Analysis: Rail Opportunities Still Abound in Maine Forests

LONG UNDERSERVED, MANY RAIL OPPORTUNITIES EXIST IN MAINE'S FOREST PRODUCTS INDUSTRY

Maine forest product mills produce +/-90,000 truckloads of forest products each year, about 2/3 of which is paper and pulp, and the remainder processed wood (lumber, chips). Nearly all of that output is shipped out of the state. Truck is by far the dominant transportation mod for both finished export and internal movement of feedstocks and supplies.

Maine has about 1,100 miles of Class 2 and Class 3 railway. Despite the relatively small percentage of forest products moved by rail, they are the state’s primary carload driver, accounting for 42% of cars originating in Maine in 2015. Some mill sources indicate that that number has trended downward in recent years, but that only magnifies the vast opportunities to increase rail use by forest industries to ship finished products to markets out of state and, to a lesser but still significant degree to participate in the in-state traffic of raw logs and pulpwood.

Maine-forest-products mills-and-rails
Maine forest product mills produce approximately 90,000 truckloads of finished product (paper, pulp, lumber, fuel) per year for export, and several thousand more of feedstock, distributed within the state. Only a relatively small amount of that total moves by train, yet accounts for ~40% of all rail traffic. Can a dedicated operator unlock the huge potential Down East?

Maine’s operating pulp mills are all served by rail (Rumford, Skowhegan, Old Town and Woodland). Many sawmills are not located on or near rail lines, but some big ones are, and there are certainly intermodal and transload opportunities to move lumber from a mill in Maine to a distant market using trucks and rail in tandem.

Recent studies evaluating transportation of raw and finished forest products has identified the primary barriers to increased use of rail: a fragmented network that often requires multiple carriers and modes from mill to market, long stretches of track that has been indifferently maintained, as well as service and capacity constraints.  These are real but solvable challenges, and there is opportunity to significantly grow the volume of forest products that travel Maine rail.