Amtrak Downeaster Booze

Amtrak’s Downeaster train, headed from Boston to Portland, pulls out of the station in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on July 10, 2012. Charles Krupa / AP file photo

Amtrak’s Downeaster has been awarded a federal grant to explore extending the passenger rail line from Brunswick to Rockland.

The $500,000 grant was part of $8.2 billion in funding for rail projects across the country that President Joe Biden announced Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Amtrak was also awarded $27 million to improve the Downeaster’s mainline from Brunswick to the Massachusetts state line.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the money will create “faster, more reliable, expanded train service across the country.”

“With this funding, we’ll deliver America’s first high-speed rail on a route between Southern California and Las Vegas, complete major upgrades for riders in Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maine, Montana and Alaska, and announce a comprehensive plan that makes it easier to expand passenger rail lines in 44 states,” Buttigieg said in a statement.

Amtrak owns the 57-mile Rockland Branch connecting Brunswick and Rockland. The tracks were built in the 1870s and several passenger lines ran until 2015. Midcoast Railservice currently leases the tracks and has been running commercial freight while exploring a weekend excursion line that could launch next year.

“We were glad to see specific mention of the Rockland extension in this comprehensive national Amtrak legislation,” said George Betke, Midcoast Railservice’s co-founder and vice president. “It portends a likelihood that our Midcoast Railservice concept of a locally controlled, same-platform passenger connection at Brunswick will be supplanted by some level of Amtrak-operated through trains to Rockland.”


Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said she has been working to secure rail funding.

“President Biden is delivering on his vision to rebuild America and ensure our infrastructure not only meets the needs of 21st-century travelers but fights climate change as well,” Pingree said in a statement. “The Downeaster is one of the best-performing regional Amtrak passenger rails in the country — with over a half of a million people choosing to ride the train in the last year alone. The significant investments announced today will greatly improve the highly traveled Boston to Brunswick line, ensuring safe and climate-friendly travel options, creating jobs and boosting economic activity in surrounding communities.”

Downeaster ridership has rebounded since the coronavirus pandemic; the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the line, reported it had 516,723 passengers in fiscal year 2023, the first time it exceeded a half-million passengers since 2019.

Amtrak recently announced it plans to hike the prices of some tickets on the line.

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