Amtrak's Downeaster makes inaugural run on extended line in Maine

Friday November 2, 2012

BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) -- A day after Amtrak's Downeaster service was restored, the train traveled north from Boston to make its inaugural run to Freeport and Brunswick, where Sen. Olympia Snowe, an early champion of the train, declared that "the Downeaster isn't simply just the train to Maine, but the train for Maine."

The Downeaster's arrival marked the first passenger train service from Portland in more than 50 years in Freeport and Brunswick. Regular Downeaster service to the two communities begins Friday.

"It looks like we made it," quipped Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, quoting Barry Manilow's popular song of the same name.

The event took place a day after Downeaster service was restored following Superstorm Sandy, which knocked out power along the rail corridor. Several would-be participants, including Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and Amtrak Vice President Joe McHugh, missed the event in Maine because they were needed elsewhere.

Participants included transportation commissioners in Maine and New Hampshire and a group of street dancers who hopped out of the train at each stop from Boston, performing a dance routine and firing confetti into the air.

After getting aboard in Portland, Snowe spoke at the events in Freeport and Brunswick, touting the success of the train.

"With 93 percent customer satisfaction, I can't help but think that's almost the exact opposite of how people feel about Congress -- so maybe we could take a few lessons from the Downeaster," she joked.

The Downeaster, which made its first run between Portland and Boston on Dec. 15, 2001, is coming off a record year with 528,292 passengers. Initially, two of the five daily roundtrips between Portland and Boston will travel to Brunswick, adding about 36,000 passengers each year. Over time, there will be more stops.

Expanding the service required improvements to more than 30 miles of rail and rehabilitation of 36 rail crossings. It was funded with $38.3 million in federal stimulus dollars.

Also on Thursday's train were U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and former Govs. John Baldacci and Angus King, as well as officials from Pan-Am Railways, owner of much of the track, and board members of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the service.

One special guest was Nelson Soule, the last train station manager in Freeport when train service ended in 1960. Soule will turn 92 on Friday, when regular service resumes in Freeport.

Snowe, for her part, gave credit for the Downeaster to Wayne Davis from TrainRiders Northeast for hatching the idea, and she helped secure the first federal funding when she was in the U.S. House.

"He never lets me forget I once said to him publicly that: ‘We've gotten you the money, now you have to get the passengers.' And he did -- over 3 million of them, in fact," she said.


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