Tentative schedule developed

Downeaster expected to roll into Rockland in May

By Stephen Betts | Nov 14, 2017
Courier File Photo Amtrak's Downeaster is expected to arrive in Rockland on weekends beginning in May.

Rockland — A proposed schedule for the pilot Downeaster Amtrak passenger train service to Rockland is being developed, with the first trains possibly pulling into the Union Street station in May.

City Manager Tom Luttrell met last week with Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Quinn said Tuesday, Nov. 14, that the pilot program is still in the exploratory stage. The next steps are to check the tracks between Brunswick and Rockland to see if they meet the needs of the equipment.

Between mid-December and mid-January, the Rail Authority will hold forums in communities where the trains will stop -- Rockland, Newcastle, Wiscasset and Bath -- to gather public feedback.

Possible schedules are still being developed, but the current proposal is for the service to run May through October on weekends. The tentative schedule calls for a train to leave Boston at 5 p.m. Friday and reach Rockland at 10:30 p.m. The train would then return to Brunswick, where it would stay overnight.

The manager said the Rail Authority would like to see added lighting where passengers would get off the train. The railroad station in Rockland is owned by the Maine Department of Transportation.

On Saturdays and Sundays, a train would leave Boston at 9:45 a.m. and arrive in Rockland at 3:20 p.m., Quinn said. The train would then leave Rockland at 3:55 p.m. and arrive back in Boston at 9:25 p.m.

This schedule attempts to attract Boston-area residents who want to avoid the heavy car traffic on summer weekends.

"This looks good on paper," Quinn said, but added that the public meetings are aimed at receiving responses from community members along the proposed new route.

"This would be an enhancement to the coastal communities," she said.

City councilors have individually voiced support for the expansion of train service -- although limited and seasonal -- to Rockland.

No cost for tickets has been developed yet. Quinn said that would wait until after the track inspection.

Seasonal excursion passenger service between Rockland and Brunswick ran for 12 years under the operation by Maine Eastern Railroad. That service ended when the state ended its contract with Maine Eastern Railroad and awarded a contract to Central Maine & Quebec Railway.

The train station, bought by the Maine Department of Transportation from the city in 1996, was renovated and a restaurant added in 2006.  DOT also owns the 57-mile branch from Brunswick to Rockland.

Regular commuter train service ended in Rockland in 1959. The train station was then used for decades as Rockland City Hall until the city moved to its current municipal building on Pleasant Street in 1996.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is a public transportation authority created in 1995 by the Maine Legislature to develop and provide passenger rail service between Maine and Boston and points within Maine.

Freight continues to run on the line, largely for Dragon Products. The cement plant sends rail cars about five miles on the line from its Thomaston plant to its dock on Rockland’s South End waterfront, where a barge is then filled and product shipped to the Boston market.

The line has operated with freight traffic since May 1990, five years after Maine Central Railroad abandoned the spur.

Comments (9)
Posted by: pat putnam | Nov 16, 2017 10:37

Jim B. It takes 4 hours to drive to Boston, not 2...for most people anyway.

I am super happy about this plan. Have family in OOB and this will make visits much easier.

Posted by: Cynthia S. DellaPenna | Nov 15, 2017 11:49

For local Maine people, the "possible schedules" proposed for leave & arrive hours from Rockland to Boston are not very appealing.

Posted by: Jim Bazin | Nov 15, 2017 11:42

Hmmm...5 1/2 hours for a trip that takes 2 hours by car. I guess the ticket cost will be the deciding factor on this.

Posted by: Madeline Alexander | Nov 15, 2017 09:47

Sounds good to me as I live in Boston and vacation in Rockland. I just hope the price isn’t prohibitively high.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 15, 2017 03:40

This looks good on paper. Two trips out of Rockland and three into Rockland. I honestly can not imagine enough people from Boston would want to come here, rent a car, stay in the boutique hotels, and eat at Dairy Queen. Sorry Mr. Weinand but the numbers are not there unless it is greatly subsidized by either the Feds, The State of Maine or Rockland. Can we charge each passenger like we do the cruise ships? We can always have those 55 passenger buses take the folks on to Camden or Bar Harbor.Show me the figures and I might look into it more. Mary if that were more than say 50 years ago the time they have changed. I have lived here 35 years and please correct me if I am wrong but I do not recall the trains running to Boston. Then again, I was busy trying to run a business before Walmart drove me out. I just love Rockland and all it has to offer. I thin we need a survey of people interested in going to Boston on Sat or Sun and not coming back until the next week end, according to their schedule. Come to Rockland from Boston on Fri, go to Boston Sat or Sun with no return until the following Friday. This is cool. What is I missing Mr. W.?

Posted by: Peter Hill | Nov 14, 2017 22:59

While I'm pleased to see the return of passenger service to Rockland and the Midcoast, I'll be even more excited when a regularly scheduled service is offered.  A seasonal tourist service is a start, it really does little for local residents who want to commute to Bath or shop in Portland, but I understand that a year round scheduled service would require more equipment and probably installation of signaling along the line.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Nov 14, 2017 20:18

A win win for Rockland and Boston!

Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Nov 14, 2017 16:47

This is cool.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 14, 2017 15:59

I remember when the trains ran from Boston to Rockland as a matter of course. It was easier than driving and more pleasant. I think I was 17 years old at the time. I later married and moved permanently to Hope, Maine, purchased a farm and settled in.

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