Maine Railroads And Railfanning In "The Pine Tree State"

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Maine for the past 170+ years have been defined by two things, timber products and potatoes. Our most northern state is sometimes forgotten for its railroads. However, not only are the lines which operated in Maine "classic" fallen flags today but they also played a very important role throughout the years moving the state's biggest sources of traffic, agriculture and timber. Today, the Pine Tree State has no Class I railroads operating within its borders (Amtrak, however, does serve the state) although in years past it was home to two well-known railroads, one of which was named after the state itself. Additionally, a few larger Class II, regionals and a handful of short lines also find a home in Maine and remain important transportation arteries for the state (so much so that Maine purchased a large section of former Bangor & Aroostook property in 2010 to save it from abandonment).

Maine railroads date back to 1836 when the Bangor & Piscataquis Canal and Railroad opened between Bangor and Old Town, a distance of about 12 miles. The railroad was constructed primarily to haul timber products and would go on to be joined with the Bangor and Katahdin Railroad in 1891 to form one of Maine's most remembered railroads, the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (also referred to by its initials, the BAR). The Bangor & Aroostook wasn't the only classic line to tap Maine's rich resources. Others included the Boston & Maine (which reached Portland) and Maine Central (a major competitor of the BAR, it served much of southern Maine and stretched as far west as St. Johnsbury, Vermont).  Aside from these lines Maine also boasted numerous narrow-gauge logging lines, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In any event, to learn more about Maine's three most notable railroads please visit the below links covering their history in more detail:

Today, Maine is the the realm of regional and shortline railroads only. The most notable of these are Pan Am Railways, which took over the operations of Guilford (which owned the B&M and Maine Central Railroad); the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway, which operates the former Grand Trunk; and the Central Maine & Quebec Railway, which operates much of the original BAR system. The rest is operated by other short lines including the Maine Eastern Railroad (operated by Morristown & Erie), Eastern Maine Railroad (yes, the two aforementioned lines are different owned and operated companies), New Hampshire Northcoast Corporation, and Turners Island, LLC (a small terminal railroad).

In all this totals over 1,000 miles of active railroad in Maine although at one time the state was home to over 2,000 miles of trackage. Overall, the state has lost about 50% of its total mileage since the peak of rail operations across the country in the 1920s. This decline is about average as many states have witnessed similar losses to their rail infrastructure.  Today, passenger trains are operated by Amtrak and includes only the Downeaster although this train continues to gain support and ridership and is becoming increasingly popular. Currently the train serves three stops in Maine; Portland, Saco, and Wells. Historically, Maine was never known for famous trains passing through its countryside. However, the Maine Central did have the Flying Yankee and the Boston & Maine's State of Maine, which were more regional in nature.

Passenger and freight trains aside Maine also offers several railroad museums and excursion trains like the popular Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company, which currently operates one live steamer and plans to restore another to operation. Others include the Boothbay Railway Village, Cole Land Transportation Museum, Oakfield Railroad Museum, Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad, Seashore Trolley Museum, the Maine Eastern Railroad (which also offers excursion trains), and the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum (a relatively new narrow-gauge operation which has restored part of this logging/timber line).  All in all, Maine railroads offer a unique experience with rugged, mountainous operations in interior northern areas of the state and coastal operations to the south. So, if you are planning a visit to the Pine Tree State to see its railroads you certainly shouldn't be disappointed!

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