Some in Kennebunk are beginning a new conversation about hosting an Amtrak Downeaster train stop in Kennebunk.  Rolla Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – Thinking about taking a weekend trip to Boston, but dreading the drive? Considering coming to the Kennebunks for a few days of shopping, relaxation and fun?

Some in Kennebunk have expressed interest in an Amtrak Downeaster stop in the community, starting a new conversation following the demise of an proposal three years ago.

It is a process that would take time.

The Maine Department of Transportation is just beginning its task of putting together the State Rail Plan, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority director Patricia Quinn told the Kennebunk Economic Development Committee and select board earlier this month. She said Kennebunk would be included in that effort, but noted the rail plan is in its infancy. It is expected to take about a year to complete.

Economic Development Committee Chair June Huston said she believes a train stop in Kennebunk could serve those who live here and whose work may be in Boston or beyond, but commute occasionally, rather than daily. Residents, she said, “do need to travel back to their home offices in Boston or New York for weekly or monthly meetings, client gatherings and to visit family and friends.”

Others who attended the development committee meeting Nov. 4 pointed to Kennebunk’s significant tourism economy.

“Tourism has always been our number one thing, here you could get off the train and walk into town,” pointed out select board member Kortney Nedeau. “Weekend or seasonal (service) would be an appeal, think.”

Quinn said weekend stops were the “kind of thing we want to consider.”

“We don’t like empty seats,” said Quinn, adding she couldn’t make promises, and again pointed to the state rail plan process.

If a train stop in Kennebunk sounds familiar, it is.

An effort to bring a a seasonal stop to Kennebunk began in 2014, but it did not happen. The select board on Oct. 9, 2018, voted unanimously to terminate the project after a discussion that included information that the planning officials with the Maine Department of Transportation had believed size of the proposed location – the old station on Depot Street – was deficient, according to the meeting minutes. During that 2018 meeting, minutes show some select board members at the time – including some who currently serve – voicing their support for a train stop.

Blake Baldwin, chair of the select board, said during those earlier discussions, there was a time issue as well, and asked if that was still a consideration.

“That is 70-mile-an-hour territory,” Quinn said of Kennebunk. A train moving at that speed is more difficult to stop and would add five to seven minutes to the schedule from Portland to Boston, she estimated.

Quinn said there are current plans for upgrades to the Downeaster system, including the addition of six miles of double track in Wells to the existing two double miles, with a pedestrian bridge over the track to an additional platform. The upgrade would be funded through a grant.

“Right now, one has to back up and it is inefficient to say the least,” said Quinn. She said single track limits the number of trains the rail authority, which operates the Downeaster, can provide. Adding the track would mean six round trips a day between Brunswick and Wells, rather than five, she said, and provide a timely commuter service into Portland.

The Wells train station is 8.8 miles from Kennebunk Town Hall via the Maine Turnpike, and 7 miles using Route 1 and Route 109, according to online maps.

Quinn said the rail authority is also contemplating a stop in West Falmouth and relocation of the Portland station.

“We greatly appreciate the support, enthusiasm and energy of your community,” Quinn told the economic committee. “You’ve been ambassadors and our supporters for a long time … we want to provide a service as robust as it can be.”

Baldwin in a telephone interview last week, said it was his sense that “it wouldn’t be likely that Kennebunk would bubble to the top,” in the near future.

“However, none of us have given up on the idea of a train stop in Kennebunk,” he said, and pointed out that a portion of the new comprehensive plan looks to create a transportation corridor along the railroad track to create an opportunity for a train stop in town.

Huston expressed enthusiasm for the prospect of a Kennebunk stop.

“I am encouraged by the news that Kennebunk is once again being considered for a train stop,” she said in an email. “I feel the sitting select board, with an influx of new members, are eager to provide the voters choices at the polls for projects such as this one that support the town’s economic future and public transportation expansion goals.

“In addition to bolstering the tourism industry on Main Street, the added transportation could be of great benefit to our aging-in-place senior community and retaining our dwindling millennial population’s commuting needs.”

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