State Advisory Council endorses the Merrymeeting Trail!

On August 23 — following nine months of regular meetings, discussions, fact-finding, and analysis — the Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council convened by MaineDOT and charged with making a recommendation around future use of the Lower Road rail corridor voted to recommend the creation of a trail along the corridor!

The vote was 11-3 in support of an interim use of the rail corridor between Brunswick and Gardiner as the Merrymeeting Trail, connecting to the Kennebec River Rail Trail to Augusta. The three members who opposed the motion signed on to a minority report calling for constructing a trail alongside the corridor. Importantly, this means support for a trail was unanimous among Council members, with a large majority believing using the existing rail bed for the trail would be the most cost-effective and practical solution while still preserving the option to return train service in the future.

The 14 members of the Council were appointed to represent the views of communities along the corridor, as well as state agency, economic development, tourism, and rail and trail interests.

Here is the resolution endorsed by the majority of the Council:

Be it moved that:

The Lower Road Rail Use Advisory Council recommends the conversion of 33.5 miles of existing state-owned railroad track to an Interim Trail.

This trail may be surfaced with stone dust or paved and be primarily for non-motorized use. During DOT’s trail planning process, the RUAC further recommends that the Commissioner work with the Merrymeeting Trail Board of Supervisors and individual towns to identify potential trail segments where limited motorized use may be permitted, such as where there is space for dual trails.

It is further recommended that any trail developed should not interfere with the current lease with the City of Augusta Parking District.

In terms of next steps, the final report and recommendation will now be conveyed to the Commissioner of Transportation, who will consider advancing this project via a bill to the Transportation Committee of the Maine legislature. In statute, he has substantial flexibility as to whether and when he takes action based on this recommendation, but given the overwhelming community support demonstrated for the Merrymeeting Trail throughout this process (and for many years prior), we are optimistic that he will do so. (And we will of course be in touch to encourage him and offer support. 😊)

This project is by no means a done deal — there will be lots of work and outreach still to come — but this is a hugely important step forward for the Merrymeeting Trail, and it deserves celebration! Thank you to all the trail supporters, to the hundreds who have taken time to submit supportive comments and speak at public hearings. Because of your efforts, the vision for this incredible public resource is closer to reality today than it has ever been before.

Onward! And happy trails!

Join the June 22 Public Forum!

MaineDOT’s public forum for the Lower Road Rail Corridor Use Advisor Council (RUAC) is taking place at 6pm on Thursday, June 22, via Zoom. Your voice in support of the Merrymeeting Trail is needed!

Public comments will be limited to two minutes. This is a critical opportunity to demonstrate the deep and longstanding support our community has for the Merrymeeting Trail. Please tune in and consider sharing:

  • How you and your family would utilize the Merrymeeting Trail
  • The benefits you believe the Merrymeeting Trail would bring to our community
  • Why it is important to you to see this public asset used as a trail that will benefit our region

MaineDOT’s website for the Lower Road Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council includes lots of useful data and resources that can help inform your comments, too.

See you on June 22!

SAVE THE DATE: Public forum on June 22

It’s finally here: Your opportunity to tell the State of Maine how much you want the Merrymeeting Trail!

MaineDOT’s public forum on the Merrymeeting Trail has been scheduled. Of all the steps in this long process, this is the most important one so far in terms of demonstrating the deep community support that exists for this project.


  • Thursday, June 22, 2023
  • 6pm
  • Via Zoom (link coming soon)

This is a critical step in the process to make the Merrymeeting Trail a reality! We need as many folks from our community as possible to tune in and share with MaineDOT and the Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council why you support the creation of the Merrymeeting Trail along the Lower Road rail corridor.

Here are some questions you could answer in your comments:

How would you and your family utilize the Merrymeeting Trail?

What benefits do you believe the Merrymeeting Trail would bring to your community?

Now that we know rail service is not viable on this line for the foreseeable future, why is it important to you to see this public asset used as a trail that will benefit our region?

MaineDOT’s website for the Lower Road Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council includes lots of useful data and resources that can help inform your comments, too.

We know that MaineDOT heavily values local support when deciding whether to pursue projects like this, so demonstrating the deep community support for the Merrymeeting Trail at this forum is essential. If you cannot attend on June 22, be sure to submit your comments via this online form.

Please don’t miss this opportunity to be heard!

