Maine Central Railroad Company
MEC system map, circa 1923
MEC headquarters, 222 Saint John Street, Portland, circa 1920
|Dates of operation||1862–1981|
|Successor||Guilford Transportation Industries|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge ; originally 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) gauge|
|Length||1,121 miles (1,804 kilometres)|
The Maine Central Railroad Company (reporting mark MEC) was a former U. S. Class I railroad in central and southern Maine. It was chartered in 1856 and began operations in 1862. By 1884, Maine Central was the longest railroad in New England. Maine Central had expanded to 1,358 miles (2,185 km) when the United States Railroad Administration assumed control in 1917. The main line extended from South Portland, Maine, east to the Canada–United States border with New Brunswick, and a Mountain Division extended west from Portland to Vermont and north into Quebec. The main line was double track from South Portland to Royal Junction, where it split into a "lower road" through Brunswick and Augusta and a "back road" through Lewiston which converged at Waterville into single track to Bangor and points east. Branch lines served the industrial center of Rumford, a resort hotel on Moosehead Lake, and coastal communities from Bath to Eastport.
At the end of 1970 it operated 921 miles (1,482 km) of road on 1,183 miles (1,904 km) of track; that year it reported 950 million ton-miles of revenue freight. The Maine Central remained independent until 1981, when it became part of what is now the Pan Am Railways network in 1981.
A recurring theme in the history of railroad development in Maine is the urge to establish a year-round Atlantic seaport for Canada — the St. Lawrence River freezes over in the winter. Numerous railroads were chartered in Maine with Montreal or Quebec as their destinations. Several more were proposed to build from the coast to the shore of Moosehead Lake, a large lake approximately halfway between Bangor and Quebec.
The Maine Central did not get caught up in the push to Canada, but the first of the railroads that did, the Atlantic & St. Lawrence (A&StL), provided the jumping-off place for a predecessor of the Maine Central. Construction of the A&StL began in 1846, but it went slowly. The line was completed from Portland to Montreal in 1853, and it was immediately leased by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada.
After the Portland gauge A&StL established Portland as an Atlantic port city for European trade, Portland businessmen supported additional Portland gauge railways to funnel inland trade through Portland. Portland port facilities feared being bypassed by standard gauge railways funneling inland trade through Boston. But if freight was loaded aboard Portland gauge cars, the expense of freight transfer to standard gauge cars might encourage shippers to use Portland harbor rather than Boston.
From Danville, 27 miles (43 km) north of Portland on the A&StL, the Androscoggin & Kennebec Railroad (A&K) began construction of a line to Waterville. At the same time the Penobscot & Kennebec, which had the same backers, was under construction from Waterville to Bangor. Both railroads, like the A&StL, were built using Portland gauge of 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm).
Meanwhile the standard gauge Kennebec & Portland (K&P) was under construction from Yarmouth, 12 miles (19 km) from Portland on the A&StL, east to Brunswick, then north along the Kennebec River to Augusta, the state capital, where it connected with (and operated and later leased) the Somerset & Kennebec Railroad to Waterville and Skowhegan. In 1850 the K&P built its own line into Portland from Yarmouth.
By the late 1850s there were four railroads between Portland, Waterville, and Bangor, all with "Kennebec" in their names. Two were Portland gauge and two were 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge. In the same territory was the Portland gauge Androscoggin Railroad, opened in 1855 between Leeds Junction on the A&K east of Lewiston, and Farmington. In 1861 after discussions with the A&K fell apart, it built an extension south to the K&P at Brunswick and narrowed its track to standard gauge. The Eastern Railroad supported Boston interests against their Portland rivals by siding with the standard gauge lines in a dispute over through fares.
The Maine Central Railroad (MEC) was incorporated in 1862 to consolidate the A&K and P&K railroads. In 1870 it leased the Portland & Kennebec (the reorganized Kennebec & Portland) and in 1871 it leased the Androscoggin Railroad. That same year MEC converted its own lines to standard gauge. It absorbed the leased lines soon after and came under the control of the Eastern Railroad. That control passed to the Boston & Maine Railroad (B&M) in 1884.
