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Pan Am Railways’ East End

Pan Am Train Sappi-3 heads west on the Hinckley Branch on October 12, 2021. The train is approaching Shawmut as it travels across a causeway in the Kennebec River. GP40 310 leads the train. —Logan Tourtillotte photo

Pan Am Railways’ East End

February 2022by Logan Tourtillotte/photos as noted

It’s a bright and sunny June 21, 2016, but the town of Bucksport, Maine, feels solemn and quiet. It has been a year and a half since the Verso paper mill shut its doors and was subsequently sold to American Iron & Metal for scrap. Creeping slowly across the North Gate access road, the as-needed scrap train from Bangor eases into the decrepit and empty rail yard.

The two gray Guilford Rail System GP40s rock back and forth on uneven track as they haul 13 white high-sided gondolas down to the far end of the yard. Stopping in front of the twisted and torn remnants of the mill, they will swap the train for a cut of loaded scrap cars, the only other cars in the yard, for the trip back up the Bucksport Branch to Bangor.

Pan Am's East End

A westbound loaded scrap train behind two GP40-2LWs heads west out of Bangor en route to Hermon on February 2, 2016. The area to the right used to be the sprawling Bangor yard, removed in the late 1990s. —Harry Gordon photo

Hauling away the remains of the industry that once provided daily traffic on the branch, it is another loss for the east end of Pan Am Railways’ District 1, the former Maine Central Railroad. Today, what remains of the mill is a vast gravel pad. The yard is grown in with weeds and rails have slowly been picked apart by maintenance-of-way crews for use elsewhere. Even the engines that led the train that day have been reduced to scrap metal.

This eastern end of Pan Am Railways has had a turbulent history. Guilford Transportation Industries (which was rebranded as Pan Am in 2006) began operating the main line and surrounding branch lines between Mattawamkeag and Waterville, Maine, after the purchase of Maine Central in 1981. The following years were filled with loss, beginning with the embargoing of branches to Hartland, Dover, Foxcroft, and Calais in the mid-1980s. Guilford had expanded by adding Boston & Maine in 1983 and Delaware & Hudson in 1984, completing its New England transportation empire.

Pan Am's East End

Rolling through the Northern Maine Junction yard, Train OT-1 is wrapping up its day on March 17, 2021, as it passes underneath the old Bangor & Aroostook bridge, now utilized regularly by Canadian Pacific. —Logan Tourtillotte photos

By the early 1990s, the short line Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad had interchanged its last major revenue loads at Burnham Junction, causing yet another decline in traffic. The closure of the paper mills in South Brewer in 2004, Lincoln in 2013, Bucksport in 2014, and Old Town in 2015 also caused a great deal of decline, key industries closing one by one. With this diminishing traffic came the elimination of several scheduled trains that ran on the route. Track conditions declined, and currently all trackage east of Waterville has a 10 mph speed limit.

It has not been all loss, though. In recent years several traffic opportunities have popped up, including a contaminated dirt cleanup project along the Bucksport Branch, the restarting of the Old Town paper mill under Chinese ownership, storage moves along the Bucksport Branch, and most recently, shipments out of Pleasant River Lumber in Enfield. These new opportunities, coupled with the traffic provided by existing industries and developments in motive power trends, have brought notable changes to the East End during the past several years.

Pan Am's East End

Train WAMA heads east through the Bangor waterfront with two SDs bracketing a GP40, en route to Mattawamkeag on January 18, 2019.Harry Gordon photo

Route and Industries
The easternmost point on Pan Am is Mattawamkeag. This location serves as the interchange with Eastern Maine Railway, previously used for traffic destined to Canada. Mattawamkeag is also home to Perma Treat, located alongside the main yard and owned by Pan Am management; here, old railroad ties are ground into wood chips and shipped to the Rumford paper mill to be burned as fuel. When Guilford combined Maine Central with Boston & Maine, all railroad mileage was recalculated from Mattawamkeag. Milepost 1 is within the yard limits, a significant icon of the Pan Am System…

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This article was posted on: January 18, 2022