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The Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad visit 6/24/2015

by Chris Guenzler

Robin and I left Boothbay Village and headed east on US Highway 1 to Warren where we found another station.

The Warren Maine Central station built by its predecessor Knox and Lincoln Railroad Company in 1879 . From here we drove to Thomaston to another former station.

The Thomaston Maine Central station, also built by its predecessor Knox and Lincoln Railroad Company in 1879. Our drive took us next to Rockland.

Morristown and Erie GP7 100, ex. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic 100, nee Bangor and Aroostook 568 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1950 here.

The Maine Eastern yard. We drove to find the station in town.

The Rockland Maine Central station built in 1917. We then stopped at KFC to get some lunch to go and drove to Belfast and out to the City Point Railroad Museum Station and parked. Although they were not operating this day, I received permission to look around their property.

Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad History

The Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad was a standard-gauge shortline railroad that operated from 1871 to 2007 over a single-track grade from Belfast to Burnham Junction in Maine.

Chartered in 1867, the line was built between August 1868 and December 1870 by the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad Company (B&MLRR), which was majority-owned by the City of Belfast until 1991. For its first 55 years, the road was operated under lease by the Maine Central as its Belfast Branch, which provided daily passenger and freight service to eight stations over the length of Waldo County, Maine. After the MEC cancelled its lease in 1925, the B&MLRR began running trains under its own name. Passenger operations ceased in March 1960, although in 1988, the railroad began operating summer tourist trains to offset a decline in freight traffic. In 1991, the city sold its interest in the money-losing railroad to private owners. In 2007, the railroad ended operations as the B&MLRR.

Today, the line is operated by the non-profit Brooks Preservation Society as the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railway and runs weekend excursion trains in the spring, summer and early fall between City Point, Waldo and Brooks.

Organization and construction

The first attempt to bring a railroad to Belfast, a Penobscot Bay port city that was Waldo County's shire town, came on March 9, 1836, when the Maine Legislature passed "An Act to establish the Belfast and Quebec Railroad Company", but any prospects for financing the project were quickly killed by a provision in the Maine Constitution that prohibited public loans to build railroads and by the Panic of 1837. A second attempt to raise funds for the Quebec route in 1845 also failed, as did an 1848 proposal for a line from Belfast to Waterville, and an 1853 proposal for a line from Belfast via Newport, Dexter, and Dover to Greenville on the shores of Moosehead Lake.

In 1867, a change in state law finally made it possible for cities and towns to help finance railroads through bond issues. The 47th Maine Legislature soon passed a bill to charter the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad Company, which was signed by Governor Joshua L. Chamberlain on February 28, 1867. Certificate 102 for three shares of the capital stock of the B&MLRR Co. were issued in 1878.

On April 6, 1867 and March 28, 1868, the people of Belfast voted by margins of 865-27 and 854-50, respectively, to authorize the city to issue 30-year, six percent bonds to finance their purchase of B&MLRR stock. The bond money bought a total of 5,004 shares of preferred (1,400) and non-preferred (3,604) stock at $100 per share. This would eventually represent 83 percent of the company's outstanding shares, the rest of which were purchased by several other towns along the line (Brooks, Unity and Thorndike), and by about 100 private investors, mostly from Belfast and Boston. The corporation was formally organized on July 3, 1867, and after a year of planning, making detailed surveys and acquiring additional financing, a contract was let to Ellis, Wilson and Hogan Co. of Canada on July 8, 1868 to build the line at a cost of $25,900 per mile.

Ground was broken on the Belfast waterfront on August 4, 1868, at what would become the site of the road's terminal and main yard (milepost "0") for the next 138 years. The railroad's "Last Spike" was driven near Brooks on September 24, 1870, completing a line that stretched 33.07 miles from Belfast inland to Burnham Junction.

Operations of the MEC Belfast Branch (1871-1925)

As the name of the railroad suggests, the original intent was to build the line 88 miles inland to Greenville on Moosehead Lake. Instead, the Maine Central Railroad leased the road, which connected with the MEC's Portland-Bangor main line at Burnham Junction. Located at the far end of Waldo County, the connection was at milepost 97 of the MEC main line, some 14 miles northeast of Waterville (MP 83) and 41 miles southwest of Bangor (MP 138).

Beginning on December 23, 1870, the MEC ran the line as its Belfast Branch. The railroad prospered under the MEC, with three daily round trips for passengers. Most freight during this period was southbound, consisting largely of grain for poultry production in the area, as well as smaller amounts of fish oil, leather, coal, lumber and fertilizer. Outbound freight originally included a large amount of processed fish from Belfast's processing plants; shoes and other manufactured goods from Belfast; farm products from Waldo, Brooks, Knox and Thorndike; and milk from the Turner Center Creamery in Unity.