With a monopoly established in the territory between Bangor and Portland, the MEC began expanding. In 1882 MEC leased the European & North American Railway (E&NA). The E&NA had been conceived as a rail line to the farthest tip of Nova Scotia (cutting the steamship time to Europe to a minimum) and as part of a rail route between Montreal and the Maritime Provinces. It opened from Bangor to Vanceboro on the New Brunswick border, in 1871; consolidated with its Canadian counterpart (Vanceboro to Saint John); leased the Bangor & Piscataquis and Bucksport & Bangor railroads; then slipped into receivership in 1875, losing most of its acquisitions. Construction in 1884 extended the MEC through Ellsworth to the Mount Desert Ferry.
In 1888, the MEC leased the Portland & Ogdensburg Railway (P&O). The P&O was the Maine and New Hampshire portion of a series of railroads from Portland to Lake Ontario. Control of the other segments by other railroads reduced the line to local status (the other pieces became the St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain Railroad and the western portion of the Rutland Railroad). In 1890 MEC leased the Upper Coos Railroad and the Hereford Railway, which together formed a route along the upper reaches of the Connecticut River and north across the Canadian border to a connection with the Quebec Central Railway.
In 1891 MEC leased the Knox & Lincoln Railway, which ran from Woolwich, across the Kennebec River from Bath, east to Rockland. In 1904 it acquired control of the Washington County Railroad, built in 1893 from Ellsworth east to Calais and Eastport. In 1907 MEC acquired control of the Somerset Railroad, which stretched north along the Kennebec River from Oakland, west of Waterville, through Bingham and up to Moosehead Lake; that same year MEC leased the Portland & Rumford Falls Railway, which ran from Auburn west to Poland and Mechanic Falls, then north to Kennebago.
Maine's most prosperous 2-foot-gauge railroads, the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes and the Bridgton & Saco River, came under the control of the MEC in 1911 and 1912. The prosperity soon evaporated, and the narrow gauge lines regained their independence in 1923 and 1927, respectively.
The lease of the Hereford Railway was terminated in 1925. Some of it was abandoned; some sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP). The Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad, which MEC had leased since its opening in 1871, began independent operation in 1926. In 1927 the state of Maine opened a rail and highway bridge across the Kennebec River between Bath and Woolwich, replacing the ferry which had been the Rockland Branch's connection to the rest of the railroad. Two long branches reaching northward were abandoned in the 1930s; the former Somerset Railroad from Austin Junction, near Bingham, to Kineo Station on the shore of Moosehead Lake, and the Portland & Rumford Falls north of Rumford in 1935 and 1936.
Control of the MEC by the B&M ended in 1914, but in 1933 the MEC entered an agreement with the B&M for joint employment of some officers and personnel. The cooperative arrangement, which provided the benefits of merged operation, continued until 1952, when MEC took steps to resume its independence. Separation from B&M was completed on December 29, 1955. Passenger service on the MEC ceased in 1960, though the Gull remained in service until 1963 carrying mail and express (handicapped somewhat by the decision of B&M, MEC's principal passenger connection, to drop all mail and express service and concentrate on carrying passengers).
In 1974 MEC sold the former E&NA line between Mattawamkeag and Vanceboro, 57 miles (92 km), to CP for $5.4 million, retaining trackage rights — essentially swapping positions on that stretch of track, which was part of CP's Montreal-Saint John line. Two years later MEC sold its North Stratford, New Hampshire-Beecher Falls, Vermont line to the state of New Hampshire. The North Stratford Railroad began operating the line in 1977. In the late 1970s MEC upgraded the track on its Mountain Division, the former P&O line from Portland through the White Mountains via Crawford Notch to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Even though local business had decreased, traffic interchanged with CP at St. Johnsbury was still at a good level.
