BRUNSWICK — Hundreds of people Thursday celebrated the arrival of Amtrak Downeaster train service to Freeport and Brunswick by taking a ride for themselves.
“This is one of the most significant developments that we’ve been working on for the time that I’ve been on the council,” Brunswick Town Council Chairwoman Joanne King said while aboard the inaugural train.
King, who is leaving the council this year, was involved in much of the development for Brunswick’s Maine Street Station and related projects in the 9 1/2 years she has served on council.
The success of the service relies on a network of relationships, Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said at Maine Street Station later Thursday.
That network includes the Maine Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, Pan Am Railways, TrainRiders/Northeast, NNEPRA and public officials, she said.
Many members of these organizations and agencies were present on the train’s first run to Brunswick and Freeport Thursday morning. And some of them spoke at special events at the new train stations in Freeport and Brunswick, including Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
“Is this a great day for Brunswick or what?” Snowe said to an enthusiastic crowd at Maine Street Station. “This is the beginning of many great days ahead.”
John Richardson, the former commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, who is an unopposed candidate to replace King on the Brunswick council, said public transportation projects like this will help fuel economic development in Brunswick and Freeport.
When he was the DECD commisioner, he said, he helped appropriate funds for the development of Maine Street Station.
“If you look at any one Amtrak stop where it has expanded to other stops, economic opportunity follows,” Richardson said. “It’s a driving force of the economic development world.”
Freeport celebrated the new service with confetti, dancers and the Freeport High School marching band. People from around the state came to watch the inaugural train pull into the platform at Mill and Depot streets.
Freeport resident Sandy Wing said she lives two blocks from the station and plans on riding the train south soon to visit her sister in New Hampshire.
“It’s really great for me, makes it more convenient,” she said. “Now I don’t have to worry about parking.”
Other spectators, like Thor and Nicole Swenson, self-described proponents of rail transportation, drove down from Augusta “on a whim,” they said, with their 4 1/2-month-old great Dane, Myrddin.
“I’m a firm believer in rail transportation because it works and it’s efficient,” Thor Swenson said. “This is progress forward. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get on a train in any state and go somewhere.”
Swenson said he expects to see many passengers coming up from Boston and speculated that Portland may see a small drop in its traffic because people will not have to commute from the north.
The new Downeaster schedule, which includes two daily round trips to Freeport and Brunswick, began Friday.
For more information, go to tinyurl.com/downeaster.