PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Amtrak's Downeaster is ready to roll northward to Freeport and Brunswick with the service kicking off on Nov. 1, ahead of Thanksgiving travel and holiday shopping, officials said Wednesday.
Banners announcing the new service and schedule adjustments were installed in stations along the route on Wednesday, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. Tickets for the new service go on sale on Oct. 1.
"It's a huge milestone," Quinn said Wednesday. "Really, the service expanding to Freeport and Brunswick was always part of the plan. When we inaugurated the service in 2001, it was supposed to happen in a couple of years. To make it finally happen is pretty exciting."
The Downeaster is coming off a record year with 528,292 passengers.
Initially, two of the five daily roundtrips between Portland and Boston will travel to Brunswick. The expanded service is expected to add 36,000 more passengers each year, Quinn said.
Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said the expanded rail service "coincides with record ridership demand on both the Downeaster and rail travel throughout the country."
Expanding the Downeaster northward to Freeport, home to L.L. Bean's flagship store and outlet shopping, and Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College, required improvements to more than 30 miles of rail, rehabilitation of 36 crossings and construction of two station platforms. Remaining track work will be completed in weeks.
Most of the track upgrades were funded through $38.3 million in federal stimulus dollars.
"We are proud to deliver this expanded service on schedule and on budget," said Martin Eisenstein, chairman of the Northern New England Rail Authority's board, who praised the partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration, Pan Am Railways, Amtrak and the Maine Department of Transportation.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, who helped secure the original funding that got the rail service started, said the project will be nearly complete with the expanded service.
"This route will be an indispensable economic boon for Maine," she said.
The Downeaster serves eight communities in addition to Boston and Portland: Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Wells in Maine; Dover, Durham and Exeter in New Hampshire; and Haverhill and Woburn in Massachusetts.
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