In 1980 U. S. Filter Corporation purchased the MEC. Almost immediately Ashland Oil took over U. S. Filter and in June 1981 sold the railroad to Timothy Mellon's Guilford Transportation Industries, which then bought the B&M and Delaware & Hudson (D&H) in 1983 and 1984. Guilford began operating the three railroads as a unified system, selling unprofitable lines, closing redundant yards and shops and eliminating jobs. Suddenly it made more sense to route traffic to and from the west via B&M and D&H, and the Mountain Division was out of a job. Through freight service ceased, and Mattawamkeag replaced St. Johnsbury as the interchange with CP. By the mid-1980s the line was all but abandoned. Guilford abandoned the Rockland and Calais branches about the same time and petitioned to abandon most of the "Lower Road", the Portland-Augusta-Waterville route, leaving the railroad with a main line from Portland through Lewiston, Waterville, and Bangor to Mattawamkeag and a few stray branches.
Mellon, heir to the Mellon Bank fortune whose motives were largely driven by ideology and profit, had little understanding of the railroad industry and its labor quirks. Mellon's draconian management style resulted in railroad employees going on strike in 1986 and 1987. As a cost-saving tactic, Mellon leased most of the B&M, MEC and D&H to the Springfield Terminal Railway (ST), a 6.5-mile (10.5 km) former electric interurban line acquired by B&M in 1930 between Charlestown, New Hampshire and Springfield, Vermont. The current ST operated under more relaxed shortline work rules; leasing the three former railroads to ST helped raise profits for Guilford but cut employee pay by half.
For most of its existence, Guilford had about as much success with MEC as it had with B&M: none. This was due more to mismanagement and a lack of understanding the inner workings of a railroad works than questionable traffic loads. Guilford changed its name to Pan Am Railways (PAR) in 2006. Pan Am entered a joint venture with Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) in April 2009 to form Pan Am Southern. PAR transferred to the joint venture its 155-mile (249 km) mainline track that runs between Mechanicville, New York, and Ayer, Massachusetts. ST provides all railroad services for the joint venture, again to control costs.
The MEC passenger trains, often advertised as "M.C. R.R." in the early 20th century, were essential to the sporting camp movement as early as the 1880s when people from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit would make their way north to hunt and fish in the western mountains and the Maine North Woods.
Among the named trains operated by the MEC prior to ending passenger service in 1960 were the Bar Harbor Express, Down Easter, Flying Yankee, Gull, Katahdin, Kennebec, Mountaineer, Penobscot, Pine Tree, and Skipper. The Down Easter name is in use by Amtrak (now spelled Downeaster), which operates passenger service between Boston, Massachusetts and Brunswick, Maine.
- Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 386–388. ISBN 0-89024-072-8.
- Peters, Bradley L. (1976). Maine Central Railroad Company.
- The 470 Railroad Club, "Meet the Maine Central: The Pine Tree Route 1960-1981." (Augusta: KJ Printing, 1981.
- Holt, Jeff (1985). The Grand Trunk in New England. Railfare. p. 78. ISBN 0-919130-43-7.
- "Excerpt from an article in the Portland Weekly Advertiser of January 28, 1870, relating to the Report of the Maine Railroad Commission for 1869". CPRR.org. Retrieved 2007-07-13.
- "Report of False Abandonment of Belfast Branch". Railroad Photographic History Museum. Retrieved 2007-07-13.
- "MEC cancellation notice". Retrieved 2007-07-13.
- Belden, Tom (May 6, 1990). "An Investor Believes He's On Track; Banking Heir Timothy D. Mellon Has Poured Millions Into Regional Railroads; He's Also Stirred Controversy". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Springfield Terminal Railroad map
- Schafer, Mike (2003). Classic American Railroads, Volume III. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. pp. 75–84. ISBN 076031649X. OCLC 768623553.
- Johnson, Ron (n.d.). Maine Central R.R. Mountain Division. 470 Railroad Club.
- Lewis, Edward A. (1974). Vermont's Covered Bridge Road. The Baggage Car.
- Maine Central Railroad (1917). Hand-Book of Officers, Agents, Stations, and Sidings. Edwin B. Robertson.
- The Secretary of Transportation (1974). Rail Service to the Midwest and Northeast Region. U.S.Government Printing Office.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maine Central Railroad.|
- BMLRR.com (An illustrated history of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad which was operated by the MEC 1871-1926 as its Belfast Branch.)