aside from this the
rest of the railroad’s passenger operations were with mixed freights or
local runs), the most famous two being the Aroostook Flyer and Potatoland Special. While it dabbled with streamlining in later years because the
BAR operated such a small system and served rather
unpopulated areas when compared to other, larger railroads it did not
spend heavily on the concept, or passenger operations altogether for
that matter. Instead, the company focused on its core freight business and by
the early 1960s the had dropped passenger operations entirely with the Potatoland making its last run on September 4, 1961.
The little railroad found in the northern, virtually unknown and
unheard of areas of Maine surprisingly found itself in a pop star
role beginning in 1950 with a new freight service it initiated. That year the
BAR decided to build a fleet of 500 insulated
refrigerator cars (known as refers, the railroad needed these cars to
keep their potato shipments at a constant 40 degrees Fahrenheit while en
route to market) and painted them in a striking and eye-catching Americana scheme of red, white, and blue with STATE OF MAINE PRODUCTS
proudly adorning the cars’ flanks. Their celebrity status was result of their operating all across the country when leased out to railroads and companies
for use during the months when the BAR did not need them.
The rain is coming down hard during a summer day in late June of 1978 as a GP7, three BL2s, and an F3A lead a freight south at Island Falls, Maine.
As the 1960s progressed things slowly went downhill for the railroad.
During this time with highways and interstates ever-expanding trucks began to slowly eat into the BAR’s lucrative potato
business. Essentially it was one of the railroad’s primary sources of revenue and freight, which
would be lost during the end of the 1960s
when the Penn Central’s service was so bad that an entire
season’s crop rotted in transit after becoming lost in the PC’s Selkirk
Yard in New York. What resulted was not only lost profits for the BAR
but also many of the farms themselves, which went out of business soon after
the service collapse. For those that remained, most elected to stop shipping by rail ever again.
Some of the BAR's newer power is seen here, three GP38s, which power a freight through Millinocket, Maine on August 4, 1981.
This loss of business would begin the path to the BAR’s eventual end
in 2003. While it continued to serve paper mills it struggled to make
ends meet and was purchased by the Amoskeag Corporation, the same
year of the PC disaster, 1969. In the early 1990s the railroad’s
ownership changed again when its final owner, Iron Road Railways,
purchased the company. Never truly recovering from its potato loss the Bangor
and Aroostook continued to slump under Iron Road Railways. Unfortunately, when
the paper mills it served could no longer support the railroad
financially its owner elected to file the BAR for bankruptcy
in the early 2000s, selling off its property to Rail World, Inc. in
2003 which renamed the route as the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic
Railway. For more reading about the history of the Bangor & Aroostook please click here.
Clad in the Bangor & Aroostook's all blue livery, BL2 #56 rests at the yard in Oakfield on June 22, 1978.
With this sale the BAR ended an interesting history of Maine
railroading that had carried on for over 110 years. Since the MM&A takeover the former BAR system has again been sold to new operator Central Maine & Quebec Railway, a Fortress Investment Group property. The MM&A experienced a horrific derailment during the summer of 2013 that witnessed an oil train exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec killing dozens of people. The succeeding lawsuits, cleanup, and other expenses related to the disaster forced the railroad into bankruptcy and its assets were acquired by today's CM&A which began operations during the spring of 2014.