The overgrown, unused tracks run from Wilson Street in Brewer to roughly 1,000 feet east of Green Point Road, totaling 2.12 miles, according to Brewer Planning Director and Land Trust President Linda Johns. Credit: Courtesy of Linda Johns

The Brewer Land Trust has its sights set on converting a dilapidated stretch of unused railroad into a wooded trail in the coming years, but the Maine Department of Transportation warns that realizing that plan will likely take longer than anticipated.

That’s because the trail that would add to Brewer’s outdoor offerings can’t be developed until ownership of the two-mile stretch of abandoned railroad transfers to a new company in the coming weeks, and that company then agrees to sell the track to the state. After that, the Maine Legislature would have to sign off on removing the defunct tracks.

The overgrown tracks run from Wilson Street in Brewer to roughly 1,000 feet east of Green Point Road, totaling 2.12 miles, according to Brewer Planning Director and Land Trust President Linda Johns. That portion of the trail abuts a 196-spot city-owned parking lot, Maple Street Park, the city’s public safety building, an outdoor ice rink and valuable wetland and wildlife habitats.

A rendering shows where the proposed Brewer Rail Trail would run through the city. Credit: Courtesy of Linda Johns

An exact design and cost estimate for the project haven’t been determined, Johns said, but the trail would likely be unpaved and limited to pedestrians and bicycles.

While the city already has the Riverwalk, a popular one-mile riverfront walking path, Brewer Mayor and Land Trust member Michele Daniels said the Rail Trail would give area residents another way to get outside, exercise and enjoy nature, something people were yearning for during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Walkers and runners could also easily get from the Riverwalk to the Rail Trail, if they’re looking for a longer trip across different terrain, Daniels said.

Johns said the trail would also run near Brewer High School, and it could be a resource for the students and the school’s cross country team.

“Right now, the cross-country runners run down city streets, so this would give them a great place to run and get them away from the cars and the fumes,” Johns said.

Before the Brewer Land Trust can start making this dream a reality, the Maine Department of Transportation needs to first purchase the land and grant an easement to the city. But that process is proving easier said than done.

Pan Am Railways owns the two-mile stretch of railroad, but is in the process of selling its assets to the CSX Corporation. That merger is set to be complete on June 1.

Nathan Moulton, the state transportation department’s director of freight and passenger services, said Pan Am was open to selling the chunk of railway to the department about five years ago, but asked for more than double what the department had it appraised for, stymying the sale.

That means the Department of Transportation and Brewer are now stuck waiting for CSX to acquire the property, and they hope the new owner will be open to selling the stretch of railroad at market value. But Moulton said it’s unclear how quickly that sale could happen following the merger.

“It’s going to be a little while before we’re able to get their attention to buy the piece of railroad,” he said. “We’re aware of the project, and we know it’s important to Brewer. If we were to buy this, we’d have to get an updated appraisal, and we can’t spend much more than what it’s appraised for.”

Portions of the abandoned train tracks have rotted, fallen into disrepair or suffered washouts, said Brewer Planning Director and Land Trust President Linda Johns. Credit: Courtesy of Linda Johns

Should the Maine Department of Transportation purchase the railroad, the department would then need to seek legislative approval to remove the tracks under the state’s Railroad Preservation Act.

“We can’t just buy it and convert it to a trail,” Moulton said.

Built in the 1890s, the tracks in Brewer were previously part of the Calais Branch of the Maine Shore Line Railroad, which connected Brewer to Calais and carried passengers and freight, according to Downeast Scenic Railroad. Passenger service was discontinued in 1960, but the Maine Central Railroad continued freight service until it was abandoned in 1985.

The Department of Transportation now owns the remainder of the line, except for the two-mile section in Brewer.

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...