WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 15, 2010 (Press Release) -U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins and Representative Mike Michaud announced today that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded $10,546,436 to the Maine Department of Transportation to repair and improve the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) line in Aroostook and northern Penobscot counties. The funding is being made available through the second round of grants from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called Senators Snowe and Collins and Rep. Michaud this morning to inform them of the DOT's decision.
The funding will be used for the Aroostook Railroad Preservation and Rehabilitation Project, which seeks to replace railroad ties, rail sections and clear drainage ditches to restore the rail routes serving northern Maine. The State of Maine is currently negotiating with MMA to acquire 233 miles of the rail line, which MMA seeks to abandon. In June, Maine voters approved a $7 million bond package to purchase the rail lines. However, sections of the existing track are in poor condition and require significant repair. Maintaining the operability of the rail line is critical to the economic viability of the region, as the line is northern Maine's sole link to the national rail network.
"The $10.5 million TIGER grant announced today by Secretary LaHood to repair and maintain the rail line in Aroostook and northern Penobscot Counties is certainly welcomed news and will make great strides towards ensuring the economic competiveness of this vital region in Maine," said Senator Snowe. "As I conveyed to Secretary LaHood in a letter on August 25thwhen offering my strong support for this grant, an effective rail transportation system in Northern Maine is crucial for the companies and communities along the 241 miles of the rail corridor and the overall economic vitality and health of the entire state. Clearly, all of us remain committed - full-throttle - to ensuring there is freight rail service in the region, and that it offers reasonable rates to the many shippers who must have access to affordable rail lines to remain competitive. That must be our bottom line - for the sake of our companies, for the sake of our state, and most especially for the sake of all of the hardworking Mainers whose jobs rely on the continued viability of this rail line."
"I am delighted that the Department of Transportation has fully funded Maine's grant request for this project, as I requested," said Senator Collins. "As an Aroostook County native, I understand how important the continued operation of this rail line is to northern Maine's economy. This federal investment will help ensure continued rail service to nearly two dozen employers and help prevent the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs in northern Penobscot and Aroostook counties. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, I first raised this issue with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a hearing in March. He assured me that he would work with us to address this critical issue, and I appreciate his commitment to finding a way to save this critical rail line."
"I am pleased that they have agreed to our request and will make resources available to help protect the many businesses and jobs that could be affected if freight rail service in northern Maine is lost" said Representative Michaud, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who spoke to Secretary LaHood and the White House earlier this week to continue to press the case for approval of the funding. "I started meeting with stakeholders and officials from the Department of Transportation on this issue almost a year ago. I even took time out of President Obama's vacation in Maine to make sure that he was personally aware of how important this is to our economy. Each time, there has been agreement that the continuation of freight rail service is critical to the northern Maine economy. It's terrific news that this investment has been approved."