WATERVILLE — A city councilor-sponsored resolution to explore bringing passenger rail service back to the city after 55 years got solid support Tuesday night from the public, rail enthusiasts and other councilors.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the resolution, which says the city expresses serious intent to explore the advantages, economic possibilities and stimulus that passenger rail would bring to the region.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, D-Ward 4, who sponsored the resolution, said passenger rail service to Waterville presents an economic development opportunity and the city needs to show it is very serious about studying it. The Augusta City Council approved a similar resolution in December, and the city of Bangor also has registered interest, he said.

The Waterville resolution, he said, replaces a similar resolution the council passed in 2002.

“We are in a new era,” he said. “We have new hope. It’s still a very long process.”

Mayhew invited several speakers to the meeting to discuss the perks of having passenger rail here.

Jack Sutton, past president of the Maine Rail Group Inc., which works to enhance rail services in the state and all of New England, said his group, founded in 1988, was successful in helping to save the former Maine Central Railroad’s “lower road” main line between Augusta and Brunswick from being taken up after it was abandoned by the former Guilford Rail.

“Our group has long been interested in passenger rail possibly coming up the line as far as Bangor,” he said. “We realize there’s a lot to that.”

He said it is important in exploring passenger service for Waterville and Augusta that people consider integrating it with existing service to Brunswick, Portland and Boston. Brunswick, he said, is hampered because it has only two trains a day, each way.

“Is that going to be enough for Waterville?” he asked.

A lot of aspects must be considered, such as what type of equipment is needed and whether it should be new, Sutton said. Location for a train station also is critical, he said. Sutton said he believes Brunswick was chosen for passenger rail service because those advocating for it had all those questions answered.

“They were, essentially, first in line when federal funding became available,” he said. “The more homework that’s done, the better the chances of winning funding for planning and implementation.’

He also advised the council to encourage and engage public interest in the proposal.

Richard Rudolf, a member of Maine Rail Group’s board of directors and chairman of Rail Users Network, a national group, said he thought it was great Waterville is considering passenger rail service. Some of the naysayers would argue that not many people would ride the train, but Maine has a lot of older people who prefer to ride rather than drive, he said.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be driving a car when I’m 90 years old, so we need to think about social mobility,” he said.

Rudolf said if passenger rail comes to the city, people will ride.

“A good example of that is the Downeaster,” he said.

Like Sutton, Rudolf urged getting the public involved in rallying for passenger rail. He recommended creating a committee made up of elected officials, business people, state legislators and others to help do the heavy lifting, as it will take several years to accomplish.

“I would just urge you to keep in mind that ultimately there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s important work that I think will ultimately be successful.”

Waterville resident David Solmitz stood to say he supports passenger rail coming to Waterville. He said he frequently travels to Boston and traffic congestion in Boston is terrible — and parking costly. Traffic on Interstate 95 between Augusta and Waterville also is heavy at certain times of day. He said he has often traveled in Europe and used trains, and the U.S. is behind in that respect.

Keith Luke, manager of the economic development program in Augusta, said he thinks a statewide study of passenger rail should be undertaken. Waterville resident Jibryne Karter praised Mayhew for his efforts to draw attention to passenger rail service.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I certainly support it, so thank you very much for your work on the project.”

Resident Nancy Williams said she advocates high speed rail and motioned to the rail group officials, saying, “I’d love to help you gentlemen in any way that I can.”

Planning Board member Scott Workman urged the council to pass the resolution.

“The economic development potential of rail is really high,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s high speed or average speed.”

Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said she was pretty sure no one in the room needed to be swayed about the issue. Signing the resolution, she said, is an important “baby step.” Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, recalled taking trains when she was a child and her family would go to Lewiston or Portland to shop.

Mayor Nick Isgro had the last word on the proposal, saying, “Well, let’s pass it.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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