The Little Train that Could … and Did

Tony Dutzik from the Frontier Group's latest post about Maine's Downeaster train. Interesting similarities between Maine's situation and Oregon's.

David Rosenfeld

Tony Dutzik from the Frontier Group’s latest post about Maine’s Downeaster train. Interesting similarities between Maine’s train and the most likely scenario for Oregon’s Eugene to Portland train . Maine’s train, like the one envisioned for Oregon, caps at 79 MPH, much slower than the fancy bullet trains of Europe.

But that hasn’t stopped Maine’s train from being successful, in terms of ridership, economic development, and bipartisan support. Excerpt:

“The train was an immediate hit — a 1990 study projected that the line would ultimately attract about 167,000 passengers each year, a figure that it quickly surpassed. Last year, the train carried more than half a million passengers — twice as many as in 2005.

The Downeaster’s top speed of 79 mph won’t give the bullet trains of Japan or Europe much of a run for their money. But it is plenty fast enough to provide a comfortable, convenient alternative to driving. By linking tourist destinations, bedroom communities, and college towns to the commercial centers of Boston and Portland, the Downeaster serves a variety of travel markets, from commuters to vacationers.

It wouldn’t exist, however, without a sustained commitment from Maine taxpayers and the federal government, which has made critical investments in track improvements over the years. While the Downeaster brings in more than $7 million a year in fares, concession revenue and parking, the state of Maine still provides significant funding through a pass-through of federal transportation funds and a tax on car rentals.

The benefits of those investments more than outweigh the costs. More than $350 million worth of public and private development projects have been started or completed near Downeaster stations, while the visitors attracted by the train are estimated to pump $12 million addition into the state’s economy each year.

Results like that have enabled the Downeaster to draw support from across the partisan divide. Last year, Maine’s Republican U.S. Senators, along with the state’s Tea Party governor, Paul LePage, voiced their support for a federal grant to improve service on the Downeaster. And the state is in the midst of a project to extend the line beyond Portland to the towns of Freeport and Brunswick that will further boost ridership.”

Read the full post here.


David Rosenfeld