Brooks rail group picks up a little more track

By Ethan Andrews | Nov 03, 2009

Belfast — The railroad enthusiasts at the Brooks Preservation Society have inched one step closer to having full use of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake rail corridor, signing a lease agreement with Unity Property Management for use of a three-mile stretch of track from the Waldo-Belfast town line to Veterans Memorial Bridge in Belfast.

The agreement extends the organization's lease rights, which comprise the majority of the B&ML corridor — a 30-mile stretch from Burnham Junction to the Waldo-Belfast town line.

BPS Executive Director Joe Feero described the agreement as one step in an ongoing effort to bring trains into Belfast. There is no platform near the bridge and the last 1,500 feet, from the bridge to the remnants of the Belfast terminus, is owned variously by Penobscot McCrum and the city of Belfast.

Jay McCrum said he'd had one conversation with a representative of BPS but thought his role was secondary to any permissions granted by the city of Belfast.

"It's something we'll certainly consider," he said, "but we have a working yard that goes right up against the tracks, so we'd have to take that into consideration."

McCrum said he did not know if the rail group would want to load and unload passengers or simply pass through.

A coastal walkway currently in the works, for which Belfast has set aside $200,000 in matching funds for a $250,000 MDOT grant, would cover much of the city-owned portion of the rail corridor south of the footbridge. The city has a 17-foot-wide easement that roughly follows the train tracks. According to City Planner Wayne Marshall, the 10-foot-wide walkway would leave little room for a secondary use.

City officials previously discussed selling the remaining rail for scrap to offset the cost of the walkway. Marshall said the city would explore that option, though he noted that the price of steel might have been higher then.

The lease agreement between BPS and Unity Property Management does not jeopardize an effort by Coastal Mountains Land Trust to create a rails-to-trails-style pedestrian and bicycle path from Belfast to the Head of Tide area, according to CMLT Executive Director Scott Dickerson.

Dickerson said the group is looking into the potential of running a trail parallel to the railway. The "Passagassawakeag Greenway" was conceived to bring pedestrians and bicyclists from downtown Belfast to a group of conservation properties owned by CMLT between Waldo Avenue and City Point Road, including a 90-acre Head of Tide parcel the trust is in the process of buying.

Dickerson said the group has considered a trail running parallel to the tracks, adding that the history of the rail corridor may allow for additional rights of way.

Brooks Preservation Society recently ended a season that included regular weekend rail excursions and fall foliage runs from Brooks to points in Waldo, Thorndike and Burnham. During the Common Ground Fair, BPS trains shuttled visitors to the fairgrounds from Thorndike and Unity.

Feero said the group planned to run a Halloween train, but had to cancel because of equipment troubles.
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