Downeaster riders will have to go dry while taking the train in New Hampshire

Mar. 6—Passengers on the Amtrak Downeaster rail service, which runs between Brunswick and Boston, will soon have to abstain from buying alcoholic drinks in the train's cafe car during part of the trip.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has forbidden the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees the train service and its vendors, from serving beer, wine and mixed drinks while the train passes through the Granite State. The crackdown goes into effect March 20, and is based on a New Hampshire law that bans serving alcohol that has not been purchased in the state.

The company that provides the train's food and beverage service, Mansfield, Massachusetts-based NexDine Hospitality, buys its alcoholic drinks for the 145-mile run in Maine.

Liquor Commission officials told the Press Herald on Monday they only recently discovered the train was violating the state's liquor laws. The rail authority's executive director, Patricia Quinn, was told the commission did a routine audit earlier this year to determine who was and wasn't following the purchasing rule — and that audit turned up the Downeaster, which has been operating since 2001.

Quinn told the Press Herald that she's asked about a review, waiver or appeal of the ruling, but was told there are none.

"It's unfortunate," she said. "It will make for a little inconvenience."

Quinn said passengers who buy drinks before the train enters New Hampshire will be able to continue imbibing. But they'll have to hold off ordering refills until the train crosses into Massachusetts or Maine. The Downeaster makes 10 stops between Brunswick and Boston, and three are in New Hampshire: Dover, Durham and Exeter. If the train is running on time, the Downeaster spends less than 40 minutes along the 35-mile stretch of the state.

The train makes five daily round trips, as well as frequent late-night service — for instance, when the Boston Red Sox play or when there's major concert in the city.

The Downeaster has carried nearly 9 million passengers since its inception and last year boarded 467,000 passengers, an increase of 35% from the 2021 total.

NNEPRA doesn't actually hold the liquor license for the Downeaster, Quinn said — the license is issued to NexDine. Amtrak usually provides food and drink services on its trains, but never has on the Downeaster, the only Amtrak line not connected to the nationwide network of rail service.

In Boston, the Downeaster operates out of North Station, while all other Amtrak trains use South Station. There is no rail link between the two terminals, about a mile apart.

Quinn said her agency "will continue to look into and monitor" the situation with New Hampshire's liquor laws, although she sees it as a dispute between the Liquor Commission and NexDine. The food service company was contacted but declined to respond to questions about the matter.

Quinn said the rail authority has had "a really great relationship" with NexDine, which took over the food contract for the train in 2021.

"This has gone along fairly seamlessly," until the New Hampshire Liquor Commission looked into the matter, she said.

A Liquor Commission spokesman did not respond to questions about the new crackdown.