Rail service between Boston and Brunswick is expected to expand as soon as November, provided a critical rail project is completed on time.

The Downeaster expects to make five round trips per day on its entire line as soon as it finishes the $9.4 million construction of a secondary passing rail line in Falmouth and Cumberland called Royal Junction Siding.

Presently, the train makes only three round trips between Brunswick and Boston daily, because of track limitations. The current timing of trips can be inconvenient for passengers, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the agency that manages the Downeaster service.

“On the weekdays the first northbound train doesn’t get into Freeport and Brunswick until 4 p.m.,” Quinn said. “Now it could be by noontime; that will create a lot more interest.”

New siding, along with an overnight maintenance shed in Brunswick completed in 2016, will also help the service flow better, Quinn added. Currently, two trains are housed overnight in Brunswick and one in Portland.

“There have just been a lot of moving parts,” Quinn said. “Royal Siding will improve efficiency of service and increase the amount of service to Freeport and Brunswick.”

Royal Junction Siding has been planned at least since the Downeaster’s expansion to Brunswick six years ago. Passenger service north of Portland runs on a limited schedule because passenger and freight trains can’t pass one another on the single track. By installing 4 miles of rail parallel to the existing line, the Downeaster can avoid that bottleneck and schedule with more flexibility.

“It will simplify things for passengers and operations as well,” Quinn said.

MORE OPTIONS FOR BRUNSWICK

Despite inconvenient schedules and limited runs, the Downeaster is popular in Brunswick and nearby communities that don’t have a public transit link to Portland and Boston, said Debora King, executive director for the Brunswick Downtown Association, the nonprofit that manages a visitor center at the station in town.

“People are very excited” about more daily round trips, King said. Ridership has consistently grown every year, particularly after a third round trip was added in 2016.

“It just gives people more options – that’s what they love,” she said.

Train travel is popular with tourists, school groups, and people traveling to Boston for a concert or sports event. Commuters who take the service to Boston a few times a week are regular travelers, King said.

Downeaster service, plus passenger bus line Concord Coach Lines and the Breez commuter shuttle between Brunswick and Portland, are putting a strain on public parking near the station, though. Parking spaces are at a premium in the long-term lot, which charges $2 a day, and the town is considering a new park-and-ride and garage nearby, King said.

“Given the increase to the number of round trips to Boston, that is only going to get worse,” she said.

Earthwork for the new Yarmouth siding is finished and a good portion of the track has been built, Quinn said. New service is expected to begin by late November, but that will depend on other work being done along the line. Pan Am Railways, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Downeaster have just started replacing 15,000 railroad ties between Brunswick and Dover, New Hampshire, a construction project expected to last until early October and disrupt passenger service. Some workers were temporarily moved from the Royal Junction site to help with rail work in Portland, according to Quinn.

After the Royal Junction Siding project is completed, her agency will move ahead to build a second passenger platform in Wells that will improve service. With a new passenger platform in place, the agency will explore adding a sixth run between Wells and Brunswick and a commuter trip from southern Maine into Portland, Quinn said.

The Downeaster ended its 2018 fiscal year in June with 551,038 riders, its highest ridership since 2014. The agency took in $10.2 million, its best revenue year ever.

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.