Maine Central Railroad Company

Maine Central Railroad Company
Maine Central Railroad Co.


System map
MEC system map, circa 1923
Reporting mark MEC
Locale central Maine with lines to New Brunswick, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec
Dates of operation 1862–1981 (subsumed by Guilford Transportation Industries, continues as subsidiary in name only)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge), converted from 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) in 1871
Headquarters Portland, Maine

The Maine Central Railroad Company (reporting mark MEC) was a railroad in central and southern Maine. It was chartered in 1856 and began operations in 1862. It operated a mainline between South Portland, Maine, east to the Canada-U.S. border with New Brunswick, and a Mountain Division west to Vermont and north to Quebec.



Charter and creation

The Maine Central was created in 1862 through the merger of the Androscoggin and Kennebec Railroad and the Penobscot and Kennebec Railroad, resulting in a line from Danville (now Auburn) to Bangor. The line connected with the Grand Trunk Railway on its Portland-Chicago mainline at Danville and with the Bangor and Piscataquis Railroad in Bangor. As a result of its connection with the Grand Trunk, the Maine Central initially operated on a track gauge of 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) known as "Canadian" or "Portland gauge".


MEC Portland-Bangor 1867

Maine Central purchased the Portland and Kennebec Railroad, which ran from Portland to Augusta and was built to standard track gauge, since it connected with the Boston and Maine Railroad at Portland. By 1871, the Maine Central completed its conversion to standard gauge to facilitate interchange of cars.[1]

The MEC established rail service to the Penobscot Bay in 1871 by leasing (for fifty years) the then just-completed 33-mile (53 km) of track built by the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad (B&ML). The B&ML's grade ran the length of Waldo County from the port town of Belfast inland to Burnham Junction, where its single track connected with the MEC's Portland to Bangor mainline. Maine Central operated the road as its "Belfast Branch" for the next 55 years, but on June 30, 1925, MEC President Morris McDonald — after repeated public denials[2] — gave the B&ML (and the city of Belfast as its majority owner) the required six months notice that it would not renew its by then year-to-year lease when it expired on December 31, 1925.[3] The reason eventually given was a net loss to the MEC on the Belfast Branch operations of $113,230 for the year 1924.[2] The B&ML took over operation of its road on January 1, 1926. It continued to exchange passengers and mail with the MEC at their jointly owned station at Burnham Junction until 1960 and freight interchange traffic until 2002.

MEC locomotive crossing the Willey Brook Bridge in New Hampshire, circa 1906

In 1882, Maine Central leased the European and North American Railway (E&NA) between Bangor and Vanceboro. In 1889, the Canadian Pacific Railway purchased trackage rights from the Maine Central on the portion of the former E&NA from Mattawamkeag to Vanceboro. This Maine Central trackage formed part of the CPR's Montreal-Saint John mainline, upon completion of the International Railway of Maine. This line was an important rail route for Canadian war material heading to the port of Saint John for shipment overseas to Europe. In the months before the United States entered the war, a German Army lieutenant attempted to blow up the railway bridge which crossed the St. Croix River at the international boundary. The lieutenant was arrested by Washington County sheriff Still Woodman, who later became chairman of Maine's Highway Department.[4]

Frankenstein Trestle in New Hampshire, circa 1920

In 1888, the Maine Central leased the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad, which ran from Portland, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire via Crawford Notch, and into St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where it connected with the Southeastern Railway (owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway). Maine Central also operated a line southeast from Bangor along the coast through Machias to Calais, with branches to Bucksport, Bar Harbor and Eastport. Maine Central gained stock control of the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad in 1911 and the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad in 1912, and operated both as narrow gauge branch lines.

Maine Central headquarters, at 222 Saint John Street in Portland, built in 1916, seen here in 1920.

The Maine Central was at its height by 1917 when it became nationalized during World War I under the United States Railroad Administration, having trackage which extended over 1,358 miles (2,185 km). It ran from Vanceboro, Calais and Eastport in the east, to Portland in the south, St. Johnsbury, Vermont in the west, and to Lime Ridge, Quebec in the north. It also operated resorts and coastal steamships and ferries.


Passenger operations

Passenger station in Standish, Maine, circa 1907

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.[5] Today, the Down Easter name is in use by Amtrak (now spelled Downeaster), which brought interstate passenger rail service back to Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts in December, 2001.


