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28 percent Downeaster ridership increase spurs more regional rail investment

Amtrak’s Downeaster service, which runs from Boston to Portland, ME, has seen a 28% increase in ridership this past year. The line is partly funded by the state of Maine, which, due to the popularity of the route, is working toward expanding it northward to Brunswick.

The rapid growth has the Portland-based rail authority considering all options, including negotiating with rail owner Pan Am Railways to add a sixth daily round trip, to meet demand. Pan Am Railways, formerly known as Guilford, owns the rail between Portland and Plaistow, N.H.

The Downeaster added a fifth round trip last August and added a fifth passenger car on all runs in April, but Quinn is worried that might not be enough.

“What’s going to happen is we’re going to get maxed out,” Quinn said. The early train out of Portland each morning already is running at 90 percent of capacity, and the 5 p.m. train out of Boston is typically 95 percent full, she added.

The Downeaster’s success has also prompted a movement for a similar service in New Hampshire, running from Concord down to Boston. Activists say that rail service will spur investment in the NH communities served by the route, helping to revitalize downtown areas. And their hopes aren’t unfounded. According to the Boston Globe’s site, the Downeaster “will eventually lead to $7 billion in investment, including the construction of 40,000 new homes and creation of 17,000 new jobs in the state over the next decade.” Sounds like a good deal for the $8 million the state invests in the service every year.

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