The rail authority responsible for managing Maine’s contract with Amtrak has canceled plans to extend passenger rail service from Brunswick to Rockland for three weekends this summer.
The proposed pilot project fizzled because Amtrak could not conduct a risk assessment of the tracks between Brunswick and Rockland that would be used for the extension, according to Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority executive director Patricia Quinn.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) voted last month to extend Amtrak’s Downeaster passenger rail service from its Brunswick stop north to proposed stops in Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland for three weekends in August.
The weekends would have included the weekends of two major Rockland events, the Maine Lobster Festival and the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors Show.
Quinn said that because of other priorities, Amtrak would not be able to conduct the risk assessment of the Brunswick-Rockland line in time for the pilot project to run this summer.
However, Quinn said this does not signal the end for the possibility of seasonal extension of the Downeaster service going forward. Amtrak will come back later this year to conduct the risk assessment on the Brunswick-Rockland line, she said.
The rail authority hopes to come up with a schedule for summer 2019 that “hopefully can be more robust than three round trips,” Quinn said. “We’re committed to trying to make this happen.”
The prospect of a limited seasonal extension of the Downeaster service was proposed last fall. The pilot program, the Coastal Connection, was billed as a way to put the midcoast on the map during public meetings this winter in communities where stops would be added.
The program was originally slated to run for 10 weeks this summer, but limited funding spurred the NNEPRA board of directors to cut the pilot project to three summer weekends.
Quinn has said the extension of the Downeaster service would utilize existing rail and train infrastructure. While the Maine Department of Transportation owns the 58 miles of tracks between Brunswick and Rockland, the Central Maine and Quebec Railway lease the tracks for carrying freight.
Passenger rail service has not run on the Brunswick-Rockland line since the Maine Eastern Railroad stopped running its excursion trains in 2015.
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