A Heritage P40DC sits in Portland, Maine, on the Downeaster #694
|Service type||Regional rail|
|First service||December 15, 2001|
|Current operator(s)||Amtrak/Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority|
|Average ridership||1,480 daily
541,757 total (FY12)
|No. of intermediate stops||10|
|Distance travelled||141 miles (227 km)|
|Average journey time||3 hours 25 minutes|
|Service frequency||Five daily round trips|
|Catering facilities||On-board cafe|
|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 141-mile (227 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 the Portland Transportation Center in Portland, Maine before continuing on to Brunswick Maine Street Station in Brunswick, Maine. The train operates five daily round trips between Portland and Boston and three daily round trips between Portland and Brunswick.
The Downeaster uses the MBTA's Lowell Line from 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 Downeaster makes no stops between Woburn and Haverhill. The use of the Wildcat Branch to cross between the Lowell and Haverhill lines allows the Downeaster to pass a Haverhill train.
To the South, the Downeaster connects with Massport's Logan Express in Woburn with service to Logan International Airport. In Boston, the train terminates at North Station connecting with the MBTA Green and Orange lines.
The Downeaster is separated from the rest of the Northeast Corridor and the entirety of Amtrak’s national network because of the lack of a North–South Rail Link in Boston. Passengers traveling south of Boston on Amtrak are either scheduled to take the MBTA Orange Line to Back Bay Station or Concord Coach from Portland to South Station.
On-board services 
The Downeaster offers two classes of service: Reserved Coach and Business Class. All trains have a cafe car with limited table seating. All seats have electrical outlets, and Amtrak Connect (Amtrak's Wi-Fi (wireless internet) service) is available.
The Downeaster has a café car that offers snacks, light meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.
The Downeaster also has a "train host" program, coordinated by Trainriders Northeast. Train hosts, available on some trains, are volunteers who provide passengers with information on destinations, attractions, and transfers.
The current route of the Downeaster follows the route historically used by the Pine Tree and Flying Yankee, which traveled from Bangor to Boston. Originally operated jointly by the Boston & Maine Railroad and Maine Central Railroad, all passenger operations between Portland and Boston ceased in 1965.
The current passenger rail service owes much of its success to TrainRiders/Northeast, a volunteer, non-profit group organized in 1989 to advocate for the return and expansion of passenger rail service in northern New England.
The beginnings (1989–95) 
In 1990, Amtrak at the urging of the Maine congressional delegation estimated the cost of creating passenger rail service at approximately $50 million: $30 million for infrastructure improvements and another $20 million for equipment. Amtrak agreed in 1991 to provide the equipment necessary to operate the service 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 later signed by the governor. In 1992 a $5.4 million rail bond was approved by Maine voters for right-of-way improvements, and $60,000 was granted to the Maine DOT for design work for a Portland intermodal terminal. Later in that year Congress approved $25.5 million for additional right-of-way improvements. 1993 saw an additional $9.5 million in track improvements. By the end of 1994 total appropriations for infrastructure had reached $38.6 million. 1995 saw the creation of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, when then-governor Angus King and Commissioner of Transportation John Melrose required the formation of a passenger rail authority to be responsible for documenting authorize new rail service. TrainRiders/Northeast worked with the state Chamber of Commerce and industry, Maine DOT, and others to convince the Maine Legislature to create the authority in August.
Negotiations to inauguration (1996–2001) 
Originally it was expected the service would begin in the 1990s, with negotiations between NNEPRA, Amtrak, and Guilford Industries (now Pan Am Railways) beginning in 1996. The negotiations 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, and in 1999 a maximum speed limit of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h) was approved by the Federal Surface Transportation Board.
The year 2000 saw most of the right-of-way improvements. In 2001 start-up was delayed again when Guilford said it would refuse to allow Amtrak trains over 59 miles per hour (95 km/h), and refused to allow Amtrak to conduct track modulus testing. After the speed issue was settled, the start date for the service was announced: December 14, 2001.
Current operations (2001–present) 
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 of travel times between Portland and Boston. Additionally a fifth daily round trip was added to the schedule. On November 1, 2012, the route was extended North to include Freeport and Brunswick.
Fiscal Year 2012 was the Downeaster's busiest year, with ridership reaching 541,757 passengers (approximately 1,480 passengers daily), an increase of 6.2% over FY2011. Revenues in FY2012 were $8.1m, an increase of 14.1% over FY2011.
From its inaugural run in December 2001 through 2005, ridership remained stagnant, moving between 250,000 – 300,000 passengers annually. Every calendar year since 2005, ridership has increased on average 13.1% (excluding calendar year 2009 which saw ridership shrink by 4.7%). Ridership is expected to continue to increase another 36,000 with its expanded service to Freeport and Brunswick. Notably, the Downeaster was Amtrak's fastest-growing service in FY08, with ridership up 22.9% from the previous FY07. In FY11 ridership topped 500,000 for the first time.
In FY12 the Downeaster generated $8.1 million in revenues, $7.4 million from ticket sales. Current operational costs are around $15m annually, $5.6 million of which is covered by Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, $8.1 million in revenues, and $1.4 in operating subsidy from the State of Maine., Massachusetts and New Hampshire do not pay to operate the train, while their states 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).
It is estimated that the Downeaster has an annual economic impact of $12 million from visitors to Maine, and directly or indirectly employs 200 people.
A 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.
The initial goal of NNEPRA was to expand service to Brunswick within five years of the 2001 launch of the Downeaster, but funding – among other obstacles – hampered that plan. Although ground was broken for the Brunswick station on October 2008 – a retail development that included shops, condominiums, an inn and office space – it wasn't until January 2010 that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority received a $35 million grant to fund the expansion from Portland. This grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funded track and signal upgrades for the Portland-Brunswick line, and Pan Am Railways began work on the line in summer 2010. Officials announced the completion of the platforms in Brunswick and Freeport on May 14, 2012, and service began on November 1, 2012.
A layover facility is planned in Brunswick which will be able to store three trainsets inside; Downeaster trains are currently stored outdoors in Portland. The new facility would also allow for a third daily Brunswick to Boston trip (currently there are only two trips to Boston from Brunswick). The projected is expected to break ground during Summer 2013, and be completed by the end of 2014.
In April 2013, NNEPRA announced that plans are being developed to expand passenger rail service to Lewiston-Auburn (Maine's second largest metropolitan area). The new service development plan is expected to be released sometime in 2013.
High-speed rail 
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.
See also 
- "Amtrak Sets New Ridership Record" (PDF). Amtrak. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
- "Downeaster rolling north to Freeport, Brunswick" (web). Associated Press. 1 November 2012. Retrieved 5November 2012.
- 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.
- "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
- "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.
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