Proponents pressure the passenger train from Montreal to Boston

PORTLAND, Maine — Rail proponents are ditching a proposal for a passenger train between Montreal and Boston, with a renewed interest in train travel to bolster a concept that’s been around for more than a decade.

“It’s not hard to sell at all. A lot of people want this,” said Francois Rebello, a former member of the Quebec National Assembly and advisor to the project.

Hundreds of travelers would take a privately operated overnight train every day if obstacles could be overcome to make the service a reality in the coming years, according to a passenger traffic study.

It wouldn’t be a quick affair. Promoters envision a different experience: a leisurely ride with a meal and sleep before arriving at the destination clear-eyed. The 14-hour drive would pass through Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec.

The proposal comes against the backdrop of a rail revival and more than $100 billion in funding for rail infrastructure approved by Congress.

Maine State Sen. Richard Bennett, a Republican who lives in a district where the train would pass, said there is a lot of work to be done.

“I’m both excited and skeptical,” he said. “I definitely support the concept and I think it holds a lot of promise. I think this is possible.”

A market study suggests that about 4,000 people travel daily between Montreal and Boston, and about 1,000 of them would opt for a train service if one is available, Rebello said. The service would be profitable with just 200 riders, he said.

But the proposal is in the early stages and there are many obstacles.

Rail on the Canadian side of the border requires more than $100 million in upgrades and repairs. The track is in good condition through northern New England, but the speed is limited to about 35 mph on a long stretch and there is little hope for additional funding to increase the speed.

Operators would have to negotiate agreements with several private owners of the track — the Saint Lawrence and Atlantic, CSX and others — and multiple crews may be required for the train. Then there’s the issue of clearing customs with people coming and going at multiple train stops, and finding scarce equipment.

The idea of ​​restoring passenger train service from Montreal to Boston for the first time since the 1960s has been going on for more than a decade, and several rail routes have been developed over the years.

This time, the proposed route would follow the Canadian Pacific Railway from Montreal to Sherbrooke, Quebec, then the St. Lawrence and Atlantic across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, where a rail line from CSX runs through Old Orchard Beach, a popular Maine tourist destination. for Canadians. The last stretch is operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

Carl Fowler, a member of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council, is a rail advocate and likes the idea of ​​expanded passenger train service. But he said people need to be realistic about the proposal’s challenges.

“There are a lot of loose ends that need to be fixed,” he said.

Proponents are involved with the Canadian Pacific Railway and its parent company St. Lawrence and Atlantic, and the Canadian government has already considered investing in railroad upgrades, Rebello said. Montreal real estate entrepreneur Nikolai Ray has signed an investor.

About 60 rail attorneys, lawmakers, tourism officials and others recently gathered in Coaticook, Quebec, to discuss the vision promoted by the Montreal-based Fondation Trains De Nuit, or Night Train Foundation, and review a proposed map. Notably absent were state transportation officials from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

But the project will not start soon. The most optimistic view is that the project will take at least two years to become a reality, he said. However, it may take longer to finalize financing and rail agreements.

A motorist could get from Boston to Montreal twice as fast, but rail proponents say travelers would get there in style. People could dine, be entertained and sleep in a comfortable bed, proponents say. They would also save on hotel costs, as they would sleep and shower on the train, supporters said.

The project will appeal to both older riders who are nostalgic about trains and a younger generation who are less enthralled with cars, Rebello said.

Rail enthusiast Sarah LeBaron von Baeyer, who lives outside of Boston and doesn’t drive, said she “wholeheartedly” embraces public transportation, allowing her to visit family and friends in Canada several times a year.

“I like train travel. I have lived in Japan for many years. It was definitely the best way to get around,” she said.

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Associated Press writers Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, and Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this story.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter @David—Sharp—AP