MEC "pine tree" herald

Following World War I, Maine Central began retracting. It sold or abandoned lines such as the narrow gauge logging systems, as well as its ferries and steamships. In the 1930s it began to change its locomotives from steam-powered to diesel-powered. Beginning in 1933, Maine Central entered into a "joint management" agreement with the Boston and Maine Railroad, with which it shared the Portland Terminal Company (a switching railroad in Portland).

Faced with increased competition from cars, trucks and buses, Maine Central operated its last passenger train on September 5, 1960, and continued to reduce its freight business to reflect changing traffic.


Guilford Transportation Industries logo

In 1980, the railroad was purchased by U.S. Filter Corporation and was then sold in 1981 to Guilford Transportation Industries, which later purchased the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1983 and the Delaware and Hudson Railway in 1984. Initially Guilford operated the system intact, although the system now permitted run-through traffic between central Maine and Boston. By the mid-1980s, Guilford began to rationalize its system and fully one-third of Maine Central's trackage was eliminated, including the "Mountain Division" from Portland to St. Johnsbury, Vermont; the "Rockland Branch" from Brunswick to Rockland; the "Calais Branch" from Bangor to Calais; and the "Lower Road" from Augusta to Brunswick. Guilford also forced many management and salary changes, resulting in a major strike against the company in 1986. Guilford Transportation also moved the Maine Central's headquarters from Portland to North Billerica, Massachusetts in the mid-1980s.

Former Somerset & Kennebec track over the Kennebec River near Augusta, Maine, July 8, 2006

One of the instigating factors which led to the labor strife at Guilford relates to a corporate reorganization at one of the company's former Maine Central properties. After the Calais Branch was abandoned, a small portion of trackage between Calais and Woodland remained in service to a pulp mill. It was joined to the rest of the North American rail network through a connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway at St. Stephen, New Brunswick and operated through New Brunswick territory for several miles between Calais and Woodland. In order to avoid union agreements that the rest of the rail system was forced to follow, Guilford leased this operation to an obscure B&M subsidiary known as Springfield Terminal Railway. Eventually, the corporate reorganization under Springfield Terminal would extend to the full extent of Guilford operations.

Maine Central boxcar in Guilford livery

The former Maine Central locomotive shops in Waterville continue as Guilford's main repair shops.

In the early 1990s, Guilford ended its practice of putting the full "Maine Central" name on the long hoods of MEC locomotives. Instead, the locomotives would wear the "Guilford Rail System" moniker, with small "MEC" reporting marks underneath the cab windows.

On November 1, 2003, the Morristown and Erie Railway (M&E) took over the former Maine Central "Lower Road" (main line) and Rockland Branch routes (aided by significant public funding from the state Department of Transportation). M&E is operating these state-owned lines as the Maine Eastern Railroad. Prior to M&E, the Rockland Branch had been operated by Safe Handling, and before that, the Maine Coast Railroad. Several railroad preservation and promotion groups are seeking to have the state-owned Calais Branch and Mountain Division routes reactivated for use by short line or tourist rail operations.

Pan Am

A former Maine Central boxcar painted in the new Pan Am Railways livery in 2005

In the first quarter of 2006, Guilford Transportation Industries officially changed its name to Pan Am Systems, reflecting GTI's purchase of Pan American World Airways in 1998. The rail division of GTI changed its name from Guilford Rail System to Pan Am Railways (PAR). PAR began repainting locomotives in the sky-blue Pan Am colors shortly thereafter.


Pan Am Railways' Boston and Maine Railroad comes into the state of Maine in South Berwick, through the town's southwest corner, continuing northeast through North Berwick, Wells, Kennebunk, Arundel, Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, and Scarborough before coming to Rigby Yard in South Portland. Rigby was the junction point for the end-to-end MEC and B&M systems since 1922. Maine Central operated lines between Portland and Northern Maine Junction as the Portland Division and lines east of Northern Maine Junction as the Eastern Division.[6]

Former extended mainline

The Maine Central mainline continued from Mattawamkeag to the Canadian border at Vanceboro. The Canadian Pacific Railway shared this mainline under trackage rights agreement for their transcontinental route to Saint John, New Brunswick, and purchased the line from Maine Central on December 17, 1974, for $5.4 million. Maine Central retained trackage rights and subsequently operated the line as the Vanceboro Branch.[4]

Former Lower Road mainline

Maine Central operated parallel mainlines between Royal Junction and Waterville. The northerly mainline used by PAR was known as the "back road" and the slightly shorter mainline up the Kennebec River was the "lower road". Maine Central mileposts east of Waterville computed mileage via the "lower road", so PAR distances from Portland to points east of Waterville are 3.5 miles (5.6 km) greater than the above mileposts.[6] PAR operates from Royal Junction to Brunswick as the Brunswick Branch.

