I believe in good-quality, high-speed rail service. But if train service is going to become a serious part of our transportation system in Maine rather than a novelty, the Downeaster needs to improve significantly.

On the afternoon of July 22, I took the train from Portland to Woburn, Massachusetts, and back. The train from Portland left a few minutes late and arrived in Woburn more than 40 minutes late. Why? Because after spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the track, trains can only go 40 mph when it is hot.

The service was marginal. The air conditioner was not working properly. The tray table at my first seat was broken. The restroom was a mess from overflowing trash halfway through the trip with a small number of passengers. And no one does anything about it.

The return trip was only 20 to 25 minutes late getting to Portland. But it is frustrating to sit, stopped in the woods somewhere between Wells and Saco, for 15 to 20 minutes, waiting for a southbound train to pass. And the restrooms were a mess again.

The Downeaster is fun as long as you don’t need to be somewhere on a schedule and you don’t mind second-class service. Sadly, my 8-year-old granddaughter, who loves the train, said as we pulled into Portland, “Let’s take the car the next time.”

The Downeaster needs to do better!

Mark Eyerman