The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is considering ways to make traveling from Portland to Bangor easier.
One option is spending $2 million to operate four coach buses on an expanded schedule.
The other is to spend between $628 million and $900 million to expand Amtrack’s Downeaster trainline from Brunswick to Augusta, Waterville, and Bangor.
According to data provided by MDOT, in 2019 the average daily ridership for the Downeaster north of Portland was 112 passengers.
Modern railroad projects are often pitched as a convenient, cost-effective way to decrease traffic and build economic ties between cities.
Environmentalists love rail-based public transit because taking cars off the road decreases carbon emissions.
Labor unions love rail projects for the massive public spending on construction.
But the projects often overrun cost estimates while failing to deliver the prophesied benefits.
In California, for example, plans for a high-speed bullet train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco have been in development since voters approved a bond for the project in 2008. The cost: $33 billion. ($44.86 billion adjusted for inflation.)
By 2022, those costs had more than tripled to $113 billion.
Last year, the Minnesota state legislature audited a Southwest light rail project and discovered that the public works project had more than doubled in cost to $2.7 billion. That line was supposed to be open to riders by 2023, but state officials now say it may not be complete until 2027.
In Washington State, Seattle area rail lines controlled by Sound Transit experienced similar eye-watering cost increases of 40%-50%.
Maine DOT is expected to publish a draft study on the Portland-Bangor railway this week.