Amtrak Downeaster Booze

The Amtrak Downeaster, shown in Freeport in 2021, takes passengers 145 miles from Brunswick to Boston, passing through 35 miles of New Hampshire along the way. The train includes a cafe car that serves alcohol, which is at odds with a New Hampshire law requiring alcohol served in the state to be purchased in the state. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Riders of The Downeaster will still be able to buy drinks while the train rolls through New Hampshire, Granite State liquor officials said Wednesday.

Officials with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said Monday that liquor sales aboard the train in New Hampshire would have to halt on March 20 because the food service vendor on the train was in violation of a rule requiring alcohol served in that state to be purchased in New Hampshire.

But the spokesman for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission said Wednesday that wasn’t the case and he said the commission is seeking to change the law to resolve the matter.

E.J. Powers said the commission renewed the liquor license of NexDine Hospitality, the vendor that operates The Downeaster’s food and beverage service, in late January, even though it appeared to be violating the state law requiring it to buy liquor it serves in New Hampshire within the state.

Powers said NexDine was told that “given the history of the relationship and using common sense,” NexDine was told to  “proceed with business as usual.”

Mansfield, Massachusetts-based NexDine buys its alcoholic drinks for the 145-mile run in Maine.


In the meantime, the commission will seek to change the law by creating an exemption for passenger trains, he said.

Powers said he isn’t sure how swiftly New Hampshire’s Legislature will act on a change in the law, but the exemption for the Downeaster will stay in place until it does.

The “business as usual” instruction was reiterated this week, he said, and Gov. Chris Sununu tweeted a copy of the story warning that The Downeaster might have to stop serving alcohol with the comment: “Not happening.”

“First drinks are on me,” he tweeted.

If New Hampshire had chosen to enforce the law, train riders would have been barred from purchasing alcoholic beverages while in the state, a 35-mile stretch of a trip that runs 145 miles from Brunswick to Boston. Any alcoholic drinks purchased while the train was in Massachusetts or Maine could still be consumed when the train was in New Hampshire, but passengers would be unable to buy another until the train passed into another state.

It’s not clear whether Amtrak has to comply with local liquor laws.

The Downeaster is in a category that’s different from other Amtrak trains and has had private vendors provide food and beverage service since it began running in 2001. A call to Amtrak late Wednesday seeking information on whether it has to comply with local and state liquor laws was not returned.

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