PORTLAND — The operators of the Amtrak Downeaster will meet with the city’s Transportation Committee next week to discuss a variety of initiatives, including a new passenger rail station on Commercial Street.

Along with state plans to improve the International Marine Terminal, the project would bring new vitality to the city’s western waterfront.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, on Tuesday said the details of her Jan. 18 presentation to the committee have not been finalized.

But Quinn suggested she would present a general update of the group’s efforts to extend the Amtrak Downeaster to Brunswick, as well as outline concepts that will be addressed in a report focusing on improving operations. 

“I have a call planned with (the city) later in the week to finalize the agenda,” Quinn said. “I really don’t have anything to share with you at this point.”

But Quinn went on to say that the bulk of the study, which will be funded by a $750,000 grant, will likely be used on engineering and environmental impact studies for improving the Portland-Boston rail line.

Other portions of the study, Quinn said, could focus on “challenges” at Amtrak’s current station at 100 Thompson’s Point Road, which is not easily accessible to pedestrians, only accommodates one train at a time and is inefficient for northbound service.

A new station on the waterfront near downtown, with a central platform to accommodate northbound and southbound trains, would solve those problems, Quinn said, noting the group would also look at improving its existing station.

Although Quinn said it is too early to suggest potential locations for a new station, people involved in rail issues said there are three locations that could be considered.

Rail advocate Tony Donovan, of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said NNEPRA is considering the Portland International Marine Terminal and a parcel of land on Commercial Street, just west of the Casco Bay Bridge, as potential locations for a new station. City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who chairs the city’s Transportation Committee, confirmed Donovan’s information.

However, Paul Pottle, Maine Department of Transportation project manager, said building a train station at the marine terminal would conflict with cargo operations.

Pottle said the DOT recently received a $5 million grant to reconfigure the cargo terminal, which the state leases from the city. The project will include the demolition of buildings formerly used by Nova Scotia passenger ferries and U.S. Customs.

The plan includes construction of a 5,000-square-foot pier and an approximately 4,000-square-foot building near Commercial Street.

The rail authority may also consider city-owned property near Center Street on Commercial Street. 

That location, a parking lot used by the Fish Pier Authority, was identified as a potential location for a new train station by the Portland-North Transportation Study.

Councilor David Marshall said the train station discussion is one of several rail-related topics that he wants the Transportation Committee to discuss in the coming year.

Since rail initiatives are typically statewide efforts funded by grants, Marshall said it’s important that the committee be involved in grants and planning efforts. Instead, he said it is often left out of the loop.

Marshall noted a dispute that broke out last year between trail and rail advocates, when trail advocates were pursuing a federal grant to convert the train trestle known as the swing bridge, connecting the eastern waterfront to North Deering behind the B&M Baked Bean factory.

“We need to be planning and setting forth policy around the plan before we get too far down the road,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

An artist’s rendering depicting a railroad station next to the Portland International Marine Terminal, along Commercial Street just west of the Casco Bay Bridge in Portland.

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