The people in charge of the Amtrak Downeaster plan to take the next year to figure out where the train service is headed.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority expects to begin a study this spring of proposals to relocate the Portland train station, shorten trip lengths and add more daily runs between Brunswick, Portland and Boston and others.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the authority, said she expects the study to take about a year because of its complexity. Most of the funding comes from a federal grant.

Once it’s done, the authority will use it to help craft spending plans and as a support document for grant applications.

Quinn said relocating the station might shorten trip times, especially for runs between Portland and Brunswick when that service is launched in autumn 2012.

She said the current station off the Fore River Parkway is located on a side rail off the main line between Boston and Portland. The main line continues to Brunswick. The way the junction of the two lines is configured would require trains between Portland and Brunswick to drive past the junction on the main line before heading either into the Portland station or north to Brunswick.

About 10 minutes could be saved if there was a station on existing tracks along Commercial Street, Quinn said. This would also bring passengers closer to downtown, and would allow the authority to build a center platform that would accommodate two trains in the station at the same time.

Allowing passengers to walk to nearby attractions is one of the strengths of North Station, where the Downeaster route ends in Boston.

“You get off the train at North Station and you can walk to Faneuil Hall, you can walk to the science museum,” she said. Passengers getting off the train in Portland must take a cab, car or bus to downtown, she said.

Portland officials, who will be briefed on the study next month, say they like how a Commercial Street station might spur development of an area — west of the Casco Bay Bridge — that remains largely untouched.

City Councilor David Marshall said there are benefits to both of the two likeliest Commercial Street sites — just west of the bridge, near the International Marine Terminal; or at the end of Center Street, near the Portland Fish Pier.

“Both of those would have big stimulating effects on the vacant land adjacent to both those stops,” he said. “I’m intrigued by the prospect of it.”

Both Marshall and Quinn said either site would allow passengers to walk to the Old Port and downtown, although the International Marine Terminal location would require a slightly longer hike.

The rest of the study will focus on design issues that Quinn hopes could shave about 10 or 15 minutes off the current time of two hours, 25 minutes for a trip between Boston and Portland.

Quinn said it’s possible that banking some turns, straightening some stretches of track and improving signal lights could allow trains to maintain their top speed of 79 mph for longer periods. She said engineers will have to determine which potential changes are worth the cost.

The study will also look at whether it makes sense to add parallel lines in some areas to allow trains to pass each other in more locations. The lack of more such locations limits the Downeaster to five roundtrips a day, she said.

Quinn said the authority is putting out a request for proposals from engineers and consultants needed for the study.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy may be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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