Hardy U.S. Crews Ride a Foreign Rail : ACROSS MAINE
Here she comes, boys!” shouted Canadian Pacific Railroad station agent Jerry Crandlemire in this American hamlet across the St. Croix River from McAdam, Canada.
The “boys"--U.S. immigration officers Jim Frye, 32, and Glen McNelly, 38, and U.S. Customs officer Phil Babb, 60--were sitting in an anteroom of the railroad station waiting for the St. John-to-Montreal passenger train to arrive.
Maine protrudes far north into Canada’s underbelly, with the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick embracing the top two-thirds of the American state. So, for Canadians in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the shortest route to Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the rest of Canada is across Maine’s midsection.
And Canadian Pacific Railroad’s mainline track goes just that way, running 193 miles through Maine. It is the only stretch of foreign railroad in the United States.
It was around 9 one recent evening, and the westbound “Atlantic"--operated by Via Rail, Canada’s version of Amtrack--was light, only six coaches with 60 passengers. The U.S. immigration and customs officials boarded the train to check passengers’ documents.
Two U.S. citizens, Robert Doiron, an engineer for 43 years with CP Rail, and Paul Richard, a CP Rail fireman for 12 years, were in the locomotive, having boarded the train minutes earlier in McAdam for the trip through Maine.
By agreement between the two nations, American engine crews run the locomotives while they are in U.S. territory and American track crews maintain the Canadian railroad’s tracks in Maine. The agreement also provides for Canadians and Americans to alternate every six months as the conductors, baggage men, flagmen and brakemen on CP Rail passenger and freight trains running through Maine.
Every night, one Canadian Via Rail passenger train crosses through Maine in each direction. Every day, two CP Rail freight trains use the same single track in each direction. In places there are double tracks, enabling trains to pass.
Jacques J. Cote, CP Rail general manager for marketing, said: “I would not term the freight market over this track particularly profitable for us. It’s a very marginal run on a pretty long stretch of track with not that much density on it.”
But it is a historic and important link on CP Rail’s transcontinental service, with the first train having made the run through Maine on June 2, 1889.
The freight trains traveling through Maine move an average of 100 rail cars from the port of St. John, loaded with products from the Maritime provinces and with imports of all kinds from Europe, South America and the Far East. They are headed west to consumers in Montreal, Toronto and throughout Canada. The trains traveling east through Maine from Montreal to St. John carry products for use in the Maritime provinces and for export.
“We also have two trains we call the ‘Maine trains’ or the ‘paper trains,’ ” explained Cote, who is based at CP Rail’s headquarters in Montreal.
“The westbound ‘Maine train’ originates in McAdam and Vanceboro and stops at a number of pulp and paper mills in Maine to pick up newsprint and other paper products destined primarily for newspapers and printing plants in Chicago and the Midwest.”
At the Windsor-Detroit international border, the freight cars with the paper products are transferred to the Soo Line, which is 56% owned by CP Rail, for delivery in the United States.
Eastbound “Maine trains” carry primarily supplies for the Maine pulp and paper companies, wood pulp and chemicals imported into Maine from Canada and other goods from the U.S. Midwest.
“Revenue from the two daily paper trains is about $20 million annually to CP Rail,” noted Cote, who said having trains cut through the territory of a foreign country is highly unusual and possible only because of the friendly borders between Canada and the United States.
In Maine, the passenger trains stop at Vanceboro, Danforth, Mattawamkeag, Brownville Junction, Greenville and Jackman. People from Maine take the trains to St. John and Montreal to shop and vacation in Canada, where the exchange rate favors Americans.
Many baseball fans in Maine will hop the CP Rail train at night, sleep on the way to Montreal, where the train arrives at 8:30 a.m., take in an afternoon baseball game of the National League’s Montreal Expos then catch the evening train home to Maine.
CP Rail’s “Atlantic” passenger train became a political issue in Canada’s last election. Then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government discontinued the passenger trains through Maine in November, 1981, as result of a cutback in funding for Via Rail, which, like Amtrack, operates in the red.
In his campaign, Progressive Conservative candidate Brian Mulroney promised that if he were elected prime minister he would restore the “Atlantic” passenger trains. Following his election, the trains were placed back in operation in June, 1985.
“Rail service is very popular in Canada,” Paul Raynor, director of media communications for Via Rail in Montreal, said in an interview. “Eighty percent of Canadians want rail passenger service retained and they want it modernized.
“Canadians are three times more likely to take the train than their American cousins. Every year, nearly 7 million Canadians ride trains, and Canada has only 24 million people.”
When the “Atlantic” trains were discontinued, there was a storm of protest from Canadians--as well as from people in Maine--and Mulroney’s pro-rail stance won him a lot of votes, Raynor said.
“Canadians have strong feelings about their railroads, feelings that are steeped in the history of this nation,” Raynor continued.