May 11, 2013

Downeaster ridership up despite some disruptions

Bridge work that affected the Brunswick-to-Boston train finishes this weekend in time for summer travel.

The Associated Press

Ridership on Amtrak's Downeaster, which travels between Brunswick and Boston, is ahead of last year despite a series of weekend disruptions caused by construction and the Boston Marathon bombings during school vacation week.

click image to enlarge

The Downeaster awaits departure at Freeport Stationin November 2012. The train, which travels between Brunswick and Boston, has recorded increased ridership this year.

2012 Telegram file photo/Gordon Chibroski

This weekend marks the last bridge work preventing trains from reaching Boston until after Labor Day, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

The disruptions have been caused by reconstruction of historic arch bridges over the Shawsheen River in Andover, Mass., by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Construction this year has prevented the Downeaster from reaching Boston on five weekends and part of a week in February.

"It's work that needs to be done, so we understand that it needed to happen," Quinn said.

To make up the disruptions this weekend, the rail authority was offering $5 weekend fares for stops between Brunswick and Haverhill, Mass., Quinn said. One-way fares typically range from $6 to $29.

The Downeaster was also celebrating National Train Day on Saturday with a family-friendly event in Brunswick, the beneficiary of expanded service late last year.

Each weekend the Downeaster failed to reach Boston because of the bridge reconstruction meant a loss of roughly 3,500 to 4,000 riders, and the Boston Marathon bombings on Patriots Day put a damper on southbound traffic during school vacation week, one of the busiest weeks for the train, Quinn said. Ridership was off for most of the week, and service was canceled altogether on Friday during a manhunt for one of the suspects.

Despite all that, ridership for the fiscal year that ends June 30 is up more than 5 percent and revenue is up more than 10 percent, mostly because of heavy travel toward the end of the calendar year as well as the expanded service to Brunswick and Freeport, she said.

"And we're looking forward to a great summer season," she said.

The Downeaster serves 12 communities: Brunswick, Freeport, Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Wells in Maine; Dover, Durham and Exeter in New Hampshire; and Haverhill, Woburn and Boston in Massachusetts.

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