AN AMTRAK DOWNEASTER TRAIN inside the Brunswick Layover Facility. The Downeaster’s rail authority wants to explore expanding service northward next year.

AN AMTRAK DOWNEASTER TRAIN inside the Brunswick Layover Facility. The Downeaster’s rail authority wants to explore expanding service northward next year.

BATH

Bath’s interim city manager said he is excited over news that Amtrak service may be headed to his community.

“We’re ecstatic,” Peter Owen said on Thursday. “We think this is great news. We’re still trying to find out more as we’ve only read about what we’ve seen in the media. But we think this would be a great boost for Bath and we intend to find out more so that we can be sure to accommodate any people ready to stop in Bath and explore our unique downtown.”

Creation of the Downeaster Coastal Connection — a seasonal weekend service to Rockland, with stops in Bath, Wiscasset and Newcastle — was announced by the rail authority Monday.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s Natalie Bogart said requests by business groups and municipal chambers of commerce to expand service prompted the decision.

Passenger rail service from Brunswick to Rockland ceased in 2015, when the Maine Eastern Railroad — which had operated an excursion on 58 miles of track since 2004 — ceased operation. Central Maine & Quebec Railway currently operates a freight service to Rockland in conjunction with Dragon Cement, Bogart said.

NNEPRA’s goal, Bogart said, is to determine whether the service can be implemented in 2018, but the exact date is to be determined. Details, including a schedule of public meetings to gather input from communities, will be announced in the coming weeks, Bogart said.

“This is a fascinating idea,” Woolwich Selectman Allison Hepler said. “Years ago, an older resident in Woolwich told me about taking the train home from school and that the train would slow down to drop her off ‘near’ her house — the train wouldn’t stop because it wasn’t an official stop. But I’ve always had that image in my head of a little girl swinging her legs over the edge of the train and jumping off. I sure hope she didn’t get to school that way.”

Members of TrainRiders/Northeast — a passenger rail advocacy group — were, unsurprisingly, pleased with the announcement.

“It’s very exciting,” said TrainRiders Chairman Wayne Davis, in a video posted by the group. “It’s been suggested ever since Maine Eastern left. But to think of a Downeaster train going through to Rockland on weekends this summer — it’s time. I think it will be well-patronized.”

Part of the planning stages includes an assessment of whether upgrades will be needed to implement the change. Bogart said she cannot speak to the estimated cost of the project at this time.

NNEPRA Chairman John Melrose, in the video, said the service will appeal to tourists, calling the route the most scenic section of rail currently accessible to the board.

The Coastal Connection pilot program would be an extension of existing schedules, using existing equipment.

“It’s not a big leap, in terms of capital,” said Melrose, in the TrainRiders/Northeast video. “We have some equipment opportunities with our layover facility in Brunswick that will enable us to make some runs up there.”

The 60,000-square-foot layover facility off Church Road in Brunswick opened last year in order to service trains overnight and to increase the number of round trips between Brunswick and Boston, the Downeaster’s southern terminus.

WITH REPORTING by Juliette Laaka, Nathan Strout and John Swinconeck.


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