Improving the Downeaster

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Fenway

Train Attendant
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Feb 25, 2022
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68
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Boston, MA
Hard to believe that 20 years ago this was considered a risky investment but the train has exceeded expectations.

My wish is a sixth trip - an earlier departure from Boston and a late evening departure from Maine.

Doing this would encourage more day-tripping for people from Boston, especially in the summer. For example, an earlier departure from Boston would entice more people to day trip to OOB and a late evening departure from Portland would entice people to do a full day trip in Portland and allow for dining and maybe a Seadogs game.

Looking down the road would an extension to Bangor be feasible?

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Joined
Sep 2, 2021
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678
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Lubec, ME
I think the issue with an earlier departure from Boston is that a trainset would have to be stored overnight in or near North Station and I don't know what problems there may be doing that. Currently all equipment overnights at the Brunswick facility. They would also need to come up with another train set, including P42 and "Cabbage".

I agree though that a weakness in the current schedule is the lack of an early morning departure from Boston. They would definitely need this if the planned seasonal extension to Rockland ever happens.
 

west point

Engineer
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SW ATL airport
I think the issue with an earlier departure from Boston is that a trainset would have to be stored overnight in or near North Station and I don't know what problems there may be doing that. Currently all equipment overnights at the Brunswick facility. They would also need to come up with another train set, including P42 and "Cabbage".

I agree though that a weakness in the current schedule is the lack of an early morning departure from Boston. They would definitely need this if the planned seasonal extension to Rockland ever happens.

That round trip certainly fills a definite lack of ability to make a significant day RT to Maine. As a visitor to BOS that would make a lot more sense during my visits to Boston. The initiation of that RT will be fairly easy with the additional siding. However, I support one more that will have to wait for CSX to install and certify PTC. About a 1520 / 3:20 PM from Brunswick and 1750 / 5:50PM from BON. No additional train set needed and crewing easily scheduled.
 
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Messages
758
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That section of track before Exeter on the northbound is pretty horrendous. It really slows things down, and it’s uncomfortable. Double tracking larger sections of the route would help too.

A 6th round trip would be great! Also making it more reliable and extending it to Belfast.

The extension is crucial. Right now, for Bar Harbor (I spend a month on MDI every summer) the only public ground transit is Concord Coach around 1hr and 10mins from Bar Harbor. Belfast is about the time amount of time, and I’d take Amtrak over concord coach any day. The train getting that far north would help that whole area. Every further would be amazing, but the Bangor extension is a decade away at best.
 

Fenway

Train Attendant
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
68
Location
Boston, MA
I think the issue with an earlier departure from Boston is that a trainset would have to be stored overnight in or near North Station and I don't know what problems there may be doing that. Currently all equipment overnights at the Brunswick facility. They would also need to come up with another train set, including P42 and "Cabbage".

I agree though that a weakness in the current schedule is the lack of an early morning departure from Boston. They would definitely need this if the planned seasonal extension to Rockland ever happens.

That round trip certainly fills a definite lack of ability to make a significant day RT to Maine. As a visitor to BOS that would make a lot more sense during my visits to Boston. The initiation of that RT will be fairly easy with the additional siding. However, I support one more that will have to wait for CSX to install and certify PTC. About a 1520 / 3:20 PM from Brunswick and 1750 / 5:50PM from BON. No additional train set needed and crewing easily scheduled.

I don't think storing a train overnight at North Station is a major issue but an additional trainset would be needed and staffing an earlier departure from Boston might require a Boston-based crew.

That said I believe it is worth the investment.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2021
Messages
678
Location
Lubec, ME
That section of track before Exeter on the northbound is pretty horrendous. It really slows things down, and it’s uncomfortable. Double tracking larger sections of the route would help too.

A 6th round trip would be great! Also making it more reliable and extending it to Belfast.

The extension is crucial. Right now, for Bar Harbor (I spend a month on MDI every summer) the only public ground transit is Concord Coach around 1hr and 10mins from Bar Harbor. Belfast is about the time amount of time, and I’d take Amtrak over concord coach any day. The train getting that far north would help that whole area. Every further would be amazing, but the Bangor extension is a decade away at best.
It wouldn't be practical to run to Belfast. That would require running up past Waterville to Burnham Jct. then over the old Belfast and Moosehead Lake. I don't know if that right of way even still exists into Belfast. Rockland is about the closest you could get and that would seem to be low hanging fruit since it had passenger service until a few years ago.

