The Downeaster is a 145-mile (233 km) regional passenger train service, managed by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), an agency of the state of Maine, and operated by Amtrak. Named for the Down East region of Maine, the train runs from North Station in Boston, Massachusetts to Brunswick, Maine, with 10 intermediate stops. The train operates five daily round trips between Boston and Brunswick.
A Downeaster train passing the Ballardvale MBTA Commuter Rail station
|Service type||Regional rail/intercity rail|
|First service||December 15, 2001|
|Current operator(s)||Amtrak/Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority|
|Ridership||551,038 total (FY18)|
|Distance travelled||145 miles (233 km)|
|Average journey time||3 hours 20 minutes|
|Service frequency||Five daily round trips|
|Catering facilities||Downeaster Café|
|Rolling stock||Amfleet coaches|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Operating speed||max:79 miles per hour (127 km/h)|
|Track owner(s)||MBTA, Pan Am Railways|
In 2018, the Downeaster carried 551,038 passengers and earned ticket revenue of $10.2 million.
- 1 Route
- 2 Rolling stock
- 3 History
- 4 Ridership and finances
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Downeaster uses the MBTA's Lowell Line from Boston's North Station to Wilmington, the Wildcat Branch to Wilmington Junction, and the Haverhill Line to the Massachusetts–New Hampshire state line. From there to just short of Brunswick, it uses the Pan Am Railways Freight Main Line. The last mile of track in Brunswick is owned by MaineDOT. All of these lines were once part of the Boston and Maine Railroad; the part south of Wilmington Junction was once the mainline and a branch of the Boston and Lowell Railroad, and the rest was the mainline of the B&M.
If the Downeaster were to run solely on the Haverhill Line, it would conflict with the local commuter rail service, since the Amtrak train makes no stops between Woburn and Haverhill. By using the Wildcat Branch to cross between the Lowell and Haverhill lines, the Downeaster can pass a Haverhill train.
- Portland: Concord Coach Lines service to Bangor; Greater Portland Metro Bus Route 1 and BREEZ
- Haverhill: MBTA Haverhill Line commuter rail
- Woburn: MBTA Lowell Line commuter rail; Massport Logan Express bus to Logan International Airport.
- Boston: MBTA Green Line and Orange Line rapid transit; Fitchburg Line, Lowell Line, Haverhill Line, and Newburyport/Rockport Line commuter rail; 4 local bus, and water taxis
The Downeaster is separated from the rest of Amtrak’s system because there is no direct link between Boston's train stations. Downeaster passengers continuing south from Boston on Amtrak may take MBTA subway trains to Back Bay or South Station.
The Downeaster offers two classes of service: Reserved Coach and Business Class. All seats have electrical outlets, and Amtrak Connect (Amtrak's Wi-Fi (wireless internet) service) is available. All trains have a cafe car that sells snacks, light meals, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages.
In April 2013, NNEPRA announced that a plan to expand passenger rail service to Lewiston–Auburn, Maine's second-largest metropolitan area, would be released later in the year. As of September 2016, the question of whether the line might be built remains unsettled. The route the Downeaster follows is designated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a potential high-speed rail corridor. If the Northern New England Corridor were funded and completed as proposed, passenger trains would travel at up to 110 miles per hour (177 km/h) between Boston, Portland, and Lewiston. A service plan for passenger rail service between Lewiston–Auburn and Portland is under development and will be complete in 2019.
Until 2015, the Maine Eastern Railroad offered seasonal excursion service to Rockland, Maine which connected to the Downeaster at Brunswick. In October 2017, NNEPRA announced plans to extend one weekend Downeaster round trip to Rockland between Memorial Day and Labor Day beginning in 2018. Intermediate stops would be made at Bath, Wiscasset, and Newcastle. The planned service to Rockland was scuttled after Amtrak failed to conduct a risk assessment. According to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, public support remains for this extended service and efforts are underway for a 2019 pilot.
Developers of the Rock Row development in Westbrook are looking into a potential rail link to the city. This rail shuttle would connect Commercial Street in Portland with high density developments at Thompson’s Point, Rock Row and to other transit services, which would support private investments and mitigate the growing congestion. A feasibility study conducted by NNEPRA estimated that establishing such a service would cost about $100 million in infrastructure and rolling stock. It would cost between $7 and $13 million annually to operate, depending on the level of service.
The Downeaster typically operates with four Amfleet I coaches and an Amfleet business/cafe coach. Motive power is provided by a GE Genesis P42DC on the northbound end of the train. A converted F40 non-powered control unit runs on the southbound end of the train. The sole remaining original 1955 Great Dome railcar is typically provided during the Autumn season for leaf peeping.
The Downeaster follows the route historically used by the Pine Tree and Flying Yankee trains that traveled from Bangor to Boston and were operated jointly by the Boston & Maine Railroad and Maine Central Railroad. All passenger operations between Portland and Boston ceased in 1965.
