Susan Peterson had heard so much about the Amtrak Downeaster “Great Dome” rail car that she just had to check it out for herself. She and her husband, Clifford, took the special train last Saturday. Time is running short, after all, since the dome car is available out of Freeport only once daily, and Sept. 18 is the final day it will be hitched to the Downeaster.

“I can’t wait,” Peterson, a Durham resident and information manager at the Freeport Train Center, said last week. “I’ve talked to people who have come in to buy tickets just for the ride on the dome. Ridership is up this year anyway, at least one-quarter to half compared to last year, but the dome car is attracting even more.”

It is the Great Dome’s first foray into New England. Built in 1955, the train car features an upper level with windows on all sides, including the roof. It affords great views of the scenic villages, coastline, marshes, streams and landscapes located along the route that begins in Brunswick and ends in Boston, with 10 trips in-between.

The southbound Downeaster with the dome car leaves Freeport at 7:15 a.m. weekdays, and 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Peterson planned to stop off in Dover, N.H., which, like Freeport, is a pedestrian-friendly town. She and her husband might go to Boston, but what she was most looking forward to going through the Scarborough Marsh on the dome car.

“It’s gorgeous going through there,” she said. “It’s my favorite spot.”

Natalie Bogart, marketing director for Northern New England Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster, indicated that Peterson won’t be disappointed.

“It offers a panoramic view of the scenery along our route,” Bogart said. “The dome car travels right through the Scarborough Marsh. And on a clear day, you can see Mount Washington.”

Old Orchard Beach is another beautiful site from the dome car’s top floor, she said.

“It’s pretty spectacular what you can see on the second floor,” she said.

The top floor seats 50 to 60. Tickets are regularly priced, and available at amtrakdowneaster.com. Seats are not reserved. The first floor of the dome car has a cafe.

“Ridership has been really strong,” Bogart said. “We have been encouraging people on really busy days to rotate in and out, so everybody gets a chance. August is the busiest month for us, so people should make reservations, especially for the Freeport run. That does typically sell out by the time it reaches Boston this time of year.”

The Great Dome car is on loan from a national fleet that typically operates on the West Coast, Bogart said. It is hitched to a train that travels through the Adirondack Mountains for the fall foliage season.

Dome cars were common on Western and Midwestern passenger trains following their introduction in the mid-1940s, but few operated in the East because of clearance restrictions on most major Eastern passenger rail routes, according to the Northern New England Rail Authority.

“The Great Dome” passenger car on the Amtrak Downeaster offers a 360-degree view of the world outside.

“The Great Dome” passenger car on the Amtrak Downeaster offers a 360-degree view of the world outside.

“The Great Dome” passenger car on the Amtrak Downeaster offers a 360-degree view of the world outside.


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