Branch lines

The Maine Central under PAR still has several branch lines in operation.


The following MEC lines have been divested.

Predecessor lines

  • The Androscoggin Railroad was chartered in 1848, and completed a Portland gauge railroad from Leeds Junction to West Farmington in 1859. The line was converted to standard gauge upon completion of a standard gauge extension south from Leeds Junction to Brunswick in 1861 with a branch from Crowley's Junction to Lewiston. A bridge across the Sandy River brought the railroad to Farmington in 1870. It was leased as the Maine Central Farmington branch and Lewiston branch in 1871 and purchased in 1911.[4]
  • The Androscoggin and Kennebec Railroad was chartered in 1845; opened a Portland gauge railroad from Danville Junction to Waterville in 1849; was merged into the Maine Central in 1862; and later became the "back road" mainline.[4]
  • The Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad was chartered in 1868; opened from Belfast to Burnham Junction in 1870; and leased as the Maine Central Belfast branch from 1871 to 1925.[4]
  • The Buckfield Branch Railroad was chartered in 1847 and opened a Portland gauge railroad from Mechanic Falls to Buckfield in 1850. It was reorganized as the Portland and Oxford Central Railroad in 1857 and extended to Canton in 1870. It was reorganized as the standard gauge Rumford Falls and Buckfield Railroad in 1874, extended to Gilbertville in 1879, and leased by the Portland and Rumford Falls Railway in 1890.[4]
  • The Bucksport and Bangor Railroad was chartered in 1873 and opened from Bangor to Bucksport in 1874. It was reorganized as the Eastern Maine Shoreline Railway in 1882 and leased as the Maine Central Railroad Bucksport Branch in 1883.[4]
  • The Calais Railway was chartered in 1832, and opened 2 miles from Calais to Salmon Falls in 1839 using horses until abandoned in 1841. It was reorganized as the Calais and Baring Railroad in 1849, extended from Salmon Falls to Baring in 1852, and merged into the Saint Croix and Penobscot Railroad in 1870.[4]
  • The Coos Valley Railroad was chartered in 1847 and completed in 1891 to connect the Upper Coos Railroad to the Maine Central Mountain Division. It was leased as the south end of the Maine Central Quebec Division and purchased in 1931 as the south end of the Beecher Falls branch.[4]
  • The Dexter and Newport Railroad was chartered in 1853, and opened from Newport to Dexter in 1868. It was leased as the Maine Central Foxcroft branch in 1869, and the Dexter and Piscataquis Railroad was chartered in 1888 to extend the branch to Dover-Foxcroft in 1889.[4]
  • The Essex County Railroad was chartered in 1864 and opened from Saint Johnsbury to Lunenburg, Vermont in 1875. It was purchased by the Maine Central in 1912 as the west end of the Mountain Division.[4]
  • The European and North American Railway was chartered in 1850, and opened from Bangor to Vanceboro in 1871. It was leased as the Maine Central Eastern Division mainline in 1882, and purchased in 1955 for $125 per share or $3,114,500 payable in cash or bonds at the election of the E&NA shareholders.[4]
  • The Hereford Railway was chartered in 1888 to acquire the Dominion Lime Company railroad from Dudswell, Quebec to Lime Ridge and extend it to connect with the Upper Coos Railroad in 1889. It was leased as the north end of the Maine Central Quebec Division from 1890 to 1925.[4]
  • The Kennebec and Portland Railroad was chartered in 1836, and completed a standard gauge railroad from Portland to Augusta in 1851. It was reorganized as the Portland and Kennebec Railroad in 1862, leased as the Maine Central "lower road" mainline in 1870, and purchased in 1874.[4]
  • The Knox and Lincoln Railroad was chartered in 1864, and opened from Rockland to a ferry connection at Woolwich in 1871. It was leased as the Maine Central Railroad Rockland Branch in 1891 and purchased in 1901.[4]
  • The Lewy's Island Railroad was chartered in 1854, opened from Baring through New Brunswick to Princeton in 1857, and merged into the Saint Croix and Penobscot Railroad in 1870.[4]
