BRUNSWICK — The Amtrak Downeaster arrived at Brunswick Station at 1:35 p.m., marking the beginning of passenger train service to communities north of Portland for the first time in more than 50 years.
The train was greeted by about 600 people and the Brunswick High pep band as it pulled into the station. A short time earlier, about 400 people and the Freeport High School marching band had met the train in Freeport.
Addressing the Brunswick crowd, Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, quoted Barry Manilow as the train arrived: “It looks like we made it.”
The crowd cheered.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree rode the train and spoke at the Freeport and Brunswick stops. Also on board were U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. Angus King and Wayne Davis, a retired banker from Topsham who led the grass-roots campaign to revive passenger rail service in Maine. Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo had planned to attend, but was in Washington because of recovery efforts with Superstorm Sandy.
On her arrival in Brunswick, Snowe said, “This opens up a new era and new chapter for Brunswick.”
Former Gov. John Baldacci was also on hand as the train arrived in Brunswick.
The expansion of the Boston-to-Portland service to Freeport and Brunswick fulfills the original vision of the passenger rail service launched in 2001.
Photos posted this morning by Twitter users in Boston showed people in “Maine” sweatshirts celebrating the launch of the service, and there were celebrations at each station stop along the way.
The expansion was made possible through $38.3 million in federal stimulus dollars, which was used to overhaul 30 miles of track and rehabilitate 36 crossings between Portland and Brunswick. The state also spent a half-million dollars to install train platforms in Brunswick and Freeport.
Ralph and Earline Judd came from Lisbon Falls to greet the train in Brunswick. Ralph, who is 86, travels frequently to Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment for a disease of the esophagus. He’ll now be able to take the train from Brunswick.
“I’m 86 and I’m getting tired of driving at night,” he said. “This is going to be a lot better.”
Regular service for paying customeers starts on Friday. with two daily round-trip trains between Brunswick and Boston.