Feb. 23—A new report from the Maine Department of Transportation recommends moving Portland's Amtrak Downeaster station from the Portland Transportation Center, which it shares with Concord Coach Lines, to a new — or old — location in Portland.
The report suggests closer study of an alternative location near Union Station, the St. John Street strip mall that was built on the site of Portland's previous passenger rail station after it was demolished 60 years ago.
Concord Coach Lines owns the Transportation Center, and the Downeaster leases space in its terminal. In the near term, the rail and bus companies should renew an expired lease and come up with a maintenance and investment plan for the terminal, the report recommends.
But in the long term, it makes sense for the Downeaster to move into a new location, the report says. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, about 745,000 passengers used the bus and rail services in 2019, straining capacity at the 20-year-old station and its parking lots.
The current location also adds 15 minutes to the Downeaster's trips between Brunswick and Boston's North Station because it has to exit the main rail line to reach the Portland station. A new terminal on the rail's main line, which runs through Portland, would eliminate that delay.
The bus and train "probably can't continue to be co-located long-term for the benefit of both parties," said Nate Moulton, Maine DOT's director of freight and passenger services. "We've looked at it and said probably the positives outweigh the negatives for the train to move out."
The report recommends looking more closely at the feasibility of moving the train station back to Union Station. Relocation could cost $41.5 million, the third-lowest alternative out of eight considered, according to the report. Moving the station to the main line would increase ridership and could reduce passenger vehicle emissions, but could increase noise and disruption.
Moving the station to the main line would enable the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the agency that operates the Downeaster, to adjust the schedule and make it an alternative for commuters in southern Maine.
"There is no solid plan yet about what to do with the report," said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the rail authority. "They have made their assessments, and we are going to take it to the next level and see what the alternatives are to move."
Ridership has plummeted by about 75 percent since before the pandemic, and the service now runs four daily round trips instead of the usual five.
While interstate travel restrictions and a general decrease in travel have hurt the service, Quinn expects it to rebound, and she said moving the station to the main rail line is still a central piece of the Downeaster's future operating plan.
"Our interest has sustained through the pandemic, because it has made it clear that we need to provide excellent travel to people," Quinn said. "Having the station in the right location is key to that."