When the Amtrak Downeaster rolled into Brunswick Station yesterday afternoon, its arrival marked the first time in 53 years that a passenger train arrived in Brunswick.
The catalyst for the expansion of Amtrak service to Brunswick was a $38.3 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, part of the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“It certainly is a physical manifestation of how [the stimulus] provided some real help around the country,” said Angus King, independent candidate for U.S. Senate and a former Maine governor.
The project was approved for funding in 2010 and finished on-budget and on-schedule.
The extension of Amtrak’s Maine route will allow passengers to ride the Downeaster from Boston to Brunswick. The train stops in Freeport, Portland and eight other towns in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The inaugural ride departed from Boston and had brief whistle-stop celebrations at each station. At every stop, a group of dancers got off the train to perform and give prizes to onlookers and passengers boarding the train.
Passengers included local government officials, railroad personnel, reporters and members of TrainRiders Northeast.
At extended stops in Freeport and Brunswick, project leaders and politicians spoke to crowds of hundreds of local residents.
“It’s a great success story for our state,” Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said to the crowd in Brunswick.
According to Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, the extension should bring $325 million in construction investment to Brunswick by 2030, while producing 800 jobs over the same period.
“This opens up a new era and a new chapter for Brunswick,” Snowe said to the crowd in Brunswick. “This is an investment in the future: the future of Brunswick and the future of Maine.”
With two round trips to Boston and three to Portland every day, the expansion provides new transportation options for students.
“I think it could have a big impact, especially for first years who don’t have cars,” BSG Programming Director Bernie Clevens ’15 said.
The opening of the train station in Brunswick could be an appealing factor for prospective students and visitors.
“It’ll be one more little thing that will help attract students to Bowdoin, being connected and closer. It’ll be good for Bowdoin and Brunswick for sure,” King said.
“It’s a great thing for Maine. It’s not the train from Portland to Boston, it’s the train to Maine,” said Maine Commissioner of Transportation David Bernhardt at Brunswick Station.
Following seven record-breaking years of ridership on the Downeaster service, optimism was high about the success of the extension.
“The future is bright for passenger train transportation in Maine,” Bernhardt said. “In ten years we’ll have a million passengers or more and we’ll be going to other places.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that funding for the Downeaster came as part of the $8 billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Act was in-fact over $800 billion. The online version has been updated to correct this inaccuracy.