The Amtrak Downeaster train began service on Dec. 15, 2001. Fifteen years later, the train, which services riders from Brunswick to Boston, sees more people turning to the railroad tracks for regular transportation, not just special occasions.
The Downeaster train has stops in Boston, Woburn and Haverhill, Massachusetts; Exeter, Durham and Dover, New Hampshire; and Wells, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Portland, Freeport and Brunswick, Maine.
“We’ve really seen the Downeaster change from an attraction to the way that people travel,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. “The train is viewed as an essential form of transportation. People now say, ‘We want to go to Boston, let’s check the train schedule. We want to go to Portland, let’s check the train schedule.’”
Between July 2015 and June 2016, 77,000 people traveled to or from Exeter, 61,000 to or from Durham and 51,000 to or from Dover.
“Ridership has grown significantly,” Quinn said. “July to September was our best first quarter ever.”
Downeaster sees riders for more than just Boston-based travel, although travel to Boston is one of its biggest markets. Quinn said people in Wells, Maine, will take the short ride to shop at the outlets in Freeport, for example. The Freeport station puts riders right in front of the L.L. Bean flagship store.
“People are making shorter trips to station communities now that we have more stops,” she said. “It’s an evolution we’ve been working on.”
Quinn said Exeter is the biggest ridership on the Downeaster in New Hampshire. Anywhere from 70 to 100 riders travel to and from Exeter a day.
“Exeter is a big market for us,” Quinn said. “We have a hefty amount of commuters every weekday from Exeter.”
Bob Hall, chairman of the Exeter Train Committee, said Exeter last summer topped the 1 million mark for total riders since the service began.
“The monthly pass to ride with unlimited use is $299 and let me tell you, you can’t find a parking space anywhere close to that in Boston,” Hall said.
Hall said college students love the Downeaster, traveling to and from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, University of Southern Maine in Portland and the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He said some Phillips Exeter Academy faculty and students even commute to town from surrounding communities via the train.
“Events in Boston like the Red Sox, concerts or the TD Garden, people like the train,” he said. “When the Patriots won the championship and had a parade, every train was sold out for that entire day.”
When train service began in 2001, the University of New Hampshire in Durham stop was only Friday through Sunday.
“Soon thereafter, we were offered daily service and it has been transformative,” University of New Hampshire Director of Special Projects Campus Planning Stephen Pesci said. “Sixteen years ago there was no way to get from campus to most of the station communities without a private car.”
Pesci said the Durham station is approaching its 700,000-trip milestone.
“UNH and Durham are proud to be an Amtrak-served community,” he said. “It puts us on the map, offers quality transportation connections to communities from Boston to Brunswick. We’re just about midpoint on the Downeaster line.”
Dover, which has seen a surge in interest its downtown, has residents taking advantage of the train’s door-to-door Boston service.
“With our new apartments in our major mills, we have 145 new apartments, as well as more high-end development on First Street,” Dan Barufaldi, Dover’s economic development director, said. “Very many of these people who like living downtown can now without a car work in Boston because of the train. It’s an opportunity to get Boston salaries with Dover expenses.”
“It’s contributed to our very vibrant downtown we have, that’s helping us to become a destination,” Barufaldi said. “The impact has been significant overtime.”
Amtrak is offering specials in lieu of its 15th anniversary, Through December and January, all regular fares will be 15 percent off.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.