GRAY — The executive director of the Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum says the group is “chugging along” with its plans to move to Gray.
Donnie Carroll, the nonprofit’s executive director and a longtime Gray resident, gave a Dec. 5 presentation to the Gray Town Council with an update on the planned relocation from Portland – which has been in the works since the town was chosen as the new site in 2011.
In his presentation, Carroll laid out preliminary plans for the museum and train station.
“Our hope is that we’ll be able to break ground and start the permitting process in the spring,” Carroll said in an interview this week.
He said the organization is in the process of finalizing the purchase of 18-21 acres of land that would be used for the museum property. The land for the track right of way has already been transferred from Central Maine Power, Carroll said.
Carroll also said the tracks, none of which have been laid yet, would run south from the museum and station for about 1.6 miles.
A total of about 3 miles of track would need to be put down, which Carroll said will be “kind of a fun process to watch.”
He said the organization was founded in 1992 as nonprofit education organization that is “basically volunteer based.” It maintains narrow gauge tracks, trains and its museum in Portland, where a rail line is leased from the Maine Department of Transportation.
The term narrow gauge refers to the width of the tracks. While standard gauge tracks are more than 4 feet wide, Carroll said narrow gauge tracks are only 2 feet wide.
In his presentation, Carroll acknowledged that the Narrow Gauge Railroad’s financial footing has not always been on track, but said things have turned around.
He said the organization was “floundering” in 2015, but has been buoyed by fundraising and “relationship building” with donors that has been able to “bring home some cash for us.”
“We’re in pretty good shape for a little nonprofit,” he said.
Narrow Gauge has launched the Tie it Together fundraising campaign, in which people can donate to the organization, have a specific rail tie on the new tracks designated in recognition of their support and have their names featured in a display at the museum.
The Gray Council seemed receptive to the Dec. 5 presentation, which Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said grew out of a conversation between Vice Chairman Bruce Foshay and Carroll.
Foshay thanked Carroll at the onset of the presentation and said the project had “caught his eye” for years and he was wondering about its status.
“We are excited about the next steps,” Gallagher said in an interview this week, adding that the plans “look amazing.”
“It’s made quite a headway,” she said.
Gallagher also asked about the group’s Portland tracks during the December meeting, and Carroll said the hope is to maintain operations in Portland at least through the end of Narrow Gauge’s existing lease with Maine DOT, which expires in 2023.
Carroll said the “big question is what happens to Polar Express,” a holiday program which generates about 45 percent of Narrow Gauge’s revenue. If the Polar Express moves to Gray, it would likely be the last part of the move, he said.
Councilor Jason Wilson thanked Carroll for his efforts. Wilson suggested a public-private partnership in 2016, which came to the voters as a nearly $500,000 question that would have supported the railroad relocation. Voters ultimately turned that question down 2,757-2,078.
Wilson called Carroll’s work “fantastic progress” in an interview and said he still believes the railroad can provide a “huge” economic boost to the town.
Carroll said Narrow Gauge did not ask for the funding and does not plan to seek out town funding moving forward.
“We’re not going to go to them,” he said, clarifying that the group would be willing to explore some sort of partnership if the town had suggestions.
Carroll sees the project having the potential to bring about a million dollars per year into Gray, saying the economic impact could be “massive.”
He thinks it can tie in with the same demographic as the visitors to the Maine Wildlife Park and can potentially bring people to town for a full day of eating and shopping in the area.
Carroll laid out several ways the town can be supportive of the project, including being positive, volunteering and providing donations, and open communications in the ongoing process.
Carder expressed interest in the Tie It Together Campaign and asked if there was a way to help get the word out so that more Gray residents could be involved.
Carroll responded that he would like to hold some public engagement and recruitment meetings to talk about how people can be involved moving forward.
“It’s your home, we’re going to entrust this to you,” Carroll said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
The executive director of the Narrow Gauge Railroad Company gave a presentation to the Gray Town Council that included a rendering of what the new museum could look like.