The Downeaster pulls away after the fanfare of its first visit to Brunswick.by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — The long-awaited Brunswick leg of Amtrak’s Downeaster service is finally up and running after years of work, and made its first visit to Freeport and Brunswick on Nov. 1.
The train will now connect Brunswick and Freeport to the high-speed rail service from Boston, with multiple trips per day.
The train, now known as “The Train to Maine,” arrived right on time in Brunswick on the 1st, and carried with it several notable Maine politicians, including former governors John Baldacci and Angus King, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Wayne Davis, the retired banker who led the movement to bring the Downeaster into service.
“I know you’ve been waiting for this train for a long time. Well it turns out you have a load of politicians on board, so be careful what you wish for,” said Snowe to the crowd of nearly 600.
Snowe was one of the main proponents of Amtrak’s Downeaster run, and was instrumental in bringing it to Brunswick. However, according to Snowe, the true credit lies solely with Wayne Davis.
The story goes that Davis had a terrible experience on the train one day and decided to do something about it.
“Wayne took it to a new level with his complaint,” said Snowe. “This would never have happened without his belief that he could make this happen.”
Davis had first approached Snowe in 1991 about the possibility of bringing Amtrak’s service to Maine. Over two decades later, Brunswick is finally connected to the route, allowing high-speed rail travel between Brunswick and Boston.
Patricia Quinn, the executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, also had a big impact in bringing rail service to Brunswick.
“We came here with a pile of dirt, a stack of rails, and a lot of promises,” said Quinn. “Looks like we made it.”
According to Quinn, getting everything together and working for the big day wasn’t easy, and the work is just beginning for Amtrak employees.
“Now the focus goes to building the service,” said Quinn. “One phase of the work is done, but a whole new one is beginning.”
With hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc along Amtrak’s northeastern service area, the event itself was touch and go after the storm. According to Quinn, they spent a great deal of time inspecting the track to ensure that everything could go on as scheduled.
“Thankfully, there was no rail damage,” said Quinn. According to Quinn, in the event any problems had materialized, the event would have been canceled without a second thought. “The passengers always come first.”
Davis, who has been waiting decades to see the fruits of his labors, was pleased with the turnout and was happy to see the train pull in.
“This is big,” said Davis.
Davis had used public support and petitioning to bring the project’s attention to Augusta, and went himself as a lobbyist numerous times. According to Davis, most people were incredibly skeptical and thought building a train route would be a giant waste of time.
“I had to listen to Senator Windbag say ‘Who is going to ride a 19th century technology in this day and age?’” said Davis. “Well, my mother is 99 years old, and she has always said ‘Don’t gloat’ – but it still feels good.”
Currently, the Downeaster has been far more successful than initially hoped. Initially the goal when the train first started was to get around 178,000 passengers in a year. Last year, it made a record 528,292 passengers, a number that is expected to grow by 36,000 with the expanded service.
For Davis and other supporters of the train that have had to deal with numerous negative reactions, those numbers have helped prove their point: That a train to Maine can and does work.
“I think of the economic development,” said Davis. He points out the other areas the train has visited in the past to great success. “Every one of those places represents an economic development that has already happened.”
The community was enthusiastic as well, as shown by their numbers in the crowd. Chuck Mull was one who had been watching the development for decades, and was a part of the stations history.
Mull still has a golden spike from the initial groundbreaking on the station in 1985, well before any of the current plans had been put into place and when it was still called Maine Street Station.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Mull. “It’s going to be terrific, it’s going to help the economy here.”
Currently, the train will be departing for Boston just three times a day at 7:05 a.m., 5:55 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with similar times on the weekends, but Amtrak says they plan on expanding that service over time.
Whether the train will infuse the economy is still a matter of speculation, but if history is any indication, the train will soon be a great boon for the area.
“This opens up a new era and a new chapter for Brunswick,” said Snowe. “This is an investment in the future.”