Falmouth is looking into adding an Amtrak Downeaster train platform, similar to this one in Freeport. File 

FALMOUTH — West Falmouth’s easy accessibility from Maine Turnpike Exit 53 and points west and north make it an attractive place for a new Amtrak Downeaster stop, the Town Council was told Monday.

If the new passenger rail stop is eventually approved, adding it to the passenger rail schedule would likely still be several years away, according to Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster.

But, Quinn told councilors, “there’s some real synergy there with interesting possibilities.”

Councilors agreed, saying they’re eager to explore the option of adding at least a new train platform, if not a more substantial transportation hub that could include connections to other modes of transit, including the METRO bus service and a new park-and-ride lot for commuters.

The train tracks used by the Amtrak Downeaster run right by the West Falmouth Crossing shopping center. Courtesy town of Falmouth

Councilor Hope Cahan was especially interested in looking into bike or scooter sharing opportunities, which others said they’d like to explore, too.

Quinn said the Pan Am rail line used by the Downeaster is adjacent to the West Falmouth Crossing shopping center, and the train already goes by 10 times a day on its way to Freeport and Brunswick.

If the numbers work out, she said a stop in West Falmouth would at the very least include a platform with some type of ticketing kiosk at the shopping center.

Quinn said the possibility of the new stop is still being studied and she doesn’t have any ridership or cost estimates. However, she said the popularity of the Freeport and Brunswick stops proves that “people from all across the state are attracted to the train with more ready access.”

The Downeaster began running four round trips a day from Portland to Boston in December 2001. A fifth round trip was added in August 2007. In November 2012, service was extended to Freeport and Brunswick. According to Quinn, between 65,000 and 70,000 passengers a year either board or disembark from the Downeaster in Freeport or Brunswick.

Quinn said adding the West Falmouth stop could also reduce congestion at the Portland Transportation Center, which is experiencing a space crunch as more people take the train. She said it would be an 11-minute ride from West Falmouth to Portland, and people could either get off there or continue farther south.

The rail authority feels West Falmouth has the potential to be “a really good catchment area” for train travelers, Quinn said. When asked about making a new train stop the focal point for a larger transportation hub, she said “we’re always interested in collaborating on connectivity” and would be “really interested in input” from other stakeholders and the wider community.

Dick Rogers, property manager for West Falmouth Crossing, said the property owners association at the shopping plaza are at least “open to the possibility” of adding a train stop, but warned that would require reworking the master plan for the development. Some the easements would have to re-evaluated, he said, particularly for permanent commuter parking.

“The owners association is all for at least taking a look at” a new train station, Rogers said. “We have a lot of areas that are very underutilized.”

Town Manager Nathan Poore said the master plan for West Falmouth Crossing was created in the late 1990s, and earlier this year he engaged Terrence DeWan & Associates of Yarmouth to review the plan and make suggestions for where the park-and-ride lot, at least, could be placed. Poore said the effort has flagged in recent months, but with the possibility of a new Downeaster stop, “there’s more motivation now to move forward.”

DeWan’s work to date is being paid for by a $10,000 grant from the Maine Turnpike Authority. Poore said he’s unsure if more money will be needed to look into the train station option, but said he would get back to the council later this summer if that is the case.

Both Poore and the council said prior to any significant money being spent or effort being made, the public would have the opportunity to discuss the train station proposal.


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