Railroads helped build America, and as we continue to seek ways to reduce our carbon footprint, they are likely to become an even larger part of our transportation system. Preserving the history of what was, is as important as developing more efficient transportation for our future. In the late 19th century, a unique system of railroads developed in Maine. In order to serve a large geographic area with a small population, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad was born. Trains running on 2’ wide rails carried freight and passengers, providing a connection between the state’s less populated rural areas and its larger cities. Eventually there were five railroads covering 200 miles of track that served the state from the 1870s to the 1940s. As one would guess, the little trains were the economic engine of Maine at the turn of the 20th Century.
Soon after the rails stopped running commercially, Ellis D. Atwood began purchasing the remnants of the rails and cars to use at his amusement park, the Edaville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts. Founded in 1992, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad (MNGRR) is a nonprofit educational organization supported by the services of 100+ volunteers, who lay and maintain the track; inspect, repair, and operate the trains; and help to run the museum. In September 1993, the organization’s visionary founders brought the historic locomotives and cars back to Maine from the Edaville Railroad. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad has become an important attraction for the greater Portland area, drawing thousands of tourists and area residents to the Old Port to see and experience this remarkable piece of Maine’s history. Today, museum visitors relive railroading as it once was and learn of the railroads’ importance to Maine’s economic development. They have the unique pleasure of riding along the shore of Casco Bay in an antique rail car pulled by historic steam or diesel locomotives. The Maine Narrow Gauge Rail Road and Museum is located at 58 Fore Street on the Portland waterfront – AT LEAST FOR NOW! After nearly 20 years in Portland, due to the sale and future redevelopment plans for the building that houses the museum, MNGRR must relocate. After an extensive search, the group had decided upon Gray, Maine. Gray is home to a portion of another set of historic train tracks known as the ‘Interurban Line” that once connected Maine’s two largest cities, Portland and Lewiston. To date MNGRR has procured the right of way to 2 miles of the Interurban Line and now needs to raise a total of $6,000,000 to build a state of the art museum, restore the rail bed, install the tracks, and construct the necessary train storage and maintenance buildings. The Gray Plaza on Portland Road will be the new home of the museum, gift shop and train facilities, while a two mile section of the former Portland— Lewiston Interurban Rail bed will provide riders with a four mile round trip through a protected area of pristine wetland. While restoring the rail bed, MNGRR will also be enhancing a pedestrian and snowmobile path along the tracks providing low impact public access to the area as well. The relocation of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum and the preservation of this priceless snapshot of Maine’s transportation history can only happen with you help.