Maine will spend $20.1 million to buy 233 miles of rail lines to retain freight-rail service in the state’s northeast sector.

The funds will come from $11 million of bonds sold in 2010 and 2009, and $7 million of state reserve funds, among other sources. In addition, the state will gain $10.5 million of federal TIGER II funds for railway improvements that will provide faster and more reliable service.

The Montreal, Main and Atlantic Railway had begun the process of abandoning the lines. The state’s purchase of the rails ensures that companies in northern Maine have freight-rail access.

“Improved rail connections are critical to Maine’s economy, and this line particularly will help to protect thousands of jobs and major employers in Aroostook and Penobscot counties,” Gov. John Baldacci said in a statement. “The economic impact of the successful rehabilitation of this line will be felt throughout Maine.”

More than 25 companies in the area will benefit from continued freight-rail service and officials estimate nearly 1,000 jobs could have been threatened or at risk if the service were to end completely.

Once the purchase is complete, Maine’s Department of Transportation will release a request for proposals for a private rail operator to provide service. Various companies looking to operate the lines have already expressed interest, according to the administration.

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