  • The Maine Shore Line Railroad was chartered in 1881, opened from Brewer Junction to the Mount Desert ferry under lease to the Maine Central in 1884, and became the Bar Harbor branch in 1888.[4]
  • The Penobscot and Kennebec Railroad was chartered in 1845, completed a Portland gauge line from Waterville to Bangor in 1855, was leased to the Androscoggin and Kennebec in 1856, and merged into Maine Central as the eastern end of the Portland Division mainline in 1862.[4]
  • The Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad was chartered in 1867, opened from Portland to Lunenburg in 1875, leased as the Maine Central Mountain Division in 1888, and purchased in 1943.[4]
  • The Portland and Rumford Falls Railway was chartered by Hugh J. Chisholm in 1890 to lease and extend the Rumford Falls and Buckfield Railroad to serve paper mills along the Androscoggin River. The line was extended from Gilbertville to Rumford Falls in 1892, from Mechanic Falls to connect with the Maine Central at Rumford Junction in 1894, and from Canton to the Maine Central Farmington branch at Livermore Falls in 1899. The line was leased as the Maine Central Rangeley branch and Livermore Falls branch in 1907 and purchased in 1946. Portions of the line form the present Rumford Branch.[4]
  • The Rangeley Lakes and Megantic Railroad was chartered in 1909 to extend the Rangeley branch north from Oquossoc. The line was completed to Kennebago in 1912 and purchased by the Maine Central in 1914.[4]
  • The Rumford Falls and Rangeley Lakes Railroad was chartered in 1894 to extend the Portland and Rumford Falls Railway north from Rumford Falls. The line reached Oquossoc in 1902 and was leased as the north end of the Maine Central Rangeley branch from 1907 to 1936.[4]
  • The Saint Croix and Penobscot Railroad was formed by the 1870 merger of the Calais Railway and the Lewy's Island Railroad and purchased by the Washington County Railroad in 1898.[4]
  • The Sebasticook and Moosehead Railroad was chartered and opened from Pittsfield to Hartland in 1886. It was leased as the Maine Central Harmony branch in 1910, purchased in 1911, and extended to Harmony in 1912.[4]
  • The Somerset Railroad was chartered in 1860, opened from Oakland to North Anson in 1875, extended to Bingham in 1890, and completed to Moosehead Lake in 1907. It became the Maine Central Kineo branch in 1911.[4]
  • The Somerset and Kennebec Railroad was chartered in 1848, completed from Augusta through Waterville to Skowhegan in 1856, leased to the Portland and Kennebec Railroad in 1864, and leased by the Maine Central in 1870, to become the Skowhegan branch and northern end of the "lower road" mainline in 1874.[4]
  • The Upper Coos Railroad was chartered in 1883; opened from North Stratford, New Hampshire to a connection with the Hereford Railway in 1888; leased as the Maine Central Quebec Division in 1890; and purchased in 1931 as the Beecher Falls branch.[4]
  • The Washington County Railroad was chartered in 1893, purchased the Saint Croix and Penobscot Railroad, and opened in 1898 from Eastport to a connection with the Maine Central Bucksport branch near Ellsworth. It became the Calais branch in 1911 after the Maine Central acquired majority stock control in 1904.[4]


  • Johnson, Ron (undated). 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. 
  1. ^ "Excerpt from an article in the Portland (ME) Weekly Advertiser of January 28, 1870, relating to the Report of the Maine Railroad Commission for 1869". Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  2. ^ a b "Report of False Abandonment of Belfast Branch". Railroad Photographic History Museum. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  3. ^ "MEC cancellation notice". Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Peters, Bradley L. (1976). Maine Central Railroad Company. Maine Central Railroad. 
  5. ^ Schafer, Mike Classic American Railroads, Vol III MBI Publishing Co, 2003. pp. 75-84
  6. ^ a b Maine Central Railroad (1917). Hand-Book of Officers, Agents, Stations and Sidings. Edwin B. Robertson. 

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