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A work crew removes encroaching trees and deadfall around a Cowansville, Que., bridge that has become a symbol of safety concerns. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
A work crew removes encroaching trees and deadfall around a Cowansville, Que., bridge that has become a symbol of safety concerns. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Journey to the end of the MM&A Railway line Add to ...

All that lies between the eatery and the embankment now, Mr. Kreider points out, are the six large propane tanks that keep the stoves running. “I’ve had visions of waking up in the middle of the lake one day,” he says.

Not everyone in Greenville is so wary. Jeff Pomerleau, who has been its police chief for six years, says he moved here partly out of nostalgia for the railway that ran past his childhood home in the French section of the state capital, Augusta. “There’s a certain romance to the train, and I certainly feel it.”

A few months ago, Mr. Pomerleau noticed the long, dark oil tanker trains that had suddenly started appearing, and he and Mr. Semko met with MM&A to learn about the cargo and appropriate disaster responses.

It was the type of information mayors up and down the Quebec side of the tracks say they did not have.

Mr. Pomerleau says MM&A staff shared radio frequencies to ease communication. When he calls to complain about a signal light being out, it’s usually fixed the next day.

“I’m sure some Canadians don’t want to hear this, I’ve been pretty impressed with MM&A.”

Brownville Junction

Brownville Junction has more sidings and switches than houses or businesses. For a small operation, the MM&A is pulled in a remarkable number of directions, and it is here here those conflicting priorities intersect.

There’s a pair of small railways owned by giant J.D. Irving Inc. called the Eastern Maine and the New Brunswick Southern. They travel up the MM&A line leading to New Brunswick to feed pulp and paper mills and the huge Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

To the north, the MM&A once tried to abandon 233 miles of track ending near Madawaska. The state of Maine purchased the track for $20-million and spent millions more upgrading it, rescuing two dozen businesses that relied on rail. Another Irving railway, Northern Maine, started leasing the tracks two years ago.

To the south is Bangor and Searsport, Maine’s second largest deepwater port. Preserving the little-used network of rail leading to the port has been a major priority for the state.

Hermon, outside Bangor

The Bangor yards of the MM&A are just outside the state’s largest city, and they are surrounded by industry that has turned its back on rail.

All around the tracks are gravel crushers, fuel and propane distributors, warehouses, and shipping companies that are decidedly road-oriented. Tracks are paved over and loading docks next to rail sidings are overgrown with weeds. Many businesses have simply fenced off the rails.

The Bangor and Aroostook Railway was a Maine institution for 111 years. For the first 70, its main job was to haul potatoes from northern Maine. A shift to greater quantities of pulp and paper accelerated in the 1960s and ended up in bankruptcy in 2002.

Eleven years after it disappeared, though, it remains far more visible than the MM&A. Faded blue Bangor and Aroostook Railway (BAR) signs more frequently adorn bridges and rolling stock.

Trackside, nothing announces the main yard for MM&A, unless an abandoned shed with a BAR logo or an old, parked rail-maintenance vehicle count.

A young man drives up in a blue compact Chevrolet and is asked for directions to the MM&A yard. “This is it,” he says. He is here to unload three of the railroad’s tanker cars full of corn starch. He’s the only person around and it is his only task of the day.

The MM&A offices are on the other side of the yard, distant from parked boxcars, in a tidy low brick building. Managers in golf shirts are gathered around a board table. A staffer politely asks a reporter to leave, saying the company has nothing further to say.

Searsport

This is the end of the line for the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, and a locomotive engineer working on one train jokes that the “end of the line” may hold more truth for MM&A than just this final mile of track.

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