Posts Tagged ‘Downeaster extension’

Maine Legislatures Eye Bangor Extension of Downeasters

February 18, 2021

A group of Maine lawmakers are seeking funding of a feasibility study to examine extending rail passenger service to Bangor.

The study will review the cost of infrastructure improvements, station locations, and projected ridership if Amtrak’s Downeaster service is extended northeast from Brunswick, the current northern terminus of the route.

Similar study funding proposals have failed, most recently in 2017.

State Sen. Joe Baldacci, one of the leaders of the latest effort, believes the time may be right to try again because the U.S. Department of Transportation has a rail-friendly top administrator in Pete Buttigieg.

Downeaster Ridership Slowly Rising

July 11, 2020

Ridership of Amtrak’s Downeaster Service has begun rising although it remains far below what would normally be expected at this time of year.

The service had been suspended for two months starting April 13.

One roundtrip between Boston and Brunswick, Maine, resumed on June 15. It carried 250 passengers in its first week of operation.

Patronage in the second week was 375 and 543 in the third week.

In 2019, Downeaster trains handled 2,400 riders on the Friday before Independence Day. This year it was 134.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said ridership is far from robust.

The Authority, which oversee funding and operations of the Downeaster Service, is hoping service will increase by two roundtrips a day in the next few weeks.

Before the pandemic, Downeaster service had been five daily roundtrips.

Despite the low ridership, Quinn said she’s not concerned about the financial viability of the Downeaster in part due to it having received CARES funding.

Although Quinn is heartened by the rising ridership, she acknowledged, “it’s going to be a long time before we get back to the ridership we had before.”

In the meantime, the pandemic has delayed a proposed trial extension of Downeaster Service to Rockland, Maine, via the Coastal Connection.

That trial weekend service would have intermediate stops in Bath, Wiscasset and Newcastle.

It had been slated to begin in 2018 but was delayed due to scheduling and safety issues.

Studies project the Coastal Connection will cost $200,000 and generate about $120,000 in revenue. Ridership was projected at 7,000.

“The Rockland service is not anything that we’re spending much time on right at this minute,” Quinn said.

She said how the tourism industry bounces back from the pandemic will shape the future of the proposed service.

“We’re trying to be cautious and thoughtful about every next step that we take,” Quinn said.

Additional Passenger Service Being Eyed in Maine

August 7, 2019

A study released earlier this year identified a potential new rail passenger route within the State of Maine that could be funded by a combination of fare revenue, state funding and federal funding.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is overseeing the development of the possible new routes

The Rail Authority currently manages the Amtrak’s Downeaster service between Boston and Brunswick, Maine.

“I think the time has come to look at alternative mass transit to help get people around,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Rail Authority in an interview with Trains magazine.

The agency’s passenger rail service plan released in May said potential new services could include diesel multiple-unit equipment would between Lewiston and Auburn, connecting with the Downeaster at Portland or Yarmouth.

The study identified three possible routes for the Lewiston-Auburn service, including an existing Pan Am Railways freight route, an inactive railroad right of way owned by the state that runs parallel to the Pan Am Route, and an abandoned route of way.

Capital costs range from $189-295 million to ready either of those alignments for high-frequency passenger service through to Portland, or $143-184 million to terminate at Yarmouth.

Quinn views the Lewiston-Auburn service as “more of a commuter-type connectivity” that would provide connections for longer trips to the Downeaster.

Another potential service change would involve extending the Downeaster further up the Atlantic coast to Rockland via a rail line owned by the state whose last seasonal weekend passenger trains ended in 2016.

The line has freight service provided by the Maine Eastern Railroad.
“The thought process there is using our third set of equipment and just extending up to Rockland,” Quinn said.

It would be a weekend only summer operation that Quinn hopes can be implemented next year.

“Starting up a train and have it go back and forth between two arbitrary locations doesn’t necessarily mean that this is going to be an economic success.” Quinn said, adding that additional study is needed to identify specific regional and social benefits.

The Rail Authority is also conducting a study of a new rail passenger station in Portland, where some Downeaster trains originate and terminate.

