Freeport, Brunswick train platforms debut for Amtrak Downeaster

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BRUNSWICK — The tracks are laid. The plans are complete. And, as of Monday, the train platforms at Brunswick and Freeport are officially ready for Amtrak’s Downeaster, which will begin making regularly scheduled trips in November.

Hundreds of people gathered in both towns to welcome the arrival of an Amtrak train, see a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and sample the atmosphere inside an Amtrak train.

The moment was a long time coming.

“In 1998, the town purchased this land, which was contaminated with coal ash and had lain fallow for several years,” Brunswick Town Councilor Margo Knight said. “Look around you and you can see the results of many years of planning, focused on the goal to be ready for Amtrak service.”

Once the rail service is expanded in the fall, the Downeaster will make three round trips every day from Brunswick. Two will terminate in Boston; one will go as far as Portland.

Approximately $32 million has been spent to upgrade 28 miles of tracks north of Portland over the past 21 months; work not yet completed includes the replacement of ties and turnouts, and the rehabilitation of grade crossings.

Speakers on Monday expressed enthusiasm for the impact of the expansion, which was funded by a $38.3 million federal grant for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

“Railways have been an important part of Maine’s history since the 1830s,” said Carolann Oullette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. “They’re going to continue to be an important part of its future, as you can see here today.”

Trains will help to keep Maine’s highways clear of excessive traffic, said David Bernhardt, commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation.

“The railway system has and will continue to play a role in easing congestion on (Interstates) 95 and 295,” he said. “It takes half a million people off of our highways.”

Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said that the expansion is one of 150 rail projects in 32 states that are helping to fuel the national economy, and a new age of increased rail use.

Area residents were allowed to circulate throughout the train, where they had the opportunity to ask questions of the Downeaster crew, test the comfort of the leather seats, and sample dessert and beverage items offered in the train’s cafe.

Judy Normand, a Brunswick resident, took her 3-year-old grandson, Marquise, to test the new train out. Despite his youth, she said that he has had lots of experience riding the rails to Boston and beyond.

“He’s a little bit of a train fanatic,” she said.

During her remarks, Oullette said that there’s a romantic appeal to trains that helps to maintain their popularity.

“Trains have an emotional connection for many people,” she said, “and they evoke a lot of excitement.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

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The Amtrak Downeaster pulls into the new Freeport platform for ceremonies on Monday, May 14, before continuing up the coast to Brunswick.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo addresses the crowd at Freeport’s new passenger rail platform on Monday.

The Amtrak Downeaster pulls into the newly opened Brunswick train platform on Monday. Regular service will begin in November.

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