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Train service between Portland, Lewiston-Auburn picks up steam

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Train service between Portland, Lewiston-Auburn picks up steam

PORTLAND — City councilors Monday unanimously passed a resolution for renewed study of public transit, including possible rail service, to the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Their counterparts in Lewiston and Auburn may be getting on board with the idea, too.

The resolution directs city staff to continue research into a proposed transit link, in collaboration with officials from Lewiston, Auburn, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center.

The state Department of Transportation has been looking for several years at options to reduce traffic congestion north of Portland, including bus and train service. The state released a preliminary feasibility study on the concept in 2011.

The proposed new study would seek funding from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts and Small Starts programs, which has recently broadened eligibility standards, according to the resolution.

"I think this is a great step forward," said Tony Donovan, founder and president of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition. "I give it my unqualified support."

The resolution also calls for Portland, Lewiston and Auburn to explore a range of common issues related to transportation.

"The municipalities of the Portland and the Lewiston-Auburn regions view this study as part of a broader collaboration where communities can assist each other in addressing commuting, employment and other sustainable practices that enhance the livability of all three communities," the resolution said.

While the Portland City Council endorsed those words wholeheartedly at its meeting Monday, it wasn't immediately clear when or if their counterparts in Lewiston or Auburn will follow suit.

The councils of both cities were scheduled to hold regular meetings this week, but the transit study did not appear on the agenda of either one. However, Auburn councilors agreed to vote on a similar resolution at a future meeting.

Like the extension of Amtrak's Downeaster train service to Brunswick, the idea of restoring rail service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn has captured much recent attention. In August, a national Realtors group granted $15,000 to fund further study of the proposal. And last month, the Sierra Club sponsored a public meeting on the subject.

For more than 100 years, passenger trains ran from the Grand Trunk building at the foot of India Street to Lewiston-Auburn, a 29-mile trip that was part of a longer route to Montreal. The service was discontinued in the 1960s.

Scott Taylor of the Sun Journal in Lewiston contributed to this report. William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.