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Amtrak celebrates first run to Freeport and Brunswick, ME

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, November 9, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

The Amtrak Downeaster inaugural run began for members of the Durham community outside the Dairy Bar on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 1. Students, professors, local residents and town council members gathered to celebrate the train’s new services to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine.

Durham residents Peter and Maryan Bertsch enjoyed live music and hot coffee as they patiently awaited the Amtrak arrival.

“The Downeaster provides very good service,” Peter Bertsch said. “My wife wants to go shopping at L.L. Bean in Freeport, and we have friends in Brunswick, so this is excellent.”

The Bertschs and other attendees greeted the train upon its 10:41 a.m. arrival, when an entire dance team showered the crowd with red, white and blue confetti.

On board, train passengers included members of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NEPRA), including Executive Director Patricia Quinn, TrainRiders/Northeast Chairman Wayne Davis, Pan Am Rail President David Fink, and NH DOT Commissioner Chris Clement. Angus King, former governor and current senator-elect in Maine, was also a passenger.

Quinn said that providing service to Freeport and Brunswick was always the plan, it was just a matter of time and resources. Now that the service is available, she believes the train will help build connections between UNH and colleges in Maine.

“It will provide good synergies between Bowdoin College and UNH for students to visit friends, faculty to go back and forth, and maybe develop a new relationship to share experiences and resources,” Quinn said. “University of Southern Maine has opened a branch in Brunswick, and the University of Engineering is located there, as well. I think there’s that university connection.”

Connections were re-established between all the communities serviced by Amtrak, as it made its way through Dover, N.H., and Wells and Saco, Maine. Members of each community came out to show their support as the Downeaster whistled through their communities.

More passengers boarded the train in Maine, including U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, who said the added services were a tremendous success.

“It’s a great boost to the community,” Snowe said. “Not only economically, but to consumers as well. It helps save on energy, has a beneficial impact on the environment and infrastructure costs, and helps reduce cars on the highway. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

After decades of hard work put in by NEPRA, TrainRiders/Northeast and the state of Maine, the expansion was finally made possible due to a $38.3 million federal grant. The stimulus was used to refurbish and improve 30 miles of track between Portland and Brunswick that had severely deteriorated.

“The plan began in 1989 when TrainRiders was created,” Davis said. “Our goal was to expand service to Freeport and Brunswick, and to capitalize on the 4.5 million people that come to Freeport each year.”

Davis had to fight with the legislature to bring the Downeaster to Durham in 2001; a fight he evidently hasn’t given up as more and more communities are being added to the schedule. “People want the train,” Davis said.

The added train stops will provide an ample opportunity for economic growth. Seventy percent of the people who visit Freeport are from the Boston area, a relationship that is now connected by the Downeaster.

DOT Commissioner Chris Clement said that he’s seen firsthand how additional train stops create economic and environmental opportunities, after meeting a man in Maine who opened a new restaurant because he knew the Amtrak services were coming and would generate business.

“That shows me that people see that value of what the rail brings,” Clement said. “The more people we can get out of cars to riding railways to lower our carbon footprint, the better.”

The Downeaster made longer stops in Freeport and Brunswick, where Davis, Quinn, Snowe and others gave speeches on the trains’ platforms. In both communities, hundreds of people stood outside the train stations, cheering and applauding as members made their way off the train.

Florida East Coast Railway Senior Vice President Eugene Skorpowski stood among the Brunswick supporters, on a day he never thought would come.

“This is beyond my wildest expectations,” he said. “People have access to jobs and travel choices that didn’t exist before.”

Hundreds of people and politicians joined to welcome the new Amtrak services, sharing a common belief about the positive benefits brought to all of the communities on the schedule as a result.

“It’s really a visionary approach,” Skorpowski said. “Transportation should never be a partisan issue.”

Wayne Davis and members of NEPRA are optimistic about the future of the Amtrak Downeaster, which has been an invaluable addition to the UNH-Durham community for both students and residents alike.

Demand for service expansion has demonstrated how railway transportation brings economic and environmental prosperity to small communities.

“The industry has been revived,” Davis said. “People are realizing this is not yesterday, this is very much tomorrow.”

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