The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) recently began construction on the 26 miles of railway between Portland and Brunswick, which will begin to accommodate Amtrak passenger trains as early as the first quarter of 2012.

In addition to the renovation of the rail beds, the MDOT also plans to construct two 400-foot passenger platforms in Brunswick and Freeport, the two new stops being added to Amtrak's expanded Downeaster route.

The MDOT projects will supplement the recently-completed Brunswick train station, which currently services the Concord Coach and Brunswick Explorer buses. The train station was constructed as part of the larger Maine Street Station (MSS) project intended to re-invigorate downtown Brunswick.

According to Onsite Project Manager of MSS Mike Lyne, the current track, 90 percent of which is privately owned by Pan Am Railways, does allow slower passenger travel but must be revamped before Amtrak trains can traverse it at normal speeds.

The track improvements should be completed in the fall of 2012 and the construction of the platform, which is set to begin this spring, could be finished as early as the upcoming summer. At this point, however, Lyne says that the projects could very well finish ahead of schedule.

The Downeaster currently operates five daily round trips between Portland and Boston and round-trip fares for students can be found for as low as $32.30, which is $12.70 less than a Concord Coach round-trip ticket from Portland to Boston's Logan Airport. The Downeaster plans to add two daily trips to Freeport and Brunswick to its current service.

The construction projects are funded largely by a $35 million federal stimulus grant that Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority received in January 2010 to upgrade the track between Portland and Brunswick. The money was a small portion of the $8 billion that Obama administration officials pledged to improve the nation's high-speed rail network in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the 2009 economic stimulus.

Brunswick residents expressed cautious optimism about the prospect of the coming Amtrak trains.

"I've lived here for 24 years, and for years, I've heard, 'The train is coming, the train is coming,'" said Brunswick resident Dugan Slovenski. "I usually have to drive to Portland and then take a bus down to Boston, but if they bring it, I will ride."

Brunswick resident Tim Aldridge agreed, stating that he was "delighted" by the idea of the train.

"I think train travel makes a great deal of sense," he said, "and the new track opens [Brunswick] up to the entire mid-coast region—Boston, New York, Washington D.C....the cost is the only thing I'm concerned about."

Students are also excited by the idea of the train, particularly first years without cars.

"I think it's great," said Jay Livermore '14. "I have friends who go to UNH who want to come visit and the train will make it a lot easier; I won't have to go pick them up in Portland."

Katie Bergeron '11 noted the convenience of passenger rail service, despite not being able to enjoy its benefits due to her upcoming graduation.

"I won't be here and I have a car," she said, "but I can see how it would make travel a lot easier."