I appreciate the enthusiasm of the rails-to-trails advocates (“Rails, trails or both? State officials urged to do something with unused Augusta-to-Brunswick rail corridor,” Dec. 2). Trails are great, people can go out and get some fresh air and exercise. But the reality is that if someone is older or perhaps just not inclined to walk or bike for miles on end, they are not served by the trail.

What caught my attention was this line, attributed to Gay Grant of Gardiner: “We’re interested in what’s the best economic driver for our communities, if that’s rail service, then show me the numbers. If it’s trails, I think there already are numbers to indicate the benefits of that.”

I guess I would like to see those numbers. The numbers I do see are: “Estimates from 2015 put the cost of building the proposed Merrymeeting Trail on the corridor between Gardiner and Topsham alongside the existing rails at around $50 million.”

Fifty million dollars is a large amount of money for something from which only one segment of the population will benefit.

I do not have any numbers, but I can give some anecdotal evidence. A few years back, Maine Eastern was running an excursion train on the 56-mile line between Brunswick and Rockland. My partner and I took it a few times. There were quite a few people, young and old, enjoying a very scenic and relaxing trip. We went to Rockland, ate in the restaurants, shopped at the shops, spent the night in a hotel and enjoyed the return trip the next day.

During one of the Rockland trips, we talked to one couple from Europe who had come to the U.S. to do various rail excursions. They were older and the train afforded them an easy, comfortable and scenic way to visit Rockland and spread the wealth around. I would guess that the amount of economic activity generated from the train far outweighed the subsidy that it took to keep it running.


The trail folk would say that they should tear that line up and make it a trail. Well, I can tell you with some certainty that at 64 years old, I would not be up for walking 56 miles so I could eat, shop and sleep, then turn around the next day and walk back. Nor would I run or ride a bike and, quite frankly, I won’t even drive to Rockland because the trip is stressful and not fun, which is not how I like to start a relaxing visit to a quaint town.

If there were passenger rail service to Augusta, Rockland and/or Bangor, as there is to Boston, we would consider visiting those cities. Again, we are older, and the idea of spending three or four hours in highway traffic, which has increasingly grown heavier and more aggressive, has lost its appeal.

Maine is an aging state, and we do not believe we are the only ones who feel that way. We just do not have the “voice” of the trail folks.

Nationwide freight service is another very important reason to support railroads. Each rail car takes three to four tractor-trailers off the road – good for the environment and traffic. Better public transportation would help our aging population get medical care and other services without having to drive. Personally speaking, my vision is failing, and I don’t drive anywhere unless I absolutely must.

In general, mass transit is a needed piece of fighting climate change, and while our country is desperately behind other parts of the world, we feel confident we can and should catch up. Let’s not start by tearing up existing infrastructure to support one small segment of the population.

Comments are no longer available on this story