The Downeaster is expected to carry 57,000 fewer riders and take in $1 million less in revenue this fiscal year than in the prior 12 months because of bad winter weather and problems with an ongoing track rehabilitation project that is forcing the cancellation of hundreds of runs, according to the agency that runs the passenger service.

With one month left in the current fiscal year, 276 trains have been canceled to date, and more than 100 will be canceled this month alone because of the track project, according to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

“This is not the way anyone wanted the project to go,” Quinn said. “It has been devastating.”

Amtrak normally offers five northbound and five southbound passenger trips daily between Portland and Boston, but has canceled three in each direction every weekday from last Friday through June 19. Later this week, the rail authority will decide whether to extend cancellations past June 19.

The authority also has canceled the same number of trains for the next two weekends. The trains that do run are expected to be delayed by an hour, according to the Downeaster website.

The trains that have been canceled are those that operated during the middle of the day.


The cancellations allow the crews to work faster, and the authority hopes the project can be finished before the summer tourist season begins, Quinn said.

“We understand it’s very frustrating for passengers, and it’s frustrating for freight customers, too,” she said. “But in the end, it will be an improvement for both.”

The line’s struggles come on the heels of a record year for the Downeaster in fiscal 2014, when the trains carried 537,000 passengers on one-way trips, and ticket revenues rose from $8.1 million to $8.6 million.

Quinn said the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority hopes the railroad will be in “good working order” by the end of June and that service can return to normal.

A long-anticipated tie replacement project is the source of most of the service’s problems.

The rail authority and Pan Am Railways, the freight railroad company that owns the tracks between Portland and Plaistow, New Hampshire, have been replacing 30,000 rail ties on the 78-mile line. Pan Am replaced 8,000 ties last year and is replacing 22,000 ties this spring.


The rail authority bought the ties for $2.3 million, and Pan Am is paying for the equipment and labor to install them. Work was scheduled to begin on May 4 and take about six weeks.

The “tie gang” – the crew that removes old ties and replaces them with new ones – has been making steady progress replacing the ties. The crew began in New Hampshire and is working north toward Portland. It is now in Wells.

The project has been hampered, however, because until Friday, Pan Am did not have the proper heavy machinery, called a “tamper,” which normally works behind the tie gang to stabilize the ties. The machine lifts the rail, packs down ballast on either side of the ties and puts the rail back down.

Because the rails could not be tamped down, Downeaster and Pan Am trains have been forced to run at much lower speeds: 30 mph for passenger trains and 25 mph for freight. On some stretches, passenger trains have been forced to slow to 10 mph.

Pan Am Railways, based in Billerica, Massachusetts, ordered a new tamper, said Cynthia Scarano, the company’s executive vice president. The delivery date was May 1, but it didn’t arrive until last week.

Amtrak agreed to dispatch one of its own tampers to Maine for the project, but the May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia forced Amtrak to delay sending the machine.


The Amtrak tamper also arrived last week and both of the machines were put to work Friday. On Monday, both pieces of machinery were operating in Exeter, New Hampshire.

Because there is only one set of tracks, crews have to stop work each time a train passes, Scarano said.

To give crews more time to work, Pan Am is operating its freight trains at night when the repair crews aren’t working.

Quinn is not blaming Pan Am for the problems, but instead points to “unforeseen circumstances.”

“Stuff happens,” she said. “When was the last time you remodeled the kitchen and everything showed up on the day it was supposed to?”

The problems with the tie-replacement project follow the most severe winter the Downeaster has had to contend with.


Snowstorms and cold weather damaged the railroad infrastructure and caused trains to break down. Trains were canceled or ran behind schedule. Ridership was down by 3 percent in January and 19 percent in February from the same months last year. It was the service’s worst performance over a two-month stretch since it began operating in December 2001.

Tony Jewell, a track safety expert in Massachusetts, isn’t surprised the rehabilitation project has run behind schedule because the hard winter damaged Pan Am tracks throughout its system in New England, and labor and equipment are in high demand everywhere.

“Pan Am has got issues all over the place,” he said. “It’s been a very rough winter.”

Last spring and summer, the Downeaster also ran into problems because of track work. In July alone, 51 trains were canceled.


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