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There is talk off and on of extending to Bangor via Augusta and Waterville which gets studied every few years but nothing has come of it yet.
 
Joined
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Baltimore. MD
One thing they could do quickly would be to have Thruway bus connections through Portland or Brunswick to all those upstate destinations. And have connections to all of the Downeaster trains, so there would be good frequency of bus service between all those points instead of just one bus a day between Portland and Bangor and one bus a day up the coast.
 
Joined
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It wouldn't be practical to run to Belfast. That would require running up past Waterville to Burnham Jct. then over the old Belfast and Moosehead Lake. I don't know if that right of way even still exists into Belfast. Rockland is about the closest you could get and that would seem to be low hanging fruit since it had passenger service until a few years ago.

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There is talk off and on of extending to Bangor via Augusta and Waterville which gets studied every few years but nothing has come of it yet.
Belfast wouldn't be too far from the Rockland ConnectUS extension. None of these routes (beyond rockland) would be feasible without significant capital costs anyways. Given that Camden, Linconville and Northport are all on the way (with ferries to lots of important summer islands like Islesboro and Vinalhaven) it would actually make a lot of sense, and boost the trains popularity.

(now I understand what you were referencing)
Running the Downeaster along the B and MHL scenic railroad tracks might be tough, but I think it could work.

And yes, I do remember Maine Eastern.
 
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Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
758
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Boston
One thing they could do quickly would be to have Thruway bus connections through Portland or Brunswick to all those upstate destinations. And have connections to all of the Downeaster trains, so there would be good frequency of bus service between all those points instead of just one bus a day between Portland and Bangor and one bus a day up the coast.
The timing is tough though. Its twice a day, and often better just to schedule a concord coach and amtrak ticket separately.
Concord Coach and Greyhound are the only buses in Maine, and they really don't service many destinations.
 
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Lubec, ME
The timing is tough though. Its twice a day, and often better just to schedule a concord coach and amtrak ticket separately.
Concord Coach and Greyhound are the only buses in Maine, and they really don't service many destinations.
Concord Coach services Portland, Augusta, Auburn, Lewiston (when Bates College is in session), Waterville, Bangor, and Orono (when U of Maine is in session).
Greyhound also services some of those destinations, although in typical Greyhound fashion at their own stations not colocated with Concord or Amtrak facilities.

CC also has the Coastal Route that services several of the towns along the midcoast between Portland and Bangor including Belfast.

There is an operator Northeast Transportation that links Bangor with Bar Harbor and also runs local services on Mt. Desert Island. The West bus operates from Bangor to Calais serving communities along Route 1.

Cyr bus operates out of Bangor to serve several towns in Aroostook County such as Caribou and Presque Isle. Years ago there were several buses, a holdover from the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad Highway Division days that also serviced Madawaska and Fort Kent but those all got cut back to one trip a day only as far as Limestone (the former Loring AFB).

It's true that none of these are set up as Thruway to connect with Amtrak so it is hit and miss.
 

fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
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Jan 25, 2020
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433
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upstate New York
Extension to Rockland seems like the easiest lift in terms of getting service farther into the state, and it would make a lot of sense in terms of reaching more of the mid-coast region that's popular with tourists and also has a growing cohort of year-round residents with ties to metro Boston and other places beyond Maine. The state already owns the track, which was in good enough condition to support tourist trains until a few years ago, and those trains had their southern terminus at the Brunswick station, so the existing track alignment would allow Amtrak to continue northward without needing any new construction.

There has also been periodic discussion of an extension northward to Auburn (which is across the river from Lewiston, the state's second largest city), perhaps as a first step toward eventual extension to Bangor. This is something my family would use and would save us 30-40 minutes of driving each way on our way to/from our seasonal home at one of the inland lakes. The main freight line (former Maine Central) passes within sight of the Maine Turnpike exit at Auburn, so it might be possible to build a park-and-ride facility there that could have easy bus connections to places farther north and east.

In terms of the existing corridor, the idea for an earlier northbound and later southbound seems worth trying. For me, as someone who's normally connecting at Boston from places west or south, I'd be more likely to use an added frequency that fills in the midday gaps in each direction -- i.e., a southbound arrival at Boston between 10:30a and 2:20p and a northbound departure between 11:50a and 3:45p. A northbound departure between 5:20p and 10:30p would also be welcome.
 
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fdaley

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Jan 25, 2020
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upstate New York
Much of what is talked about here is for NNEPRA to decide, Amtrak is paid to operate the service, they do not manage it.

