Amtrak Downeaster Booze

A conductor makes sure all is clear as the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train pulls out of the station in Freeport in 2021. Preliminary reports from the rail authority show that ridership has been steadily rising and the trend is projected to continue, with record-breaking ridership numbers expected for July. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

New passenger transportation numbers released Monday by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority are showing that ridership on the Amtrak Downeaster has mostly rebounded from the pandemic-related disruptions that started in 2020.

The rail authority reported that the Amtrak Downeaster transported 516,723 passengers in fiscal year 2023, which ended June 30. That is the first time that annual ridership has exceeded a half million riders since fiscal 2019, according to the rail authority, which was created in 1995 by the Maine Legislature to oversee passenger rail service in the state.

Preliminary reports from the rail authority show that ridership has been steadily rising and the trend is projected to continue, with record-breaking ridership numbers expected for July.

“It is very rewarding to see Downeaster ridership continue to grow across all markets, trains and stations,” said Natalie Bogart, the rail authority’s deputy director. “The results are particularly impressive given that Massachusetts track construction required more than 400 trains to operate limited service last fiscal year.”

Bogart said the Massachusetts track upgrade project required southbound passengers to get off at Haverhill, Massachusetts, and be transported by bus to Boston’s North Station. Northbound passengers had to be bused to Haverhill. Those disruptions took place during two weeks in February and March.

For one week in April, the project forced southbound passengers to get off the train in Exeter, New Hampshire, and be bused to Boston. The track upgrade project is completed and was funded by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.


Another indication that the Downeaster is on the rebound is ticket revenues. The $10.4 million in ticket revenue in fiscal year 2023 is the highest in the service’s 21-year history with a record-breaking average fare per passenger of $20.20, the rail authority said.

Fifty percent discounts are available to children, seniors and disabled passengers. Discounted fares were streamlined last fiscal year to simplify the reservation process.

Amtrak’s Downeaster service was enjoying an increase in popularity just before the pandemic struck. In 2019, the Downeaster broke ridership records, a surge partly attributed to increased use in Brunswick and Freeport, according to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

In 2019, the Downeaster saw a record-breaking 574,404 passengers, a 7.8% increase from 2018, with August accounting for almost 61,000 of those passengers. It was the first time the Downeaster surpassed 60,000 riders in one month.

Despite that success, the Amtrak Downeaster, like public transportation services across the nation, saw a sharp decline in ridership beginning in mid-March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority suspended Downeaster operations from April 13, 2020, to June 15, 2020, when it offered one daily round trip between Brunswick and Boston. Since then, the rail authority gradually increased the number of daily trips to pre-pandemic levels and ridership has steadily increased reaching 516,723 in fiscal 2023.

Passenger capacity on the Downeaster varies by season, but in general two to six trains sell out each weekend day with most trains operating at 75% of capacity on average, Bogart said. Trains selling out on a weekday are more uncommon and depend on demand factors, but most trains during the normal business week operate at 50% to 75% of capacity, she said.


Amtrak Downeaster makes five daily round trips between Brunswick and Boston’s North Station, a 146-mile route that includes stops in Freeport, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Wells. The stop in Old Orchard Beach is seasonal.

On Monday night the boarding platform at the Downeaster train station on Depot Street in Freeport was bustling with activity as riders queued up to head to destinations in Portland and Boston. Bogart said ridership at the Freeport train station can be spotty at times, but on Monday night there were 17 ticketed passengers, another sign of increased popularity.


Brian Jackson and his wife, Trish Jackson, were spending their 40th wedding anniversary vacationing in Maine. They rode the Downeaster to Freeport from Portland on Monday with the intent of doing some shopping at L.L. Bean and other retailers.

Trish Jackson said she did some research before their Maine vacation, and when she discovered that Amtrak provided service between Boston and Maine, she decided that they should fly into Boston and ride north on the train.

“We wanted to have a vacation where we didn’t have to do any driving and I found the Downeaster,” she said.


The couple, who live in Cleveland, said they could not have been happier with the customer service provided by Downeaster attendants.

“I would highly recommend the Downeaster to anyone,” Trish Jackson said.

“The seats were comfortable and the crew was great,” said Brian Jackson, a retired NASA engineer. Train crew members went out of their way to be helpful, informing them that they could take a coach bus from North Station to Logan Airport to catch their flight home Wednesday.

During their anniversary vacation, the couple packed in a Red Sox game in Fenway Park and took the ferry to Peaks Island, in addition to spending the day shopping at L.L. Bean and other retailers in downtown Freeport.

“I’m exhausted,” Brian Jackson said.

Gail Plummer of Dover, New Hampshire, wanted to do something special for her granddaughter’s 11th birthday so she bought Amtrak Downeaster tickets for both of them. They rode north from York County where Plummer’s granddaughter Zoey lives and spent the day shopping in Freeport.


“The seats on the train were comfy and it’s just so much easier to ride the train than fighting traffic,” said Plummer, who said she has used the Downeaster before.

A senior citizen from Wells, who did not want to give his name, came to Freeport with a young friend to shop at the town’s retail stores. The man, who is retired from the military, said he liked getting a discount and commended the train’s crew for being friendly. He had not been on the Downeaster before.

When you consider how much it would have cost for gas to drive to Freeport from Wells, he said it’s a deal that can’t be beat.

“There is no traffic. It’s easy on, easy off,” he said. “Once you’re on, you’re gone.”

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