A Downeaster train passing the Ballardvale MBTA station
|Service type||Regional rail|
|First service||December 15, 2001|
|Current operator(s)||Amtrak/Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority|
559,977 total (FY13)
|Distance travelled||145 miles (233 km)|
|Average journey time||3 hours 25 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|
The Downeaster is a 145-mile (233 km) regional passenger train service, managed by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), and operated by Amtrak. The train runs from North Station in Boston, Massachusetts, to Brunswick, Maine, with 10 intermediate stops. The train operates five daily round trips between Portland and Boston, and three round trips between Portland and Brunswick.
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 Portland, it uses the Pan Am Railways Freight Main Line. 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.
The Downeaster offers several transit connections:
- Brunswick: Maine Eastern Railroad excursion service to Rockland. Beginning in 2014 this will be a timed transfer; previously the two services were not timed to allow connections.
- Portland: Concord Coach Lines service to Bangor.
- 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 link between Boston's train stations. Downeaster passengers continuing south from Boston on Amtrak must take MBTA subway trains to Back Bay Station 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.
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 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). After the speed issue was settled, the start date for the service was announced: December 14, 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. Later, a fifth daily round trip was added to the schedule. On November 1, 2012, the route was extended north to Freeport and Brunswick.
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. Fiscal 2013 was the Downeaster's busiest year. Compared to fiscal 2012, ridership rose 6.1% to 559,997 passengers (about 1,530 passengers a day), while ticket revenue rose 6.1% to $8.2 million. The extension to Freeport and Brunswick is expected to boost ridership by 36,000.
In fiscal year 2012 the Downeaster generated $8.1 million in revenues, of which $7.4 million was from ticket sales. As of 2013, operational costs were around $15m annually, $5.6 million of which is covered by Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, $8.1 million in revenues, and $1.8 in operating subsidy from the State of Maine. The state governments of Massachusetts and New Hampshire do not pay to operate the train, whose residents make up 42% of overall ridership.
Expansion and development
The first expansion of Downeaster service came in August 2007, when rail improvements made it possible to provide five daily round trips from Portland to Boston, up one from the original four. Future plans include operating one or two additional round trips between Portland and Boston (6 or 7 round trips daily).
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.
A 2008 study by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology suggested that the 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.
Service to Brunswick was 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.
Proposed layover facility
As of 2014, Downeaster trains are stored outdoors in Portland, but a layover facility is planned in Brunswick to store three trainsets inside. This facility would allow a third daily Brunswick-to-Boston trip. Construction was slated to run from summer 2013 until late 2014, but has been delayed by local opposition. Neighbors of the facility's location have demanded further environmental studies which they believe would show the facility would hurt the nearby environment. In March 2014, Governor Paul LePage added his objections to the location, saying it would hurt his efforts to create jobs at the Brunswick Landing complex. LePage suggested two alternate locations in eastern Brunswick which might promote economic activity without what he called "undue negative consequences" on neighborhoods. On July 8, 2014, a Maine judge threw out the stormwater permit issued to NNEPRA, stating that NNEPRA had not given proper notice to property abutters.
Several Democratic state legislators wrote a letter to the NNEPRA Director Patricia Quinn calling for the facility to be built in South Portland, in an existing rail yard, instead of Brunswick. They further urged NNEPRA to refocus its efforts on what they termed the "core product" of Boston-Portland service, and consider the potential future expansion of service to the Lewiston/Auburn area in its plans. They also called for the double-tracking of sections of the rail line in sections that currently lack it.
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.
In 2009 the rail authority applied for federal stimulus money to increase train speeds – cutting 10 to 12 minutes off the current travel time – and increase the number of daily round trips from five to seven. No money was ever awarded for this project.
Downeaster trains at the Portland Transportation Center
A Downeaster train at the new Brunswick station
A typical Downeaster consist containing 4 coaches, 1 business/cafe car, a NPCU, and a GE Genesis P42
- "Amtrak Sets Ridership Record And Moves the Nation's Economy Forward" (PDF). Amtrak. 14 October 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- "Downeaster rolling north to Freeport, Brunswick". Associated Press. 1 November 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
- Garbely, Rudy (30 October 2013). "Maine Eastern Railroad Press Release: 2014 Passenger Train Schedules, Fares, and Services" (Press release). Maine Eastern Railroad. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
- "On Board Services - Amtrak Downeaster". Amtrak Downeaster. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
- "On Board Services". Amtrak Downeaster. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- "Trainriders NE - Host Program." The Official Site of Trainriders NE. 05 May 2009 <http://www.trainridersne.org/WebPages/TRNE_HostProgram/host>.
- "Highlights from Formation of TNE to the Downeaster Inaugural". Trainriders Northeast. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- Billings, Randy (11 November 2011). "Amtrak Downeaster rolls out electronic tickets, improved Wi-Fi". Sun Journal. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
- "Amtrak Fact Sheet, FY2006, State of Maine". 2006-12-01. Retrieved 2008-02-11.
- Associated Press (11 July 2011). "Downeaster ridership tops 500,000 for 1st time". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- "FY2012 Year End Report" (PDF). NNEPRA. July 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
- "Downeaster plans train to L-A, eventually". Sun Journal. 14 April 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- "Federal funding for Maine’s Amtrak service, Portland-area buses riding on success of highway bill". NNEPRA. July 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
- "Downeaster's new service to Brunswick doing better than expected". Portland Press Herald. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- "A New Alignment: Strengthening America's Commitment to Passenger Rail". Brookings Institution. March 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- Chappell, George (April 10, 2008). "Report: Downeaster train will generate billions". Bangor Daily News. p. A5.
- 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. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2012.
- "Brunswick Layover Facility". Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
- "Layover Facility". Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. 25 March 2013. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
- "Foes of Amtrak depot in Brunswick demand more environmental study". Bangor Daily News. 27 September 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
- "LePage calls for ‘thorough review’ of proposed Amtrak layover facility in Brunswick". Bangor Daily News. 24 March 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- "Maine judge throws out stormwater permit for proposed Downeaster train depot in Brunswick". Bangor Daily News. 8 July 2014. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- "Lawmakers question plan to build Downeaster layover facility in Brunswick, suggest South Portland". Bangor Daily News. 11 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- "Amtrak's Downeaster Hopes To Tap Stimulus Money". TheStreet. December 13, 2009. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Downeaster.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Downeaster.|
- Amtrak - Routes - Northeast - Downeaster
- The Downeaster official website
- TrainRiders Northeast
- Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority