For more than a decade now, Portlanders have been able to take the Amtrak Downeaster from the Portland Transportation Center south to Boston and points south. With stops along the way in cities and towns like Biddeford/Saco and Durham, New Hampshire (right on the the UNH campus), the Downeaster has been a convenient option for commuting and business travel.
But if you wanted to head north — say, to do a shopping trip in Freeport, or to visit Bowdoin's acclaimed new art museum — Portland was the end of the line. You'd either need to take an expensive cab ride or catch one of the daily Concord Coach trips up the coastal Route 1.
Tomorrow, the Downeaster adds another option to travel between Portland and those popular destinations to our north. Beginning November 1, the Downeaster will provide two daily round trips between Portland, Freeport, and Brunswick.
The extension was a multi-million dollar project that required new train stations and rail rehabilitation on a route that had been used exclusively for slow freight trains for decades. Planned for years, the project was finally funded as part of Maine's stimulus package, and began construction in 2010.
The new stations in Freeport and Brunswick are both right in the center of those communities' vibrant downtown areas, giving car-free visitors easy access to attractions, main street businesses, hotels, and event facilities. And even though the service hasn't even started yet, the project has already been a potent economic development tool. Developers in Freeport and Brunswick have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new buildings and businesses in anticipation of the new passenger rail service, and the new foot traffic it will bring. The Freeport stop is just two blocks off Main Street, and is located directly across the street from a new movie theater and an expanded L.L. Bean Outlet store. The Brunswick station is right across Maine Street from the Bowdoin College campus, and is the center of a major new transit-oriented, mixed-use development that includes new office and retail space, plus a hotel.
For the time being, the scheduled trips between Portland and Brunswick aren't really suitable for commuters, but they're almost ideal for half-day excursions. And the Downeaster's management is already making plans for additional track improvements and new facilities that could allow more round-trips in the near future.