Amtrak Downeaster to increase Freeport, Brunswick service

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FREEPORT — People in Freeport and Brunswick will have more options for traveling south when the Amtrak Downeaster adds two additional weekday trains next week.

Beginning Nov. 12, two trains that begin their routes in Portland will instead start in Brunswick and stop in Freeport before heading south. Stops in Brunswick and Freeport will also be added to one weekend route to Boston.

During the week, trains will leave Brunswick at 4:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 11:10 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. and 5:25 p.m., with the final train arriving at Boston’s North Station at 8:45 in the evening.

According to the Downeaster schedule, the train will stop in Freeport 13 minutes after it leaves Brunswick every weekday.

On Saturdays and Sundays, trains will leave Brunswick at 6 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 11:20 a.m. and 6:05 p.m., arriving in Freeport 13 minutes later, with the final train arriving in Boston at 9:25 p.m.  

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail  Authority, said the trips were added for several reasons.

NNEPRA holds a 20-year agreement with Amtrak to operate the Downeaster and “it’s kind of been the plan (to) have all of our round trips serve Freeport and Brunswick,” Quinn said. “Right now, offering limited service to some communities is an impediment to increasing ridership.”

The current Downeaster schedule offers five round trips daily from Portland to Boston, but only three stop in Freeport and Brunswick.

Quinn said “being consistent just makes a lot more sense” in terms of not confusing passengers and allowing train crews to begin and end their day at the same location.

The Downeaster began running four round trips from Portland to Boston in December 2001. A fifth round trip was added in August 2007. In November 2012, two of those round trips were extended to Freeport and Brunswick, and a third Mid-Coast trip was added in November 2016. 

Quinn said currently some crew members begin their day in Brunswick and end it in Portland, and have to use public transportation to get back to their starting point.

The change will also make things run more smoothly in terms of train maintenance.

Being able to keep all three trains NNEPRA operates for the Downeaster route in the Amtrak layover facility in Brunswick, she said, is important, particularly during the winter. 

It also reduces the need for the organization to have mechanical crews in both Portland and Boston.

Concerns from residents about noise coming from Brunswick’s layover facility were addressed last fall at a workshop with officials from NNEPRA and other organizations.

As a solution, Brunswick is implementing a quiet zone in town, which has been approved by the Federal Rail Administration.

Quinn said because the majority of complaints from residents were about noise from trains, not the layover facility, she thinks the quiet zone means more trains will not mean more objections.

“(It) will probably balance out any concern that there would be about any additional trains coming in in the early morning hours or late hours,” she said.

She also thinks the new schedule will “create new markets” for people in the Mid-Coast who need to travel to Boston intermittently for business.

In the opposite direction, she said it will also allow riders traveling from Boston or New Hampshire to visit Freeport and Brunswick for a longer time than they are able to on the current schedule.

Quinn also said she thinks the extra weekend trip will be helpful for those traveling to Boston for concerts or sports events. NNEPRA’s hope, she added, is to be able to eventually add another weekend trip to match its weekday offerings. 

In general, ridership on the Downeaster has been on the upswing this year.

Quinn said her organization ended fiscal year 2018 with a total of 551,000 riders, which is 8 percent higher than the 511,000 passengers recorded in FY 2017.

She also said the Downeaster saw its “best July ever” last summer, and the numbers in August were tied with last year’s. Construction prevented full service in September and October, but riderschip was still “very strong,” Quinn said. 

She said the schedule change should drive up ridership even more.

“People tend to take public transportation when they have more options,” Quinn said.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

The Amtrak Downeaster made its first stop in Freeport six years ago. Next week, it will add two weekday round trips and one weekend trip.

The Amtrak Downeaster added service to Brunswick six years ago. Next week, it will add two weekday round trips and one weekend trip.

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