With the decline in American railroad profitability in the 20th century, the Maine Central discontinued its lease of the Belfast Branch on January 1, 1926. The operation of the newly-independent Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad fell to the city of Belfast and for the first time, the B&MLRR began running trains under its own name.

In the 1950's and 1960's, much of the freight was chicken feed for the area's poultry houses. The railroad dieselized in 1946 and scrapped its last steam locomotive (BML 19) in 1950. Through this period, the railroad continued to decline. Passenger service ceased on March 9, 1960, after the B&ML lost its U.S. Mail (RPO) contract. There was a burst of good freight business in the 1970's, but by 1990, freight traffic had ceased as well. In the early 1990s, heritage railroad tourist trains began running.

Tourist railroad

In 1991, the city sold its shares of the money-losing operation. The railroad changed hands rapidly since then. It operated diesel excursion runs from Belfast to Waldo and diesel- and steam-powered trains from Unity to Burnham Junction.

The railroad's relations with the City of Belfast deteriorated. In 1995, it built a new station in Unity (MP 24.95) and moved its headquarters there. The year also saw the railroad purchase a former Swedish State Railways steam locomotive for its Unity excursions. In 2004, the railroad ceased operations from Belfast; the following year, the city evicted the railroad from its waterfront yard after the company failed to make lease payments on the property. The yard's turntable and tracks there were pulled up and sold off; the site is now occupied by the Front Street Ship Yard.

The railroad suspended operations in 2007.

In February 2009, the Brooks Preservation Society (BPS) entered into an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation to lease and restore the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad corridor with the intent of restoring railroad activity to Waldo County. BPS began railroad operations under the name Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railway, then changed to Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad.

During 2009 and 2010, excursion trains operated mostly over the line east of Brooks with special-event trains over other sections. In 2011 and 2012, excursions operated out of Upper Bridge Belfast. Starting in 2013, excursions operated out of City Point Central Railroad Museum, allowing the City of Belfast to develop the corridor east of the museum as a walking trail.

Our visit

The Maine Central City Point station built in 1871 and is from Corinna, 38 miles away.

Museum scene.

The railroad crossing sign.

The Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad freight house.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad 70 ton switcher 53, ex. Montpelier & Barre 21, nee Barre and Chelsea 12 built by General Electric in 1947.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad coach 3248, ex. Maine Coast Railroad, exx. New Jersey Transit, exxx. Conrail 1976-1983, exxxx. Erie Lackawanna 3248 1960-1976, ex. Delaware, Lackawanna and Western "low roof" multiple unit trailer 1930, nee Delaware Lackawanna and Western 348 built by Pullman in 1925.

Unknown Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad coach.

The old grade, now a trail to Belfast, where the trains once ran.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad coach 5680.

Unknown Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad coach.

Another unknown Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad coach.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad 70 ton switcher 50 built by General Electric in 1946.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad caboose 31 built by Maine Central Railroad in 1924.

An old passenger car put to other uses than what it was intended for.

City Point railroad museum scene.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad open air car 25 built from a Bangor & Aroostook pulpwood flat car.

Maine Central caboose 610.

Maine Central wooden caboose 606, painted as Champion Paper Company.

Outside braced box car 990 for railroad workers.

Box car 123.

Champion Paper Company maintenance-of-way flat car 555.

Maine Central caboose 640 built by International Car .

Maine Central caboose 656 built by International Car.

BML maintenance-of-way work car 23.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad 70 ton 51 built by General Electric in 1946.

Maine Central box car 9813.

Belfast Crossing tender's shanty. This building used to sit beside the crossing at Pierce Street in Belfast; the crossing at the eastern end of the old RT1 bridge coming into the city. The tender operated two manual gates to manage auto traffic over the crossing in times gone by.

Maine Central box car 9862.

Museum scenes.

Maine Central caboose 610R.

Museum scenes. We would like to thank the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad for allowing us here today.

We drove back to US Highway 1 and soon found an ice cream shop which was closed but the building was interesting.

The Bangor and Aroostook station in Searsport built in 1905.

Maine Central gas-electric doodlebug 901 built by St. Louis Car Company in 1933. We continued driving east.

The United States Highway 1 Penobscot Bay Bridge towers. We drove onto Bucksport crossing that bridge.

The Bucksport Bangor & Aroostook station built in 1896 and houses the Bucksport Historical Society Museum.

Views from the station. From here we drove up Maine Highway 15 to Bangor and our next stop of the day.