At the urging of Maine's congressional delegation, Amtrak in 1990 estimated the cost of creating passenger rail service at about $50 million: $30 million for infrastructure improvements and another $20 million for equipment. The following year, Amtrak agreed to provide the equipment at no charge to the State of Maine. Earlier in that same year, the Maine State Legislature adopted its first citizen-initiated bill, the "Passenger Rail Service Act", which was endorsed by the Maine DOT and signed by the governor. In 1992, Maine voters approved a $5.4 million rail bond for right-of-way improvements, and $60,000 was granted to the Maine DOT to design a Portland intermodal terminal. Later that year, Congress approved $25.5 million for more right-of-way improvements, and 1993 saw an additional $9.5 million in track improvements. By the end of 1994, total appropriations for infrastructure had reached $38.6 million. In 1995, then-governor Angus King and Commissioner of Transportation John Melrose ordered the creation of a passenger rail authority; TrainRiders/Northeast, led by Chairman Wayne Davis, worked with the state Chamber of Commerce and industry, Maine DOT, and others to convince the Maine Legislature to create the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority in August.
Service was initially expected to start in the 1990s. Negotiations between NNEPRA, Amtrak, and Guilford Industries (now Pan Am Railways) began in 1996, but began to fail over many factors, including equipment weight and speed limits. In December 1998, a speed limit of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) was agreed upon; the following year, the Federal Surface Transportation Board approved a limit of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h). Most right-of-way improvements were complete in 2000, but the following year, start-up was delayed again when Guilford refused to allow Amtrak to test track modulus or run trains faster than 59 miles per hour (95 km/h). The Downeaster made its first run on December 15, 2001.
In August 2007, top speeds were increased from 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), cutting 20 minutes from trips between Portland and Boston. The first expansion of Downeaster service came that month, when the improvements made it possible to increase from four to five daily round trips from Portland to Boston. Amtrak plans to eventually operate one or two additional round trips between Portland and Boston (six or seven round trips daily). In 2009, NNEPRA unsuccessfully applied for federal stimulus money to increase train speeds—enough to cut 10 to 12 minutes off travel time—and increase the number of daily round trips from five to seven.
In May 2014, NNEPRA agreed to add a station stop in Kennebunk, Maine. Like Old Orchard Beach, it would have been a seasonal stop, open from April to October. Initial plans called for a temporary platform to be erected in 2016, with a permanent platform constructed with $300,000 in town money and $800,000 in state money for 2017 or 2018. Part of the former Boston & Maine depot building, used for passenger service from 1873 to 1965, was to be leased for use as a waiting area.:95 On October 9, 2018, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen cancelled the station project over concerns about the suitability of the site.
NNEPRA officials are looking into the feasibility of relocating the station in Portland. The Portland Transportation Center is located on a branch line, which adds 15 minutes to travel time for trains to or from Brunswick as they must leave the main line. Other concerns with the current station include limited parking and its location on Thompson's Point. Factors in a new location for the station include being on the main line, vehicular access, pedestrian access, and proximity to downtown.
Service to Brunswick was originally intended to begin within five years of the Downeaster's 2001 launch, but was delayed by lack of funding and other obstacles. Ground was broken in October 2008 for the Brunswick Maine Street Station, a retail development that included shops, condominiums, an inn, and office space. In January 2010, NNEPRA received a $35 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for track and signal upgrades for the Portland-Brunswick line. Pan Am Railways began work on the line in summer 2010, and on May 14, 2012, the platforms in Brunswick and Freeport were declared complete. Service began on November 1, 2012 with two daily services to and from Boston.
The extension to Brunswick led to the construction of an enclosed layover facility there, just west of the station; trains had been stored outdoors in Portland. The facility opened in November 2016, permitting a third daily Brunswick–Boston trip. NNEPRA announced plans for the facility in 2013, with construction slated to run from summer 2013 until late 2014, but local opposition delayed the project. Neighbors of the planned location demanded further environmental studies, saying they believe the facility would hurt nearby areas. State politicians became involved; Governor Paul LePage, concerned about job creation at Brunswick Landing, suggested alternate locations in eastern Brunswick. Several Democratic state legislators asked NNEPRA to build in an existing rail yard in South Portland, and to focus on the "core product" of Boston-Portland service instead. Legal challenges to the facility ended in January 2016.
In 2017 and 2018, NNEPRA constructed a 4-mile (6 km) passing track, the Royal Junction siding, on the 30-mile (48 km) single-track section of line between Portland and Brunswick to enable an increase from three to five daily round trips to Brunswick. The increase to five weekday round trips between Boston and Brunswick (with four Brunswick round trips and one Portland round trip on weekends) took place on November 12, 2018. With the pending completion of the Royal Junction siding, NNEPRA officials are looking to the possibility of adding a second platform in Wells to allow for a sixth train to Brunswick plus a commuter trip to Portland. Trains began running all five daily trips in both directions starting on May 20, 2019.
