“These railroad cars used to be part of the Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Massachusetts. They were purchased by a group of rail fans back in 1992 and transported to Portland by a convey of antique trucks all driven by volunteers assembled by the late Irv Bickford – back home to Maine where they came from originally. They’ve been up and running along the Portland waterfront since 1993,” said Eric Mancis, Conductor, who has recently been promoted to general manager on the two-footers – called that because of the narrow width between the tracks.
For the last seven years, Wesley Heinz, has served ably as the Executive Director, of the Railroad & Museum. But he recently accepted a similar position with a larger railroad in his home state of Maryland. That happened in July. Since then Museum officials have been interviewing candidates for his replacement.
Around 2010, volunteers at the Railroad learned that Phin Sprague, Jr., a wealthy resident of Cape Elizabeth, had put the almost ten acres of valuable waterfront up for sale. They began an earnest effort to relocate the cars and equipment. Volunteers in Bridgton were seriously interested. They formed a non-profit – Return of the Rails – but were unable to find the funding to pull it off.
In 2014, volunteers came closer to finding the ideal place for the mini-cars. It was to have been in a wooded area behind the Gray Plaza in Gray where a previous railroad had once run. But once again problems arose.
The lot is a conservation area whose proponents were opposed to the move. The town of Gray had offered to help finance the expensive move of cars and equipment from Portland to Gray through a loan/partnership arrangement. But the voters wanted no part of it and voted it down when it appeared on the ballot. This was a big blow to the Railroad. It was also a big blow to Donnie Carroll, then Executive Director of the Railroad. and a resident of Gray, who had worked so hard to try to make it happen.
Anchoring the Railroad to the Portland waterfront is a many year lease it has with the Maine DOT to lease the tracks for a minimal amount in exchange for keeping them in working order should Maine DOT ever want to use them. This is a strong motive to stay put on the Portland waterfront.
Because of the on-going redevelopment of the ten acre waterfront property by Portland Foreside on which the mini-railroad once called home, the Railroad is engaged in a fund raising effort to build a rail station to be located near Ocean Gateway. The effort has come a long way, but there is still a long way to go until the station is built.
Meanwhile, Jason Weinberg, an employee, said that 3/4 of the original cars and equipment are kept at the Alna narrow gauge railroad – until Portland can find space for them here in Portland.
The Railroad lines were built so narrow in width because they were cheaper to build than the more traditional width. Also, they were better able to navigate the rocky terrain of upstate Maine where they were initially used. The original narrow gauge trains were built in England.
Weinberg, an artist, asked that this blogger emphasize there is a matching fund raiser with the state of Maine historic preservation program. Two of the steam engines need new boilers – each at a cost of $250,000. each. “We’d like to get all four of them up and running together for the first time,” he said. For more information and how to contribute to these important funds, please stop in at the ticket office. 49 Thames Street. Check out the web page or call 207 – 828-0814.
Who knows – you might even sign up to be a volunteer there!