MaineDOT deems passenger rail service to Bangor not currently viable

Last week, the Maine Department of Transportation released the final report on its Bangor Transit Propensity Study, reviewing the viability of transit options between Portland and Bangor. Among other routes, the study considered the viability of passenger rail along the Lower Road corridor — the route of the proposed Merrymeeting Trail.

The study’s conclusions are unambiguous and compelling. Specifically, the report reviews and analyzes the data collected during the study and recommends working with “the current intercity bus operators in the corridor to advance a 2-year pilot to provide additional round trips and/or adding additional stops or route deviations.”

With respect to the potential for passenger rail service, the report is clear:

Given the relatively low transit demand, low population densities, high capital and operating costs, low climate and equity benefits, and extensive transportation needs statewide, MaineDOT has determined that it would be imprudent to continue the study of extending passenger rail to Bangor at this time.

The report delineates the Department’s rationale in each of these areas (low demand, high cost, low climate and equity benefits, etc.). Importantly, it also estimates the ticket price for a one-way train ride between Bangor and Brunswick to be $116, assuming an annual taxpayer-funded $9.3 million subsidy — and on top of nearly $1 billion in capital costs to upgrade the infrastructure on the line.

In terms of projected ridership, the Department pegs current demand at low levels — the equivalent of approximately five buses a day — and projects it to stay low through at least 2040:

The Study estimated that a new or improved transit service could serve between 56,000 – 80,000 trips per year, or about 153 to 219 trips per day in 2023, and between 62,250 – 87,650 trips per year, or about 171 to 240 trips per day, by 2040.

(Emphasis added)

Given this low demand, MaineDOT further notes that a project to restore passenger rail service in this area is unlikely to be eligible for federal funding — a critical component in being able to afford the high costs:

A new rail service will not meet minimum thresholds for ridership or corridor density needed to qualify and successfully compete for Federal Transit Administration commuter rail funding at this time. Further, from a Federal Rail Administration (FRA) intercity rail perspective, the Bangor rail concepts do not provide a time competitive alternative to highway travel and do not address any significant highway congestion in a corridor nor does it connect major urban areas. These are all important criteria used by FRA when ranking discretionary intercity rail projects.

(Emphasis added)

In presenting these conclusions to the Transportation Committee of the Legislature, this same sentiment was echoed by other important Maine organizations who were opposing bills to spend more money studying passenger rail on these corridors. These groups included the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NEPRA), the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, CSX, and the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System (BACTS).

BACTS also included a letter with MaineDOT’s final report on the study. In it, the organization focused on improving transit in the greater Bangor area made this powerful statement:

BACTS recognizes the appeal of extending passenger rail service to Bangor, however, the significant capital costs associated with the rail alternative appears to outweigh the benefits and conflicts with our goal of maintaining fiscal responsibility for transportation investments in the greater Bangor region. Alternatively, BACTS would support MaineDOT investing in enhancements to the existing intercity bus services and local services in the study area.

These conclusions from MaineDOT, BACTS, and other Maine transit organizations inject an important dose of reality into the discussion about the viable near-term future uses of the Lower Road corridor. It also makes clear that the choice Maine faces is not between using that corridor as a trail or using it for passenger rail, but rather between using it as a trail or continuing the status quo — which is to say using this languishing public asset for nothing at all, as been done for decades.

Are you ready for Maine to create the Merrymeeting Trail? Please share your support for the Merrymeeting Trail with MaineDOT’s Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council. It only takes a moment to submit a comment, and the more the Council hears that the community wants to put this corridor to use for the benefit of local towns, the more likely this project is to happen. Thank you!

Join the next RUAC call on March 29!

The next meeting of the council considering the Merrymeeting Trail is on Wednesday, March 29, at 10:30am via Zoom. The agenda and link to tune in are available here.

Please join the virtual meeting if you can! The group will be discussing the Maine Active Transportation Plan, the Maine Rail Plan, and considering additional data the council will need to make an informed recommendation to Maine DOT.

The last 15 minutes is open for public comment. This is a great opportunity to speak up and talk about why you support the Merrymeeting Trail, how you and your family would use it, and the benefits you believe it would bring to your community. Please make your voice heard — it makes a real difference!

Supportive comments can also be submitted online through this form.

