WELLS, Maine — Ideas proposed by Maine’s passenger rail authority for improving local service and easing traffic congestion in the state were topics discussed during a Nov. 20 public meeting conducted at the Wells Town Hall.
Representatives of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority briefed meeting participants about proposed strategic initiatives designed to support and enhance existing Amtrak Downeaster service in Wells and other locations in the state and updated the status of improvements planned for the Wells Station. They also revealed that expansion of morning service will add a sixth-round trip daily from Wells to Portland soon.
The authority’s executive director, Patricia Quinn, said it is important for the authority to discuss new proposals and options with the public and receive valuable feedback to prioritize their initiatives moving forward.
“We’re just talking ideas tonight, we’re not talking specifics,” Quinn said. “Our priority is to sustain and grow the Downeaster, but also to create opportunities to do more.”
Quinn said that 85 percent of riders currently use the Downeaster to go to and from Boston, but since the service was launched in 2001, the rail authority’s mission continues to focus on providing quality rail service for all of Maine.
The Wells Siding Project is in the planning phase right now and funding requested, which will create eight miles of new railroad track for trains to get around each other in Wells and add a second platform to the Wells Station on Sanford Road for passengers to get on and off the Downeaster, Quinn said.
“By adding the extra capacity through this project, we will add an additional trip between Wells and Brunswick,” she said. “We’ll be able to make an additional trip northbound into Portland before 8 a.m. creating a car-free commuter option for Maine workers.”
Other initiatives under consideration by the rail authority include making significant improvements to the Portland Station; providing seasonal weekend service to Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland; adding passenger rail service between the Lewiston-Auburn area and Portland; creation of a new rail station for West Falmouth; and offering a rail shuttle between Westbrook and Portland.
“We are exploring these initiatives to improve mobility, advance safety, support a growing economy and provide value for the people of Maine and Northern New England,” Quinn said. “We want to serve all segments of the population as well as the smaller communities with limited access to public transportation.”
In keeping with its mission of providing quality rail service to Maine, Quinn said the rail authority aims to alleviate growing traffic congestion in the state and offers affordable transportation solutions for residents and tourists.
“We really want to change the perception that the Downeaster is just a way to get back and forth to Boston, but rather that we are a reliable regional transportation provider.”
Since its inception, the Downeaster has carried more than 7.6 million passengers, traveled more than 622 million passenger miles and generated more than $117 million in revenue. The cost for a one-way passenger ticket on the Downeaster from Wells to Boston is $21 and a one-way trip to Portland from Wells is $10.
During the meeting, the public answered survey questions about their use of the Downeaster and completed a questionnaire to assist the rail authority in prioritizing further initiatives.
Democratic state Rep. Daniel Hobbs of Wells attended the meeting and said he felt it was a worthwhile discussion.
“I knew about a lot of the places that were talked about,” Hobbs said. “I share their concern about the status of the Portland Station and how it can be improved.”
Hobbs said he was pleased to learn about the addition of a new morning commuter train to Portland.
“This is exactly what we need for this community,” he said. “A trip that leaves early in the morning is going to be beneficial for those who work in Portland.”
Wells Chamber of Commerce President Eleanor Vadenais said she works frequently with the rail authority and believes these new initiatives will benefit residents.
“Their investment in the new platform in Wells will surely increase the number of people using their service here,” Vadenais said. “The rail authority is a good partner for Wells and the new morning trip will be awesome.”
This was the third and final public meeting held by the rail authority to seek feedback from Maine residents about their proposed initiatives. Previous meetings were conducted in Brunswick and Portland.