Smooth start, ‘really smooth’ ride for Wiscasset-Bath Coastliner rail trips

Sun, 08/27/2023 - 8:45am

    Saturday morning, Wiscasset’s Jan Flowers said she and husband Larry had just seen “things we never get to see from the road ... Beautiful, lot of pines, we saw the backs of houses that we’ve never seen! It was great. I loved it,” she said after stepping off the one-car Coastliner train in Bath. They were on the first run out of Wiscasset on a three-round trip day for the self-propelled train with which Midcoast Railservice has started passenger rail on Maine Department of Transportation’s Midcoast branch.

    After arriving in Bath, Wiscasset Selectman William “Bill” Maloney said there are 1,800 trees per person in Maine, “and I just saw all of them, I think. It was nice, (and a) nice smooth ride. It’s got nice suspension. Very good.”

    Jan Flowers called the ride “really smooth, very quiet.” Midcoast Railservice co-founder and vice president George Betke of Damariscotta has said it would be. In Bath Saturday, he was doing the math, to see if there was room for more riders on the day’s next trip to Wiscasset. So far, things were going smoothly, Betke said.

    Betke later tallied the day’s rides and in a phone interview said about 80% of its potential 228 round trips were sold. “I do consider that good. We had a few people who had made reservations who weren’t able to show up, and you can’t expect much (new ridership) out of the last trip because no one from Bath gets on the last trip back to Wiscasset because they have no way to return.”

    Betke added, “a clear majority” of the riders who started in Maine’s prettiest village and of the ones who started in the City of Ships appeared to choose to extend their time in the other community by skipping the next ride or rides back and taking a later one. He was still reviewing numbers, and will be compiling the results of an online survey riders have been asked to complete.

    Will the Coastliner visit Wiscasset again this year, or next? Midcoast Railservice will meet with MaineDOT, Betke said. 

    “The key question ... is, what are our next steps? Do we continue running these community excursions, or do we try doing something on a scheduled basis? ... Until we have that discussion (with MaineDOT) I can’t predict a timetable. I think there’s sentiment for doing something like that, but how it would work from a practical standpoint or what are the financial implications, are open questions at this point.”

    Asked about any surprises Saturday, Betke said he was surprised to hear about the recent whale sightings in Wiscasset Harbor, and he told people to be on the lookout, but he heard of no sightings on the runs. And he was “a little surprised there were not more children” on the trips.

    Bath’s Sarah and Chris Timm brought theirs – Elizabeth, 6, and Davey, 3. The family, all smiles onboard for a trip to Wiscasset, planned to have lunch there. The couple hope the Coastliner will also make runs to Rockland, where Chris’ parents Laura and Richard Timm live.

    Like Maloney, fellow selectman Terry Heller arrived on the first trip to Bath. After stepping out, she stood next to the train and watched and applauded as passengers continued disembarking. Among them were Kathy Zuppa and husband Stephen, past president of Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum in Alna. He said in an email response later, “We really enjoyed our trip, today ... We hope that today's turnout will encourage them to expand the service to include the whole line on a more frequent basis. The equipment was spotless and the ride itself was as smooth as silk ... We hope to ride it again.

    How did the experience compare to the narrow gauge WW&F? “It’s really an apples/oranges thing,” he said. “They each have their own appeal.”