2015 winter and track workEdit
The Downeaster's ridership, finances, and performance suffered in the first half of 2015 because of an exceptionally brutal winter and a subsequent large-scale tie replacement project funded by the NNEPRA. During its fiscal year 2015 (July 2014 to June 2015), Amtrak cancelled 488, or 13 percent, of its scheduled Downeaster trains. The trains that ran saw an on-time percentage of 30%, less than half the national average of 71%; during the tie replacement, none ran on time in May and 8% in June. Ridership dropped 18.2% (nearly 100,000 fewer riders) from the previous fiscal year.
The Downeaster resumed its full schedule on August 1, 2015, following the completion of the track repairs. By December 2015, the Downeaster was up to a monthly on-time percentage of 86%, well above the national average.
Ridership and financesEdit
Between December 2001 through 2005, annual ridership ranged from 250,000 to 300,000 passengers. Since 2005, ridership has increased an average of 13.1% per year, excluding calendar year 2009, which saw ridership shrink by 4.7%. In fiscal 2008, the Downeaster was Amtrak's fastest-growing service, with ridership up 22.9% from the previous year. In fiscal 2011, ridership topped 500,000 for the first time. FY2018 was the Downeaster's busiest year. Compared to fiscal 2017, ridership rose 7.75% to 551,038 passengers while ticket revenue rose 18.85% to $10.2 million.
The line's busiest station is North Station in Boston. Due in part to the route's success, North Station was the 23rd busiest Amtrak station in the country in fiscal year 2018, and the fifth busiest in New England (behind South Station, Providence, New Haven Union and Back Bay). The busiest station in Maine is the Portland Transportation Center, while Exeter is New Hampshire's busiest.
As of 2013, operational costs were around $15 million annually, $5.6 million of which is covered by Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, $8.1 million in revenues, and $1.8 million in operating subsidy from the State of Maine. The state governments of Massachusetts and New Hampshire do not pay to operate the train. 58% of the overall ridership travels to or from the state of Maine.
A 2008 study by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology suggested that the Brunswick extension, combined with commercial developments along the "Downeaster Corridor", could generate several billion dollars in construction investments plus $55 million annually in tax revenue for the state of Maine.
In 2013, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority estimated that the Downeaster has an annual economic impact of $12 million from visitors to Maine, and directly or indirectly employs 200 people.
- "FY 2018 Downeaster Draft Performance Report" (PDF). NNEPRA. June 2018. Retrieved May 11, 2019.
- Annual Report 2018 (PDF) (Report). Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
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- Press Herald: Maine is shortchanging Lewiston-Auburn rail study
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- Betts, Stephen (March 27, 2018). "Decision to drop plan for summer train to Rockland disappoints city's businesses". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
- Harry, David (April 17, 2019). "Rail officials seek new Portland station for Downeaster". The Forecaster. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
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- White House Published Document: Recovery Act High Speed Rail Awards
- Kelley Bouchard (May 14, 2012). "Downeaster platforms ready in Freeport, Brunswick". Portland Press Herald.
- "Downeaster Service to Freeport & Brunswick Begins November 1, 2012" (Press release). NNEPRA. September 12, 2012. Archived from the original on March 13, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- "Brunswick Layover Facility". Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. August 18, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- "Layover Facility" (PDF). Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. March 25, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
- "Foes of Amtrak depot in Brunswick demand more environmental study". Bangor Daily News. September 27, 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
- "LePage calls for 'thorough review' of proposed Amtrak layover facility in Brunswick". Bangor Daily News. March 24, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
- "Lawmakers question plan to build Downeaster layover facility in Brunswick, suggest South Portland". Bangor Daily News. July 11, 2014. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
- Wuthmann, Walter (January 7, 2016). "Brunswick group abandons fight against Amtrak facility". Maine Sun Journal. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
- "Downeaster to boost Brunswick service by building new track". Portland Press Herald. August 17, 2016. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
- McGuire, Peter (September 17, 2018). "Downeaster readies for expanded Brunswick-Boston service". Portland Press Herald.
- "Schedule Effective November 12, 2018" (PDF). Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. October 23, 2018.
- "Downeaster Schedule" (PDF). Amtrak Downeaster. May 20, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
- Collins, Katie Irish (July 10, 2019). "Rail officials float West Falmouth stop for Downeaster". Portland Press Herald.
- Bell, Tom (August 2, 2015). "Downeaster in recovery mode after dismal year". Portland Press-Herald. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Bell, Tom (January 11, 2016). "Amtrak's Downeaster chugs into 2016 in timelier fashion". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
- "Amtrak Fact Sheet, FY2006, State of Maine" (PDF). December 1, 2006. Retrieved February 11, 2008.
- Associated Press (July 11, 2011). "Downeaster ridership tops 500,000 for 1st time". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
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