Midcoast Railservice Calling it Quits on Maine’s Rockland Branch

Finger Lakes subsidiary was the sixth operator on the scenic state-owned branch in 30 years. A Midcoast Railservice freight is seen at Wiscasset, Maine, in November 2022. Photo by Justin Franz. 

Midcoast Railservice Calling it Quits on Maine’s Rockland Branch

By Justin Franz

Finger Lakes Railway subsidiary Midcoast Railservice is calling it quits on Maine’s Rockland Branch. 

On June 11, what was likely the last major freight train on the branch ran between Rockland and Brunswick. Included in the consist was a Budd RDC used for excursions last year and both of the short line’s B23-7 locomotives, one of which is now being returned to Finger Lakes’ home base in New York. Sources close to the railroad said the second B23-7 could be kept on the branch and leased to another operator — if the Maine Department of Transportation can find one. 

Midcoast Railservice’s sudden departure from the former Maine Central route is just the latest in a decades-long saga. Since 1990, there have been six different operators on the line. Midcoast took over from the previous one, Canadian Pacific, in 2022 and aggressively went after new freight business. Unfortunately, last year the line’s largest customer, Dragon Cement, announced it was ceasing production at its facility in Thomaston

Paul Merrill, director of communications for the Maine Department of Transportation, tells Railfan & Railroad that the state is currently working with the remaining freight customers on the line to see if there is still a cost-effective way of moving their products by rail. One option would be to transload products elsewhere. The state is also actively looking for a new operator, but that could be a challenge with so little freight on the line. 

“Midcoast Railservice has been a good partner and has worked aggressively to market the line and provide excellent freight service to customers,” Merrill said. “We are disappointed that business circumstances have forced MCRI to give up the service, but we understand that MCRI cannot continue to operate the line with significant losses.”

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board still needs to approve the termination of Midcoast’s service on the branch, so it’s unclear when the railroad will actually give up control of the route.

The departure of Midcoast Railservice complicates efforts to expand Amtrak Downeaster passenger service to the branch. Merrill said that while the state was still dedicated to that effort, “the absence of a freight operator on the line creates further headwinds.”

Check out the July issue of Railfan & Railroad for a look back at the last 30 years on the Rockland Branch, including Midcoast Railservice’s brief time in Maine. On sale now.

This article was posted on: June 12, 2024