Try the train, enjoy the fair, walk the bridge


All aboard!

The sound of the conductor barking boarding orders could soon be a reality in Western Maine if plans to bring passenger rail service back to the area are successful.

This past week, representatives from the Androscoggin, Oxford and Coos Counties Corridor Committee met in South Paris to unveil plans for the Golden Eagle line connecting Montreal to Boston through Western Maine. To make it all work, they would need to reach an agreement with St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, which owns the majority of the tracks throughout Western Maine.

It’s been a fairly quiet story, but this is a big deal, both for Western Maine in general and a very big deal for those towns that are stops along the routes.

For one, the economic impact of the new rail service cannot be overstated. Anytime trainloads – literal trainloads – of people disembark into a community, somebody is going to benefit. That usually means nearby businesses.

There remains a romantic connection to passenger railroad service in the United States, not simply for the history of it but for the pragmatism of it. In few places has this romanticism remained as strong as it has in Maine.

Practically every small town in America – this would describe vast swaths of Maine – owes its existence to the railroads, both commercial freight and passenger service. Before the automobile and air travel mushroomed, railroads served a nation with reliable trains that went through the scenic backwoods of America. They carried passengers who fell in love with this form of transportation, and many remain loyal supporters of passenger rail today.

The towns that rimmed the rails were all once thriving communities. They were self-sufficient economic engines – no pun intended – that grew in unison with the railroads that made stops in their towns.

With the advent of the automobile and the construction of the Interstate Highway system, those communities fell into decline, some to the point of near extinction. The railroads themselves contributed to the exodus, eliminating many of those small towns from their schedules.

A recent resurgence in rail travel and people’s penchant for a simpler lifestyle – not to mention, minus the hassles of airplane travel – have all contributed to the new demand for passenger rail.

That’s good. It’s good for passenger rail, it’s good for the travelling public and, hopefully, within the next year, it will be good for Maine. This is one issue everyone can get on board with.

This year’s Oxford County Fair should be a dandy

Forget Texas and Ohio. Let ’em play politics in Iowa. Oxford County is the fair to be at this year.

Ok, that may be a tad provincial. Of course Texas and Ohio have grand-sized state fairs. And everyone knows the Iowa State Fair draws all the presidential wannabees.

But the Oxford County Fair has real bees. And while the size may be small in comparison, the spirit of the fair and the expectations of fair-goers are many.

The fair got underway on Wednesday but you still have time to see some great acts, including legendary Kenny Rogers, who performs on Saturday.

But that’s not all, as a county fair is more than music and entertainment. It is about the livestock, the 4-H clubs, the food and all the little quirks that make a county fair special. It is about the activities for children as well as the fun things for adults, which may at times be hard to tell apart.

Friday’s schedule includes the “Woodsmen’s Day” while Saturday’s “Family Fun Day” promises all sorts of goodies, including horse pulling, antique tractor pulls, a pig scramble and harness racing.

It will all be topped with firewworks.

Summer’s pretty much done, so take advantage of this time to enjoy the fair.

Norway’s new bridge

Over the years, Americans have been told that there’s too much government in our lives, that the private sector and rugged individualism are the ways to get things done.

In many ways, that may be true. But there are times when government shines, where the confluence of smart business decisions, civic engagement and the larger public good all meet at the same location.

The new Norway bridge crossing the Penneeseewassee Stream behind the Gingerbread House on Main Street is a classic example of something done right.

The bridge is a 3,000-pund structure that has a rustic look to it. The railings around the bridge give it a true country feel. Coupled with the nearby waterfall from the stream and the historic Gingerbread House, the new Norway Bridge is a perfect fit.

Town Manager David Holt and Selectboard members Michael Twitchell, Russell Newcomb and Warren Sessions were all present when the bridge arrived. They watched proudly as workers from Cote Crane and Rigging in Auburn carefully hoisted the steel bridge, and gently lowered it on to is new foundation.

They and all of the other public officials, including the Norway Highway Department, are to be commended for a job well done. Norway is a better place today as a result of their efforts.