The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum chronicles the history of the state’s five narrow gauge railroads, works to restore old narrow gauge engines and cars, and offers a ride to the old Back Cove Swing Bridge, stuck in its current position after an act of arson.
A narrow gauge railroad is any railroad with a length between the tracks smaller than the standard four feet and 8.5 inches. These rails were two feet apart. From the 1870s until 1946, there were five narrow gauge railroads that ran through Maine supporting industry and tourism away from the coast.
There were benefits to having the rails be a narrow gauge. It made it cheaper to buy land for the tracks. It also made constructing the engines and cars a bit cheaper, as the narrower vehicles required a bit less material. But as roads and vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine became more prevalent, these narrow gauge lines would shut down, with the last one closing after World War II.
The history of the “two-footers” is preserved in the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum in Portland. Narrow gauge locomotives and cars are exhibited and restored here with volunteer assistance and funds, and a section of narrow gauge track was laid down along Portland’s Eastern Promenade trail.
Visitors to the museum may also purchase a ticket to ride on the railroad up the Promenade toward the Back Cove Swing Bridge, now locked in an open position. Once the main passenger link between Portland and Montreal, the bridge saw less and less use until it was damaged by arson in 1984. To keep access to the Back Cove open for boats, the bridge was swung to its current position, where it remains as the end of the only narrow gauge railroad left in the state.