BRUNSWICK – Nearly twice as many people as projected rode Amtrak’s Downeaster to Freeport and Brunswick in the line’s first month, the operator of the service said Wednesday.
The train carried an average of 190 passengers a day between Portland and Brunswick in November, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. “We had actually expected that we would have 100 passengers per day.”
The Downeaster, which started service between Portland in Boston in 2001, began making runs to Freeport and Brunswick on Nov. 1.
Quinn said it’s hard to draw conclusions so soon about who is riding the line and exactly why, so it’s unclear which segments of riders will grow, remain consistent or shrink.
“I think that all takes a little time to figure out,” she said. “In November, we had Thanksgiving, and that was very busy for us. And we have a lot of passengers from Brunswick who are using the train to go to Boston.”
For example, during the long Thanksgiving weekend, many students from Bowdoin College in Brunswick used the new service to go home for the holiday and then back to school. And many shoppers rode the Downeaster to get to stores in Freeport, Quinn said.
“In January and February, we don’t know what to expect,” she said. “We have really good demand of people riding northbound and southbound, so I think we’re off to a really good start.”
If that demand continues, the rail authority has plans to expand service.
The Downeaster now offers three round trips a day between Portland and Boston and two round trips between Brunswick and Boston.
Quinn said the rail authority has plans for six or seven round trips a day between Portland and Boston, and hopes to add round trips on the new line to Brunswick soon.
The authority plans to build a heated layover facility in Brunswick, where trains could be parked and shut down. The trains are now kept running in Brunswick, to keep their engines from freezing in the cold. Nearby residents have complained about noise and pollution from the idling trains, and the rail authority has said it’s not cost-effective.
Other future plans include expansion of rail service to Auburn, Quinn said.
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