Posts Tagged ‘Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’

New Portland Station Site Sought, Downeastern Service to Expand by Late May

February 26, 2021

Transportation officials in Maine are searching for a site for a new station to serve Amtrak’s Downeaster trains.

The current station is off the main line used by the trains and reaching it adds 15 minutes to each trip.

Nate Moulton, director of freight and passenger rail services for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the agency has “come to a point where the department is willing to pass the baton on to [the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority] to work on whether we can get a facility located on the main line.”

An MDOT study concludes the best location would be on St. John Street between Congress Street and the entrance to the Veterans Memorial Bridge. 

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the authority, said quick action is needed, as other potential sites have already been developed.

In a related development, Quinn said her agency is looking to restore a fifth Downeaster round trip to Boston by late May.

The additional service was called for in a recently survey conducted by MDOT.

Downeaster to Expand to 4 Roundtrips on July 20

July 15, 2020

Amtrak’s Downeaster Service will expand on July 20 to four daily roundtrips.

The service, which is funded and overseen by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, is currently operating just one roundtrip a day between Boston and Brunswick, Maine.

The additional service is described as Phase 2 of a service restoration program.

All Downeaster service had been suspended on April 13 due stay home orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Service had been five roundtrips a day. One daily roundtrip was reinstated on June 15.

With the expansion of service there will be some availability of onboard food service and the re-opening of some Downeaster station facilities.

However, some services, facilities and amenities may not be available.

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.

Downeaster Suspension Extended to May 31

May 1, 2020

Suspension of Amtrak’s Downeaster Service has been extended through May 31, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said on Thursday.

In a news release, the Authority said this reflected an extension of Maine’s stay-at-home order.

During the service suspension the Authority said it will address several maintenance-of-way projects, including several that were scheduled for later in the year that would have required service interruptions.

The Authority also said stations in Maine and New Hampshire that are currently closed are being equipped with information and resources consistent with social and physical distancing guidelines.

Once service resumes the number of passengers per coach will be limited to support the social and physical distancing guidelines set forth by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All Downeaster Service Now Suspended

April 15, 2020

Amtrak’s remaining Downeaster Service has been suspended through at least April 30.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which sponsors the service, said the suspension was due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Amtrak had suspended all Downeastern service between Boston and Brunswick, Maine, except for one daily roundtrip.

With all service now suspended, stations in Brunswick, Freeport, Portland, Saco, Wells, Dover and Durham stations are closed.

Amtrak has waived ticket reservation change fees for all trip reservations made before May 31.

The April 30 date coincides with the expiration date of an order by Maine Gov. Janet Mills restricting public contact and movement, schools, vehicle travel, and retail business operations.

The Downeaster trains that had been operating included Nos. 680 and 685 on Monday through Friday, and Nos. 692 and 693 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Downeaster Set Ridership Records in 2019

February 3, 2020

Amtrak’s Downeaster Service carried a record 574,404 passengers in 2019

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said 2019 ridership was 7.8 percent higher than the previous record of 546,056 set in 2017.

NNEPRA Marketing Director Natalie Bogart said the trains posted ridership growth in nine of 12 months with August 2019 of 60,944 passengers set a record as the first time that ridership surpassed 60,000 in a month.

In a news release the NNEPRA attributes the ridership increases to increased service to Freeport and Brunswick, improved reliability, and repeat riders.

Amtrak said customer satisfaction scores for the Downeaster were 91 percent.

Maine State Employees To Get Downeaster Discounts

December 24, 2019

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is giving a 15 percent discount to Maine state employees who use Amtrak’s Downeaster for travel within or outside the state.

The discount is available on all Downeaster trains. State employees must purchase tickets three days in advance of travel and reference promotion code v503.

A state identification card is required for travel.

The Downeaster operates five round-trips daily between Brunswick, Maine, and Boston.

More information is available at AmtrakDowneaster.com.

“We hope this discount will encourage state employees to choose a cleaner method of travel for both work-related and personal travel,” said Natalie Bogart, marketing director at NNEPRA. “It also makes travel time more productive and less stressful than driving.”

NNERPA Eyes Projects to Improve Downeaster Route

November 27, 2019

Increasing capacity and adding new stations to the route used by Amtrak’s Downeaster trains is being studied by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

NNERPA is considering adding a siding and second platform in Wells, Maine; building a new station at Portland, Maine; and creating a new stop at Falmouth, Maine, south of Portland.

The proposed siding and platform at Wells would allow for the addition of a new northbound, commuter-oriented train from Wells to Portland and on to Brunswick, Maine.

During a public meeting held in Brunswick, NNERPA officials said the plans are not final nor has a decision been made to pursue them.

They said the ideas are part of an effort to boost ridership between stations even if a majority of passengers are traveling to and from Boston.

“Even though there’s a diverse group of people who ride for different reasons, Boston is really the destination,” said Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA’s executive director. “We’re trying to figure out ways to make the Downeaster more appealing for people to ride it on a regional basis.”

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 Train-Bus Passes Launched in Maine

May 19, 2019

A plan has been announced to enable Amtrak Downeaster Service passengers to transfer to public transportation in Maine at no additional fare on a route served by trains and buses.

The agreement involves the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and the Greater Portland Metro.

NNEPA oversees the Downeaster Service whereas Portland Metro operates the METRO BREEZ bus network.

The two agencies have coordinated scheduling and fares so that passengers will be able to buy one-way, 10-ride and monthly passes that enable them to transfer between train and bus or vice versa for no extra cost.

Amtrak operates five daily roundtrips between Portland and Brunswick, Maine. METRO BREEZ operates 13 express weekday bus roundtrips between Portland and Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick, and seven Saturday roundtrips.

A one-way pass will cost $3, a 10-ride pass $27 and a monthly pass $90.

“This schedule and fare structure make it easy for passengers to travel on the mode or schedule that best meets their needs. Take the train one-way and the bus the other.” said Natalie Bogart, marketing director at NNEPRA, in a news release.

The five Downeaster roundtrips between Portland and Brunswick originate or continue to Boston North Station.

Additional information is available at gpmetro.org or by calling 207-774-0351.