Amtrak now uses the 20-year-old Portland Transportation Center at Thompson’s Point, which is 10-15 minutes by car or city bus from downtown Portland.

For trains to continue to either Brunswick or Boston requires a reverse move that adds 15 minutes to the travel time.

The Portland station has one rail platform and is at capacity for car parking and bus docks.

The Rail Authority would like to see a new multimodal transit center along the Pan Am main line with a double platform so trains could meet there going northbound and southbound.

The Maine Department of Transportation is studying possible station sites and its report is expected to be released in September.

In a related development, the Rail Authority has estimated it would cost more than $100 million to develop passenger rail service between Portland and Westbrook.

A study found that lowest ticket price to cover costs would be about $12.50 per trip, not including weekend revenue.

The study said the next step will be to work with Portland and Westbrook officials to create an operating plan. That will also need the approval of host railroad Pan Am Railways.

Downeaster Trial Expansion Scrapped

March 29, 2018

A proposed extension of Amtrak’s Downeaster service has been canceled.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the Downeaster, had planned to operate an extension from Brunswick to Rockland, Maine on three weekends this summer.

But Patricia Quinn, executive director of the authority, said the trial service was scrubbed because Amtrak could not conduct a risk assessment of the 58 miles of track to be used by the service in time for the trial runs.

Quinn said Amtrak would conduct its assessment later this year and that the authority is looking to conduct the trials in 2019 with a schedule that “hopefully can be more robust than three round trips.”

The trial service had been expected to operate in August with intermediate stops in stops in Bath, Wiscasset and Newcastle, Maine.

Downeastern Extension Wins 1st Approval

March 1, 2018

An extension of Amtrak’s Downeaster service to the “Vacationland” area of Maine was approved on Monday by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Subject to the approval of the Maine Department of Transportation, Downeaster trains will be extended 50 miles from Brunswick to Rockland on weekends for a three-week trial period in August.

Intermediate stops will be made in Bath, Wiscasset, and Newcastle.

The Authority had hoped to operate the extension for 10 weeks, but that was reduced due to funding limitations.

MDOT owns the tracks between Brunswick and Rockland and approves the Authority’s budget.

Comments Sought on Downeaster Expansion

February 20, 2018

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is seeking public comment regarding a proposed seasonal weekend expansion of Amtrak Downeaster service to Rockland this summer.

The Rail Authority is scheduled to meet on Feb. 26 and may make a decision then about the proposed expansion.

Comments can be address by email to Patricia Quinn, executive director, at Patricia@nnepra.com.

The expansion would bring service to Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland over a line that has not seen passenger service since the Maine Eastern Railroad ended operations in 2016.

The Rail Authority oversees the Downeastern service between Maine and Boston, managing the budget, contracts, promotion, and customer services associated with it.

Amtrak operates the trains under a 20-year agreement using tracks of the Pan Am Railways and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The Maine Department of Transportation owns the tracks between Brunswick and Rockland. The Central Maine and Quebec Railroad provides freight service.

4th Maine Town Backs Downeaster Extension

February 5, 2018

A fourth Maine city has agreed to help pay for an extension of Amtrak Downeastern service to the Midcoast region

Wiscasset has agreed to help the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority expand the Downeaster service beyond its current northern terminus in Brunswick.

The town’s select board unanimously agreed to fund construction of a boarding platform if NNEPRA is able to extend Downeaster service north, which originates in Boston.

Known as the “Coastal Connection,” the service would operate on weekends and serve Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Rockland.

NNERPA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the service is expected to cost about $200,000. She estimated it would have potential ticket sales of $100,000.

Bath, Newcastle and Rockland have existing boarding platforms owned by the Maine Department of Transportation that could be adapted for Amtrak use.

The Wiscasset platform is expected to be built south of Route 1 near a public boat launch. The platform is projected to cost $20,000.

“I think this would be a great thing for Wiscasset,” said Board Chair Judith Colby. “If we could make it happen, I think it would be fantastic.”

Board Member Robert Blagden said the town should be “more than capable” of building a simple platform for the train.