PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --
The Amtrak Downeaster may soon serve areas as far north as Rockland.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which runs the Brunswick to Boston Downeaster train, has plans to conduct test runs in the Midcoast.
Trains would use Maine DOT track from Brunswick to Rockland via Bath and Newcastle, formerly used by Maine Eastern excursion trains.
That service shut down more over a year ago.
Now that the Downeaster has an expanded train layover facility in Brunswick, the NNEPRA says Rockland runs wouldn't require major investments in infrastructure or equipment.
“We're looking at potentially Friday nights, extending our 5:00 p.m. departure out of Boston all the way up to Rockland then on Saturday and Sunday operating two round trips,” said Patricia Quinn, the NNEPRA’s executive director. “The first one would start out of Brunswick, go up to Rockland and then go all the way to Boston. Then the first train out of Boston on Saturdays and Sundays would go all the way through Rockland and then there'd be one more train in the evening.”
Passengers on the Downeaster's Santa train this Saturday seemed supportive of the idea.
“I think that's a great idea,” said Nicole Fleury from Old Orchard. “Expand it and let people go north.”
The Downeaster would provide a second option to existing coach bus service to Rockland in the summer.
Driving from Brunswick to Rockland can take as little as 70 minutes, though seasonal traffic can affect that drive time.
Quinn says her goal isn’t to compete with existing transportation services but instead provide a traffic-dodging alternative.
She says the NNEPRA will likely send inspectors and possibly test trains up to Rockland over the next month or so.
If the tests prove serve is feasible, the NNEPRA board would then need to approve the Rockland expansion in January before a more concrete plan goes forward.
If that happens, Quinn believes the new service could start as early as May 2018.