BATH, Maine — The first stage of what Midcoast Railservice President Mike Smith says is a “sequential laboratory experiment” he expects to culminate in scheduled passenger service between Rockland and Brunswick, Maine, is set to begin this weekend at Bath Heritage Days.
On display at Bath, about 9 miles from the Brunswick terminus of Amtrak Downeasters runs from Boston, will be a Budd Rail Diesel Car modified by Midcoast’s parent, Finger Lakes Railway. Visitors will be able to tour the car Friday, June 30, to Monday, July 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The RDC, which Midcoast now brands as a “Coastliner,” recently arrived from Finger Lakes’ Geneva, N.Y., shops, where it was upgraded with an Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant bathroom. Once a second car arrives, train crew qualification runs will begin on the 56-mile Rockland-Brunswick route that Midcoast leases from the state of Maine to operate both freight and passenger service.
Smith tells Trains News Wire that passengers will have their first opportunity to ride the cars on four daily one-hour round trips between Rockland and Thomaston, Maine, in conjunction with the Rockland Lobster Festival Aug. 4-6. Trains will leave from the station used by Maine Eastern excursions until 2015.
The time between this weekend’s display and the August excursions will be used for training and testing, with the eventual goal of establishing scheduled passenger service. Earlier this year, the state’s Department of Transportation approved funding to launch Rockland-Brunswick service [see “Maine DOT proposes $3 million for pilot …,” News Wire, Feb. 3, 2023].
“We don’t want to make any mistakes,” Smith says. “If you are deliberate in your testing and take the time to analyze what you’ve found, you can eliminate a lot of problems down the road. We’ll be testing to see if the Coastliner can maintain the schedule we’ve established and if are there places where we have to be more careful than other locations.”
Smith says the cars have had no problems activating highway crossing warning devices on Finger Lakes excursions out of Geneva, N.Y., “but every railroad is different. Our plan is to be very deliberate on how we test the cars and train the employees.”
Although scheduled service between Rockland and Brunswick is the goal, Midcoast plans to first operate chartered excursions over the route into the fall. Those will run while the company pursues certification of the equipment to comply the Federal Railroad Administration intercity passenger service requirements and coordination discussions take place with Amtrak and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Smith says.