PORTLAND, Maine — Amtrak Downeaster ridership rose to record heights in 2011-12 with nearly 530,000 riders in the fiscal year, according to the organization which manages the Portland-to-Boston train service.
Patricia Quinn — executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, or NNEPRA, the organization which oversees the Downeaster service — told the Bangor Daily News Tuesday that ridership has climbed steadily for seven consecutive years, weathering tumultuous fluctuations in gas prices and the global economy.
Quinn said she expects Downeaster ridership to continue growing as the service is extended to Freeport and Brunswick during the 2012-13 fiscal year. She also noted a more aggressive advertising campaign — using the rhyme “Train to Maine” and featuring the state’s natural coast, shopping, seafood and other attractions — on the Boston side of the connection.
“About 86 percent of our passengers use the service because they want to go to Boston,” Quinn said. “Adding stops in Freeport and Brunswick will give more people reasons to come from Boston to Maine as well.”
The 528,292 riders who used the Downeaster from July 2011 to June 2012 tops the previous record ridership of 509,986 — set a year earlier in 2010-11 — by 4 percent, according to a NNEPRA announcement Tuesday.
Fiscal year 2011-12 ticket revenues climbed to a new high of $7.4 million as well, Quinn announced. Both ridership and ticket revenue numbers for the most recent fiscal year were more than double what they were in fiscal year 2004-05, according to the NNEPRA announcement.
“When you see that jump there from 2005 to 2006, that was when we reduced our travel time from two hours and 45 minutes to two and a half hours,” Quinn said. “That was a real turning point for us. … Then in 2008, we added a fifth round trip. Until that point, we had only four round trips each day.”
Quinn said ticket revenues cover approximately 55 percent of the Downeaster’s operating expenses, with the rest offset by government subsidies, including about $6 million in annual U.S. Department of Transportation funding.
She said the steady increase in ridership shows that the Downeaster has grown beyond being a novelty for southern Maine vacationers.
“People ride it, they like it, and they ride it some more,” Quinn said. “I think it’s become part of the fabric of our region and it’s part of the way people travel. It’s not a fluke, it’s not an amenity, it’s a reliable part of the way people travel today.”
Since the Downeaster service began in 2001, the train has transported a total of about 4 million passengers — equaling more than 325 million passenger miles — and generated more than $56 million in ticket revenue.