AMTRAK seeks support for summer trips to Midcoast

Posted:  Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - 10:15am

Will the passenger train soon return to Midcoast Maine? If the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is successful, the Amtrak Downeaster may come up from Boston, stop in Portland and other southern Maine locations and Brunswick, then continue up the coast, stopping in Bath, Wiscasset and Newcastle and finally reaching its journey’s end in Rockland.

According to NNEPRA’s Patricia Quinn, unlike the Maine Eastern excursion trains, the Downeaster would have schedules designed to move people up from Boston as part of an overnight or weekend trip. The first train would leave Boston on Friday afternoon, arrive in Rockland shortly after 10 p.m., immediately return to Brunswick, and would return to Rockland in the morning, turn around and go back to Boston, then come back up on Sunday morning. The last train of the weekend would leave Rockland at 4 p.m. Sunday and arrive in Boston at 9:30 p.m. During the weekend, people could take the train back and forth between Rockland and Brunswick, getting off for a few hours in Wiscasset, Newcastle, or Bath.

Quinn told Newcastle selectmen Jan. 22, the project is in the very early stages, and NNEPRA is attempting to gauge how enthusiastic the station towns would be about having the train come in.  If all goes well, there would be some expenses for the host towns – lighting, sidewalks near the train station, platforms, and station renovations. In Wiscasset’s case, she said, the operation would move from its last location north of Route 1 to a spot nearer the recreational pier, to avoid interfering unduly with Route 1 traffic or downtown businesses but would still be within walking distance and near parking.

Newcastle proved to be enthusiastic, although selectmen did not take a vote.

Wiscasset had been scheduled to hear Quinn’s presentation at its Jan. 23 selectmen’s meeting. The meeting was canceled due to inclement weather. 

NNEPRA planned to speak to Rockland’s city council in an open forum on Jan. 24. During the Maine Eastern period, some neighbors of the train station on Union Street complained of train noise, especially overnight, and fumes. According to Quinn, a recent straw poll of city councilors showed there was unanimous support for exploring the opportunity with The Downeaster.

According to Mari Eosco, Councilor at Large for Bath, that city is also interested in pursuing the opportunity, although it will not be discussing the issue formally with NNEPRA until February.

Quinn said other opportunities may present themselves for the host communities and beyond. “We have a travel agent in the Boston area who sets up packages for The Downeaster now, and he’s very excited about the chance to provide more travel options in the Midcoast.” Restaurants, hotels, transit programs and other attractions could benefit from the train’s movement up the coast. “The Midcoast is the second largest destination in Maine for tourists,” she said. “We think this expansion could provide another way to get there from here, and also spur economic growth in the station communities.”