A Downeaster train set, as seen in Brunswick in 2016. A pilot program would have extended service north from its current Brunswick terminus to Rockland, with stops in several Midcoast communities, including Bath and Wiscasset. Those plans appear to be on hold. (Times Record File Photo)

BATH – Seasonal passenger rail service from Brunswick to Rockland has been delayed again as track testing continues. 

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority originally planned to have a pilot program dubbed The Coastal Connection ready this summer. Now the rail authority hopes to complete testing by Memorial Day next year, according to Marketing Director Natalie Bogart.

The line would extend service from Brunswick, where the Boston-bound Downeaster currently terminates, to Rockland with stops in Bath, Wiscasset, and Newcastle for 10 weekends from June to September. The line would connect midcoast towns to 12 other communities between Brunswick and Boston, Massachusetts. The pilot program was intended to determine whether there was enough interest to make the extension permanent. 

“We’re hoping to bring more people to these small communities during the summer,” said Bogart.

Amanda McDaniel, executive director of Main Street Bath, said Bath would welcome the attention and increased number of tourists a Downeaster stop would bring, especially next year when the city celebrates its bicentennial. 

“Because we have an overpass people usually just drive by and ogle at BIW’s crane and don’t stop in the downtown,” said McDaniel.

The 58-miles of track between Brunswick and Rockland is owned by the Maine Department of Transportation, who leases it to Central Maine and Quebec Railway to carry freight. As a result, the track must be tested to see if it’s suitable for passenger cars. 

The original expected operating cost was $200,000 and expected to transport approximately 7,000 passengers, generating approximately $120,000 in revenue. The remaining operating costs were expected to be covered with surplus funding from rail authority’s 2018 budget. 

The pilot program was previously delayed last year due to incomplete testing protocols, but Amtrak agreed to try again in the summer of 2019. 

When the Downeaster was extended from Portland to Brunswick in 2012, ridership north of Portland exceeded expectations by almost 50%, according to a 2012 fiscal year report from the rail authority. 

Wayne Davis, chairman of Trainriders Northeast, said he expects an extension to Rockland would produce similar results. 

“I suspect it won’t take people long to discover the train line should run all summer…I think there’s a market for that and it will be a very good thing for local economies,” said Davis. “A trip up Route 1 to Rockland isn’t fun. The traffic is just ridiculous, but trains are part of the solution.” 

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