Recap: Meeting #2 of the Lower Road RUAC

Snowy unused RR tracks

Last week marked the second meeting of the Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council (RUAC) that is considering alternative interim uses of the Lower Road rail corridor. There was lots of great discussion, some initial information from the state’s consultants about evaluating repurposing the corridor as a trail, and some planning for future meetings.

Soon, we expect to have cost estimates for restoring rail service to this line, as well as a report on a recent propensity study that looked at transportation between Portland and Bangor. A draft of that study estimated the cost of passenger rail restoration along the Lower Road at just shy of $1 billion. It will be important to understand all these numbers so that the Council and the state can make an informed decision about the most responsible and highest use of this languishing public asset.

While we wait for more data, there are things you can do to support the Merrymeeting Trail!

  1. Submit a comment to the Advisory Council sharing why you support the Merrymeeting Trail, how you would use it, and the benefits it would bring to our communities.
  2. Be sure you are on our email list.
  3. Like and share our Facebook page so the Merrymeeting Trail reaches as many people as possible!

Thank you for your patience and support — and happy trails!

Support the Trail at the January 25th Council meeting!

Happy new year! 2023 is shaping up to be an important one for the Merrymeeting Trail.

Last November 30th, the first meeting of the Lower Road Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council (RUAC) was held. It was a great kickoff for this nine-month process, and the vast majority of council members representing communities along the corridor expressed support for using it as a trail on an interim basis. The coming months will include a lot of data gathering and discussion ahead of a recommendation from the Council to the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT).

The second Council meeting for the RUAC is next Wednesday, January 25, at 10:30am via Zoom. These meetings are all open to the public, and a link to participate will be posted on this Maine DOT webpage as soon as it is available. Each meeting includes a public comment section, so please feel free to attend and take that opportunity to share your support for the Merrymeeting Trail!

If you can’t attend but would still like to voice your support, feel free to submit a written comment via this form. Comments can be brief, but making them personal — how you’d use the Merrymeeting Trail, and the benefits you believe it would bring to our communities — will help make them compelling to Council members and Maine DOT.

Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for more as the process continues!

Next Steps on the Merrymeeting Trail Process!

A new stage in the effort to create the Merrymeeting Trail is about to get underway!

In accordance with state statute and in response to a request from the Merrymeeting Trail Board of Supervisors, Maine DOT is convening a Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council charged with collecting and considering data on the long-unused Lower Road rail corridor between Brunswick and Augusta. After nine months of meetings, the Council will make a recommendation to Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note as to whether the proposed Merrymeeting Trail section of the corridor (Topsham to Gardiner) should be used as a trail on an interim basis (a “trail until rail”).

The first meeting of the Council is set for Wednesday, November 30, at 10:30am to noon. It will be held via Zoom and is open to the public. Here is the info to participate:

Meeting ID: 823 3052 0269

Passcode: 936508

+1 309 205 3325 US

The final 15 minutes of the agenda for this meeting is reserved for “Public Comment.” If you are available, please consider tuning in and using that time to briefly say hello and share that you support the Merrymeeting Trail. Some vocal support at this first meeting could help demonstrate how much interest there is for the trail in our communities!

This is a very exciting development and an important step forward for this project. Following the meeting, the Merrymeeting Trailblazers will be convening to discuss how best to share and promote the trail and support the work of the Council. That meeting is via Zoom at 4pm on November 30. If you’d like join and learn about getting more involved, please email

Please stay tuned for more as this process gets moving. Thank you and happy trails!

2022 Celebrate Bowdoinham Bike Ride!

Nothing says late summer quite like biking through farmland and exploring trails. Join us on Saturday, September 10, 2022 at 1:00 pm at Celebrate Bowdoinham for a guided bike tour along the future Merrymeeting Trail!

Our guided bike tour will start at 1:00 pm at the Phillip Mailly Waterfront Park in Bowdoinham. We’ll proceed through some of the richest farmland in the state along the shores of Merrymeeting Bay. The midpoint will pass by historic houses in Richmond and turn around at Fort Richmond Waterfront Park. We will stop frequently and enjoy a leisurely pace. Total distance is 18 miles, with a turn back option for a 10 mile route.

Here’s the route. We will provide water, snacks, and maps to bring on your ride. We hope to see you there! 

Happy trails,
The Merrymeeting Trailblazers