Home Hotel service The obstacles a 13-hour hotel train from Montreal to Boston faces in Maine

The obstacles a 13-hour hotel train from Montreal to Boston faces in Maine

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With family ties to southern Maine, Bobbie Jane Desforges often made the trip as a child from her native Montreal to Old Orchard Beach, long a popular beach destination for Quebecers.

On Thursday, the 34-year-old industrial artist was back on the beach for the first time in a decade. Her sister drove because she didn’t, making a budding proposal for a modern-age train that captivated her.

“If I had the opportunity to come here by train, I would probably come here every summer,” she said.

The idea is back after years on the shelf. Backers envision a leisurely 13-hour ride costing around $160 with meals, shows and sleeping cabins leaving Montreal at 6 p.m. and arriving in Boston at 7 a.m. There would be multiple stops on both sides of the border, with major ones in Maine including Bethel, Auburn, Portland and Old Orchard Beach.

An important part of the pitch is the romanticized golden age of rail travel and the shared history between Maine and Quebec. Many hurdles still loom over the idea that’s at least four years away, including cost, finalizing deals with others on the tracks and an uncertain rail future in Maine before the 2022 election.

All of that, plus the slowing COVID-19 pandemic, makes it a good time to reconsider and build alliances on it, said State Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, who attended a meeting Thursday of more than 60 politicians. , business leaders and other leaders in southern Quebec.

He joined conversations on the subject nearly a decade ago through a friendship with Francois Rebello, a former politician and rail enthusiast who championed the new rail link alongside Francois Pépin, a public transit advocate. retired who runs a railway foundation.

“From an economic feasibility standpoint and also considering the traditional tourist appeal of Maine beaches for Quebecers, I thought this actually held promise of being able to work in terms of ridership,” Bennett said.

In this photo from June 26, 2018, vacationing tourists stroll by the Atlantic Ocean near the pier in Old Orchard, Beach, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Travel to Canada is a big part of Maine’s economy, accounting for nearly a fifth of tourism spending in 2019. Trains from Montreal have helped make that happen. In 1853, the Boston and Maine Railroad first linked Montreal to Old Orchard Beach, one of its closest coastal areas.

Service ended on the B&M in 1965 as rail declined in the face of competition from trucks and buses. With the exception of a segment of the Amtrak Downeaster, which runs from Brunswick to Boston, few passenger trains have run the full route since then.

A short-lived service launched in 2002 had seasonal routes stretching from Quebec to New Brunswick via Boston and New York, serving continental food in sleek 1940s and 1950s cars. days documented by a New York Post travel writer from Montreal to Greenville and St. John, New Brunswick, cost $1,499 with hotels and meals included.

While the US strand of the new proposal is tourism-focused, it also aims to connect Montreal and Sherbrooke, a city of 167,000 near the US border, on a route that a study has found could attract 2,000 passengers per day, double in Boston.

The big hurdle is on the 100-mile Montreal-Sherbrooke stretch, where Pepin said $100 million (in Canadian dollars) would be needed to raise lanes from 25 mph to 60 mph maximum speeds for allow a two-hour journey. Five trains could leave Montreal per day. The last train would go to Boston at a price he called a bargain considering the hotel costs.

“Of course there is a bar,” Pépin said. “You can sleep, but the main thing is that you don’t get stuck in traffic near Boston on Interstate 93 or near Montreal on [Autoroute] ten.”

A passenger boards the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Freeport, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

There’s a lot to settle on the Maine side. The major railroads – Genesee & Wyoming Inc. and CSX Transportation – own the proposed route here. They are usually in the freight business. Pepin said recent rail ownership changes make the project more likely now, but no Maine operator responded to a request for comment.

Maine also has its own proposals for rail expansion. In 2021, Governor Janet Mills and the Legislature authorized passenger rail studies to Bangor and a commuter line from Portland to Auburn. The Maine Rail Transit Coalition, a group of business leaders, put forward a proposal for this latest route last month, relying in part on a state-owned line north of Portland.

This is the coalition’s top priority, although it supports the Montreal-Boston plan, said Tony Donovan, commercial real estate broker and the coalition’s managing director. Although the Rebello-Pepin plan does not envision using the state-owned line, Donovan said switching to it would help both projects.

“Yes, we support the hotel rail, but more than that, we support investment in Maine state-owned rail infrastructure in an effort to keep passenger rail running for a variety of reasons – reason #1 being the climate,” he said. .

No political engagement is going on here. Mills is monitoring the Montreal-Boston train and expects promoters to engage with its transportation department, said Lindsay Crete, spokeswoman for the Democratic governor. His 2022 opponent, former Governor Paul LePage, voiced his skepticism through a spokesperson, saying the last time the Republican discussed the idea with Quebec’s premier, “the economy was questionable”.

Bennett, a LePage ally, is more optimistic, but he said it’s worth building consensus here and exploring other options to maximize existing rail infrastructure.

“If there was a champion in Blaine House, it would make a real difference,” he said of the Montreal-Boston route. “Right now. I don’t think there is that.

BDN writer David Marino Jr. contributed to this report.