Amtrak holds town hall for proposed initiatives
November 22, 2019
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNERPA) is currently exploring three projects to expand access to trains in midcoast and southern Maine. An open house at the Brunswick Hotel on Monday evening aimed to gauge community interest in the proposals.
The potential projects are: adding a new round-trip option from Brunswick to Wells, building a new station in Portland and creating a new stop in Falmouth. These proposals align with NNEPRA’s initiative to increase the number of users riding between local stops, as the majority of riders use the train, the Amtrak Downeaster, to travel to Boston.
“Even though there’s a diverse group of people who ride [the train] for different reasons, Boston is really the destination,” said Patricia Quinn, the executive director of NNEPRA. “We’re trying to figure out ways to make the Downeaster more appealing for people to ride it on a regional basis.”
The project in Wells would add extended mileage of double track and a second platform to make the rail more reliable. Additionally, this double track and platform would allow an extra train to run between Brunswick and Wells every day and would create an inbound commute option from Southern Maine to Portland, arriving at approximately 7:55 a.m..
“There are so many people that travel from the southern part of the state into Portland [for work] … [and] we don’t really have a train that serves that market right now,” Quinn said. “The first train that gets into Portland everyday doesn’t get there until 11:40 in the morning.”
Currently, to reach the Portland station, the train must take a detour off the main line and then reverse back onto it, adding an extra 15 minutes to the ride. NNEPRA has plans to rebuild Portland’s train station at a new location in order to shorten the trip.
“We’re always looking for ways to reduce our travel time,” Quinn said. “Portland is very important. It’s the biggest city in Maine. It’s the number one boarding location for our passengers … the facility sees more than a million people in a year, so it’s getting tired. It’s getting to the point that we need to put some money and some investment into the facility.”
Though well-researched, the plans are not solidified yet. The meeting was held to inform NNEPRA of ideas that the community is most interested in and help provide direction in implementing new projects.
“It’s incredibly important for us to get feedback from the communities that we serve … we thought it was a really good time to get out and get into the communities to get some feedback,” said Jennifer Crosby, the marketing and sales coordinator for NNEPRA.
The Bowdoin students who attended the meeting were excited by the possibilities presented at the open house and the potential of high-speed transit in Maine.
“I sort of hate cars,” said Will Parker ’20. “They’re a bad way to travel on a daily basis especially, but also long distances. I think we are way behind where we should be in terms of rail.”
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I attended the meeting and was very pleased to see the progress made on the various projects described in the article. An additional project discussed in the meeting not mentioned in this article is the potential creation of commuter rail service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. The Downeaster continues to provide good and affordable service, and I wish more students would take advantage of it. Also, a minor correction to the headline of this article; the meeting was not held by Amtrak, rather by NNEPRA, which contracts with Amtrak to operate the Downeaster. I thank the Orient for reporting about this.