PORTLAND, Maine — Amtrak’s Downeaster service will be extended another 30 miles north to Brunswick thanks to $35 million in federal stimulus money, while another $50 million grant will be used to reduce travel time by 30 minutes between St. Albans, Vt., and Springfield, Mass.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority hopes work will start this summer on the Portland-to-Brunswick project that includes upgrading 36 crossings, building passenger platforms in Freeport and Brunswick, and replacing railroad ties and laying new rail from Portland to Brunswick.
“Our hope and our desire is to hop on this as soon as we can,” said Patricia Quinn, the rail authority’s executive director, in Portland.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said the project would create 200 jobs. Amtrak will begin service to Brunswick and Freeport by the end of 2012, she said.
Vermont, meanwhile, is receiving money to improve track, roadbed and bridges along 190 miles of track the Amtrak Vermonter uses between St. Albans and Springfield.
The upgrades will mean a half-hour reduction in travel time between the two communities, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas said, but there was disappointment over the rejection of a separate proposal for $79 million to bring passenger rail service to Burlington for the first time in five decades.
Another $500,000 in stimulus money was awarded to study the possibility of creating service from Burlington to Bennington, and then into New York state, Douglas said.
In Maine, a separate $52 million proposal for track improvements between Portland and Plaistow, N.H., was rejected.
It was part of an effort to boost the Downeaster’s speed and make it possible to increase the number of round trips between Portland and Boston from five to seven. The proposal would have shaved another 10 to 12 minutes of travel time off the trip from Portland to Boston.
Overall, the White House announced $8 billion in grants for rail improvements in 31 states. The Federal Railroad Administration received proposals totaling more than $57 billion, far outstripping the available funds.
The timing of the announcement is good for rail officials in Maine and Vermont because it gives them time to begin ordering railroad ties, rail and other materials with a goal of getting construction started this summer.