Thursday, September 13, 2012

Amtrak Downeaster extension begins Nov. 1

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The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) said Wednesday the extension of Amtrak Downeaster service to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine, will begin Nov. 1. Tickets for the new service go on sale Oct. 1.

Amtrak's Downeaster links cities in Maine, including the state's largest city, Portland, and in New Hampshire with Boston's North Station, five times each day. Two of those trains (each way) initially will be extended to Brunswick.

Project funding included through $38.3 million in federal stimulus dollars to upgrade rights-of-way owned by Pan Am Railways. "We are proud to deliver this expanded service on schedule and on budget," said NNEPRA Chairman Martin Eisenstein. Eisenstein praised the joint efforts of the Federal Railroad Administration, Pan Am Railways, Amtrak, and the Maine Department of Transportation.

TrainRiders/Northeast, a rail advocacy group, is credited with helping establish and expand the service, which began in 2001. The group has scheduled a celebratory dinner in Freeport Thursday to mark the extension, with featured speakers including U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and the Maine state commissioner of transportation.

NNEPRA says Downeaster ridership exceeded 528,000 passengers in fiscal year 2012, 4% above FY11.

The extension is "a huge milestone," said Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA director. "Really, the service expanding to Freeport and Brunswick was always part of the plan. When we inaugurated the service in 2001, it was supposed to happen in a couple of years. To make it finally happen is pretty exciting."

Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said the extension "coincides with record ridership demand on both the Downeaster and rail travel throughout the country."