The Downeaster expansion is being threatened by transportation bills now in Congress that could reduce funding.
The bills awaiting votes in Congress would prohibit Maine and other states from using the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program to fund the train line, which is currently accounting for close to $6 million of the Downeaster's $15.1 million annual operating budget.
The proposed bills could slow the completion of the expansion in Freeport and Brunswick.
Maine was permitted to use CMAQ funds on a temporary basis when the Downeaster opened in 2001. In 2005, it was granted a five-year extension on this privilege. Last December marked the 10-year anniversary of the Downeaster line in Portland.
Democratic Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud are fighting the proposed transportation bills in the House, and are pushing amendments that would allow the train to continue to use CMAQ funding. A formal vote will not take place until later this week.
In an interview with The Portland Press Herald, Pingree said, "We definitely have our work cut out for us...but I am optimistic the delegation can work together to solve the problem."
Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are also advocating changes in the bills alongside senators from Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Although it transports almost half a million people every year, the Downeaster line makes only $8 million selling tickets and concessions annually, leaving a $7.1 million deficit. Without federal funding to operate the lines, Downeaster officials will have to look for greater financial support from the state, which already pays between $1 and $2 million to the train from sales tax on rental cars.
However Mike Lyne, onsite project manager of the Brunswick Station, is confident that the train will maintain support on the state and federal levels.
In an email to the Orient, Lyne wrote, "The development of the Downeaster corridor is good for business whether a Democrat or a Republican is in office. It arrived in Portland when we had a Republican president and a Democratic governor, and its expanding with a Democratic president and a Republican governor."