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CUMBERLAND — The region’s transportation planning agency announced more than $1 million in funding Aug. 5 for a new rail siding north of Portland that could help boost ridership on the Amtrak Downeaster.
The $1.15 million for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority project in Cumberland and Falmouth is part of $9.52 million in total capital investments announced Aug. 5 by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System.
The $9.3 million project is expected to start next year, but no specific date has been established, according to Ben Lake, an energy and transit program analyst with the Greater Portland Council of Governments.
NNEPRA administers Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service, which runs between Brunswick and Boston, Massachusetts.
The siding will be a short piece of track to allow passenger and freight trains on the same stretch of rail to pass each other.
The siding would run 4 miles, from Field Road in Falmouth to Greely Road in Cumberland, Lake said. Although it is called the Royal Junction Siding project, a nod to the now-defunct Royal Junction station in Yarmouth, the siding will not run into Yarmouth.
“Current track capacity constraints between Portland and Brunswick limit the Downeaster to only six one-way trips on that segment daily,” according to a Downeaster Service Optimization Project document from 2014. “… The construction of a second main track … will provide the capacity necessary to allow all five daily Downeaster round trips to operate on that segment.”
Adding two round trips could produce about 40,000 more Downeaster riders and produce $843,000 in annual revenue, while dropping net system operating expenses 55 cents per train mile, the document states.
“It’s a great idea, and I think it’s very efficient,” Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane said Tuesday. “And it keeps the freight on the rails, as well as the passenger trains.”
PACTS was established in 1975 as the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization for the Portland region. Its members 18 communities and seven public transportation providers.
The Amtrak Downeaster makes its inaugural stop in Freeport on Nov. 1, 2012. Officials hope a $9.3 million siding project in Falmouth and Cumberland will make the service between Boston and Brunswick more efficient and boost ridership.