This is true. But Amtrak has been involved, and when it comes to expanding the Amtrak map, the Downeaster is an example Amtrak and its supporters can cite for a very successful corridor that was developed from scratch on a route that hadn't had any passenger rail service for decades. And an entity like NNEPRA is a likely model for other states or groups of states that hope to win a share of funds from the infrastructure bill to create or re-establish new corridors.
 
Joined
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Messages
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There has also been periodic discussion of an extension northward to Auburn (which is across the river from Lewiston, the state's second largest city), perhaps as a first step toward eventual extension to Bangor. This is something my family would use and would save us 30-40 minutes of driving each way on our way to/from our seasonal home at one of the inland lakes. The main freight line (former Maine Central) passes within sight of the Maine Turnpike exit at Auburn, so it might be possible to build a park-and-ride facility there that could have easy bus connections to places farther north and east.
The leading proposal I have seen for service to Auburn/Lewiston is to use the former Grand Trunk line from Yarmouth Jct. to Danville Jct. with a station near the L/A airport. That track was used by the St. Lawrence and Atlantic to serve one remaining customer (the B&M Bean plant) but that service was discontinued as no longer being practical just for one customer. That was considered preferable to using the Pam Am Freight Main (former MEC back road) with its freight train interference plus the lack of good sites for stations in Auburn and Lewiston. Of course the airport location has its drawbacks as being some distance outside the cities and thereby creating a "last mile" problem for potential passengers.

Another advantage cited for that route is that one could continue to Montreal to provide a Portland - Montreal service although that seems the longest of long shots to me.

Another possibility is the "Lewiston Lower" a line running from Brunswick (starting at the wye track just East of the Brunswick station) running through Topsham and Lisbon more or less along the Androscoggin river. The track as far as Lisbon Falls was actually renovated by the state in anticipation of a freight customer that never materialized, but is in rough shape North of there and the right of way no longer exists within Lewiston proper, having become an access road to the renovated Bates Mill complex. The best you could so is maybe put a station out near where I-95 crosses the line.
 

fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
433
Location
upstate New York
The leading proposal I have seen for service to Auburn/Lewiston is to use the former Grand Trunk line from Yarmouth Jct. to Danville Jct. with a station near the L/A airport. That track was used by the St. Lawrence and Atlantic to serve one remaining customer (the B&M Bean plant) but that service was discontinued as no longer being practical just for one customer. That was considered preferable to using the Pam Am Freight Main (former MEC back road) with its freight train interference plus the lack of good sites for stations in Auburn and Lewiston. Of course the airport location has its drawbacks as being some distance outside the cities and thereby creating a "last mile" problem for potential passengers.

Another advantage cited for that route is that one could continue to Montreal to provide a Portland - Montreal service although that seems the longest of long shots to me.

Another possibility is the "Lewiston Lower" a line running from Brunswick (starting at the wye track just East of the Brunswick station) running through Topsham and Lisbon more or less along the Androscoggin river. The track as far as Lisbon Falls was actually renovated by the state in anticipation of a freight customer that never materialized, but is in rough shape North of there and the right of way no longer exists within Lewiston proper, having become an access road to the renovated Bates Mill complex. The best you could so is maybe put a station out near where I-95 crosses the line.

Your information is probably more up to date than mine. I do recall reading about the possibility of using both the Grand Trunk and Lewiston Lower routes. Of these two, the Grand Trunk seems like the better option, though it would require rebuilding a connection at Yarmouth Junction and then, as you say, the station would have to be fairly far outside Auburn and Lewiston. There'd also be a major expense to upgrade the track to appropriate speed. And then, a train going up that line would be headed toward northern New Hampshire and Montreal, rather than toward Waterville and Bangor, which is what I'd think more Mainers would want.

The Lewiston Lower branch seems utterly far-fetched, with much of the track out of service or abandoned, plus it was always a dead-end line that didn't connect to anywhere beyond Lewiston.

To me, the freight main line still seems like the best option. The track is in better shape to start with. A station could be built near the Auburn turnpike exit or, if there are last-mile concerns for people headed to Auburn and Lewiston, the track goes through the center of both cities, including past the old MC depot in Lewiston, so it seems like it ought to be possible to find a station site somewhere along there that could work. We already deal with freight train interference on the whole Downeaster line south of Royal Junction, so I'm not sure why that should be a deterrent to using the freight line north of there -- unless the issue is simply that Pan Am is balking at accommodating it.
 
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