The Pan Am Railways railroad tracks that run to the former mill site in Bucksport have largely been unused since the paper mill closed in 2014. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

BUCKSPORT, Maine — For years, the railroad line that runs from Brewer to Bucksport carried daily shipments of paper and materials to and from the Verso Paper mill along the Penobscot River. But when the mill closed in 2014, the railroad lost its primary user.

Since then, the only commercial railroad in Hancock County has largely been left unused. As the new owners of the mill property have no apparent need for freight trains and the railroad’s potential new owner has no intention of making sweeping changes to the Bucksport line, it could remain dormant — but it’s not being decommissioned just yet.

Railway company CSX, which has 21,000 miles of track in the eastern U.S. and Canada, is working on a major merger with Pan Am, the largest railroad system in Maine and owner of the Bucksport line. This week, CSX said it currently has no plans to change the existing routes or types of services offered by Pan Am for any line, including Bucksport.

“We are committed to maintain or improve existing service and are confident that there are opportunities for CSX to make selective investments in Pan Am’s system to support growth and improve service and safety,” said Cindy Schild, a CSX spokesperson.

After the mill closed, the scrap company that bought the mill used the railroad to haul away metal. No company has used the Bucksport portion since. Pan Am now has only one customer on the line, the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington, and runs one train a week to the plant to help with ongoing cleanup efforts.

The two new owners of the former mill site in Bucksport are Maine Maritime Academy, which runs a professional development center there, and Whole Oceans, a planned but yet-to-be-built land-based salmon farm. Neither seems to be counting on freight services on the line.

“That hasn’t come up in any meetings that I have been part of,” said Tim Achorn, the acting director at the MMA center.

Whole Oceans did not respond to a request for comment, but Bucksport town officials said they’ve had no indication that the company needs rail access for the farm.

Rich Rotella, Bucksport’s community and economic development director, said the town’s been waiting for the merger to go through to reach out to CSX about the future potential uses for the line.

“Our thought at this point is, there is no end user in Bucksport,” he said. “So what’s next?”

Residents have been asking the same thing, especially after a recent fatal car crash at one of the crossings.

While there are no concrete plans for a recreational rail trail between Brewer and Bucksport, Rotella had hoped at some point the town could look into connecting to the Bangor area. A trail was also mentioned on the Maine Trails Coalition’s 2020-30 plan as a potential future option, but the rail would have to be abandoned first. 

CSX’s plan to not change the route or service could halt any hope of a rail trail in the area, said Kristine Keeney, who helped develop the coalition’s plan. But she hoped that CSX would be open to talking about the possibility if no one ends up using the line.

“I think getting the vision and desire out there for a potential alternative will help start the conversation,” she said. “Maybe there is some ability to have some discussions about it.”

Correction: A previous version of this report misspelled Kristine Keeney’s last name.