Home Travel consultant Supporters push for Montreal-Boston passenger rail

Supporters push for Montreal-Boston passenger rail

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The 14-hour trip would cross Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec.

A St. Lawrence & Atlantic freight train travels Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, through Auburn, Maine. A proposed passenger train between Boston and Montreal would cross Maine on tracks north of Portland currently used only by freight trains. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Rail advocates are dusting off a proposed passenger train service between Montreal and Boston, sparking renewed interest in rail travel to bolster a concept that’s been around for more than a decade.

“It’s not a hard sell at all. A lot of people want it,” said François Rebello, a former member of Quebec’s National Assembly and a consultant on the project.

According to a ridership study, hundreds of travelers would ride a private overnight train every day if the hurdles could be overcome to make the service a reality for years to come.

It wouldn’t be a high-speed affair. The promoters envision a different experience – a relaxed ride with a meal and a sleep before arriving bright-eyed at your destination. The 14-hour trip would cross Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec.

The proposal comes amid a rail renaissance and more than $100 billion in rail infrastructure funding approved by Congress.

Maine State Sen. Richard Bennett, a Republican who lives in a neighborhood where the train would pass, said there was a lot of work to be done.

“I’m both excited and skeptical,” he said. “I certainly support the concept and I think it has great promise. I think it can be done.

Market research suggests that about 4,000 people travel between Montreal and Boston daily, and about 1,000 of those would opt for rail service if it were available, Rebello said. The service would be profitable with just 200 runners, he said.

But the proposal is still in its infancy and the obstacles are many.

The track on the Canadian side of the border requires more than $100 million in upgrades and repairs. The track is in good condition in northern New England, but the speed is limited to around 35 mph (56 km/h) for a long distance, and there is little hope of securing additional funds for increase the speed.

Operators would need to negotiate deals with several private owners of the railroad – St. Lawrence and Atlantic, CSX and others – and there could be multiple crews needed for the train. Then there’s the issue of customs clearance with people coming and going to multiple train stops and finding rare gear.

The idea of ​​restoring Montreal-Boston passenger rail service for the first time since the 1960s has been floated for over a decade, and several different rail routes have been launched over the years.

This time, the proposed route would follow the Canadian Pacific Railway from Montreal to Sherbrooke, Quebec, then the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, where a railroad owned by CSX runs through Old Orchard Beach, a popular Maine. tourist destination for Canadians. The final stretch is operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

Vermont Rail Advisory Council member Carl Fowler is a rail advocate who likes the idea of ​​expanded passenger rail service. But he said people needed to be realistic about the challenges of the proposal.

“There are a lot of problems to solve,” he said.

Developers have engaged with Canadian Pacific Railway and parent company St. Lawrence and Atlantic, and the Canadian government has already considered investing in rail upgrades, Rebello said. Montreal real estate entrepreneur Nikolai Ray has signed with an investor.

About 60 rail advocates, legislators, tourism officials and others gathered in Coaticook, Quebec recently to discuss the vision promoted by the Montreal Night Trains Foundation, and view a proposed map. Transportation officials from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont were notably absent.

But the project will not start anytime soon. The most optimistic view is that the project would need at least two years to become a reality, he said. However, obtaining funding and rail agreements could take longer.

A motorist could get from Boston to Montreal twice as fast, but rail advocates say commuters would get there in style. People could dine, entertain and sleep in a comfortable bed, supporters say. They would also be spared hotel costs, as they would sleep and shower on the train, supporters said.

The project is appealing both to older drivers who are nostalgic for trains and to a younger generation less fascinated by cars, Rebello said.

Train aficionado Sarah LeBaron von Baeyer, who lives outside of Boston and doesn’t drive, said she ‘wholeheartedly’ embraced public transportation that would allow her to visit family and friends in Canada several times a year.

“I love train travel. I lived in Japan for many years. It was absolutely the best way to get around,” she said.

Associated Press writers Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, and Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this story.