Over half a million riders took the Amtrak Downeaster in 2019, setting a new record for the growing passenger rail service in southern Maine.

The Downeaster had 574,404 passengers last year, an increase of almost 8 percent from the year before. It beat the previous record, from 2017, by about 28,000 passengers.

“These results are particularly impressive,” said John Melrose, chairman of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the agency that runs the Downeaster, in a statement. “We are committed to the continued growth of the Downeaster service and working hard in 2020 to improve and expand transportation alternatives and further enhance mobility to our citizens and support economic growth for Maine businesses.”

The Downeaster runs daily between Brunswick and Boston, with Maine stops in Freeport, Portland, Saco and Wells, and seasonal service to Old Orchard Beach.

A recent increase to five daily round trips to Brunswick and Freeport helped boost the train’s ridership, as did better reliability and more repeat passengers, said the authority’s marketing director, Natalie Bogart. Almost 61,000 people took the train in August alone, its biggest ridership month ever.

The Downeaster also hit a new peak for ticket revenue in 2019, earning about $11 million, an increase of more than 9 percent from the previous year. Ticket revenue beat records in 10 of the 12 months of the year, Bogart said.

Tickets, food and beverage sales, parking fees and other earning made up more than half the agency’s funding in the most recent fiscal year, according to NNEPRA’s annual report. The service received more than $8.8 million in federal funding and $2.3 million in local and state funding.

Passengers enjoy the Downeaster, which has a 91 percent customer satisfaction score, Bogart added.

The agency said it has plans to improve Downeaster service in the near future. It is considering relocating its Portland station to a location on the main rail line so trains don’t have to detour to the Portland Transportation Center.

The detour adds at least 15 minutes to each round trip. Results of a relocation study by the Maine Department of Transportation are expected in March, Bogart said.

A new passenger platform in Wells also is in the works, but the agency is awaiting news of federal grant funding, Bogart said. An additional platform could allow the train to run six round trips a day and permit a schedule adjustment to make it more useful to commuters, NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said in an interview last fall.

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