Restoration of passenger rail service in Maine has been a subject of much statewide discussion in recent years. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, an agency of state government, is the operator of the service, and could not exist without very substantial federal subsidies, and sizable amounts from the state. Communities with stations also contribute in both direct and indirect ways to Amtrak Downeaster operations.
Recently there’s been a great deal of interest in extending Downeaster service to the Lewiston-Auburn area and points beyond, even though a Maine Department of Transportation study in 2011 estimated capital required to do so would be in the $100 million-$200 million-plus range. Those supportive of taking this chance argue that massive economic benefits will accrue to the affected region.
Now comes news that a public-private partnership is implementing regular bus service between the Lewiston-Auburn area and Portland, and with minimal expense and public investment. It should be up and running in no time, and be flexible enough to meet ridership demands once they become known.
Perhaps the same approach should be used for expanding round-trip service to Brunswick, rather than spending an additional $22 million or more in taxpayer funds to meet unknown demands. Such an expanded bus service might even bring Bath and Topsham into the fold, making use of the bypass off Route 1. If the ridership support isn’t there, the service can be terminated with little lost; if it exceeds projections, it can easily and quickly be expanded.