People who’ve been there will tell you that the finest ride in the midcoast is the Maine Eastern Railroad, which offers train rides on historic and charming passenger from Rockland to Brunswick, and passes through some of the sweetest scenery in Maine en route.by Annee Tara
Coastal Journal contributor
ROCKLAND — The excitement over the Downeaster coming to Brunswick this fall has had people in the midcoast buzzing for years, but the Maine Eastern Railroad has been providing passenger service in the midcoast since 2004. So if you’re looking for a train ride, this is your ticket. Every Wednesday through Saturday, from June through October 21, Maine Eastern leaves Brunswick Station twice a day, at 10:30 a.m. and 6:20 p.m., for the two-hour ride. Starting September 12, Maine Eastern will add a 2:05 p.m. train on Sundays.
With this schedule, you can leave Brunswick in the morning, spend the afternoon in Rockland, and return on the 3:55, arriving back in Brunswick just before 6 p.m. Or you can plan to spend the night in Rockland – there are more than two dozen restaurants within walking distance of the Rockland station – and return to Brunswick on the train that leaves Rockland at 7:50 a.m., or spend the morning in Rockland and come back on the next day’s 3:55.
The Maine Eastern also stops in Bath, with its nationally-recognized historic downtown, 25 minutes after leaving Brunswick; an hour and a half after leaving Rockland; and Wiscasset, which describes itself as the “Prettiest Village in Maine,” 35 minutes out of Brunswick, or an hour and 20 minutes from Rockland. There are a lot of possibilities.
One day in July, for instance, 3-year-old Hugh Martin of Virginia went for his first train ride ever with his older brother Thaddeus and his father Alton. Hugh loves trains, and was wearing his special train shirt. He told me as the train passed Brunswick station that it would be back, and that it was “going to the junction.” His parents apparently thought that 35 minutes would be the right-sized experience, so his mom and older sister Eleanor were going to meet them in Wiscasset with the family car.
As Maine Eastern says, “the Journey is the Destination.” During the two-hour trip, the train passes along the Maine coast, where passengers can enjoy views of coastal towns and harbors, as well as less-often seen inland villages and landscapes, including farms, woods and “about two-dozen bodies of water,” according to Volunteer Maine Eastern Ambassador Jim Pszczolkowski.
Riding a train is more than transportation; it’s a relaxing and invigorating experience. The seating is spacious with lots of leg room. You can walk around between cars and make your way to the snack car, where there are packaged snacks and beverages, including water, soda, beer and wine, as well as tables to set them on.
If you go to Rockland, you’ll find a charming small town with plenty to do. It is the home of the Farnsworth Museum, a short walk from Rockland Station, which “is one of only two centers in the country dedicated to the three generations of Wyeths: N.C., Andrew, and James Wyeth.” The small sculpture garden features a couple of Robert Indiana pieces. Admission is $10 or $12, depending on your age; the Farnsworth is open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays in the summertime. For more information on the Farnsworth, see www.farnsworthmuseum.org.
There’s also Maine Lighthouse Museum, naturally, near Rockland Harbor. Its mission is “to educate the public regarding the long standing traditions, heroism and progress of America’s Lighthouse and Lifesaving services and the United States Coast Guard through the conservation and interpretation of the nation’s most significant collection of lighthouse and lifesaving artifacts.” Admission is just $4 or $5. For more information, visit www.mainelighthousemuseum.org. Also think about visiting the Audubon Society’s Project Puffin on Main Street. This free exhibit introduces Puffin restoration activity, and has a Live Puffin Cam. While geared toward children, it’s educational and entertaining for all ages. More information is available at www.projectpuffin.org.
Maine Eastern offers a number of packages to add to your trip, including “Rail & Spa,” “Rail & Air,” several “Rail & Sea” and overnight packages. One of the Rail & Sea packages includes a two-hour sailing adventure on board Morning in Maine, a ketch that allows passengers an opportunity to be part of the crew. The day I took the train, young Andrew Walker came back all smiles from the sailing trip with his family, sporting a “Junior Mate” certificate.
In August, there will be a couple of special events in Rockland. The Maine Lobster Festival runs August 1 through August 5 (note that the train doesn’t go to Rockland on Sunday, August 5). In addition to eating lobster, visitors can enjoy the Fine Art Tent, the Marine Tent, the Children’s Tent, and live entertainment. Admission is $5 on Wednesday and $8 on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. For more information, see www.mainelobsterfestival.com.
The following week is the Maine Homes, Boats and Harbors Show, August 10 through August 12 (though there will of course be no train on Sunday, August 12). More than just a boat show, this event includes the work of architects and designers, craftspeople and even musicians. More information is available at www.maineboats.com/boatshow.
Return trains from Rockland are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. during these two events.
Of course, if you’re starting from Rockland, you can spend a day or the night in Brunswick. One train arrives at 9:45 a.m.; the other at 5:50 p.m. Brunswick is the site of the Bowdoin International Music Festival (www.bowdoinfestival.org), an internationally-known program that showcases outstanding young performers through August 4; and the Maine State Music Theater (www.msmt.org), presenting “Sunset Boulevard” through August 4, and “42nd Street” August 8 through August 25.
Special events in Brunswick include the Brunswick Outdoor Arts Festival on Saturday August 18, and the Taste of Brunswick food fair on September 15. Both events are walking distance from Brunswick Station. On August 25, a special train will take passengers to Merrymeeting Plaza in Brunswick to see the Great State of Maine Air Show and Aviation Expo. For more information, visit www.greatstateofmaineairshow.us.
Then on September 30, there will be a special outing to the Pemaquid Oyster Festival; the following weekend, the Pumpkin Patch Special will visit the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta.
For more information about schedules, fares and special packages and outings – which go on through December 16 – check out Maine Eastern’s website at www.maineeasternrailroad.com.