The Downeaster is a popular passenger rail service that has grown substantially from its initiation in 2001. Managed by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the Amtrak service provides five round trips per day between Portland, ME and Boston, with New Hampshire stops in Exeter, Durham and Dover. The train operates at speeds of as much as 79 mph along a 145-mile corridor. Passengers boarding in New Hampshire represent about one-third of the Downeaster ridership, which rose to more than 550,000 in Fiscal Year 2013. In late 2012, the Downeaster completed a long-anticipated extension that now connects Freeport and Brunswick, ME with two daily round trips.
NNEPRA is currently planning the construction of an indoor layover facility in Brunswick. This will improve the efficiency of the operation by eliminating non-revenue train movements between Portland and Brunswick, allowing the addition of a third round-trip to Brunswick. The performance of the Downeaster will also benefit from capital improvements adding double track and replacing rail on the MBTA-owned Haverhill Line in Massachusetts. NNEPRA has also identified several needed improvements at the Portland station to accommodate growth in parking and trains.
NNEPRA has begun work on a Service Development Plan designed to evaluate longer-term improvements to intercity rail service.
Among the improvements being considered are:
- Increase Brunswick-Boston frequency to five daily round trips
- Increase Portland-Boston frequency to six or seven daily round trips
- Reduce Portland-Boston travel time to 2 hours 15 minutes
- Add feeder service from Lewiston-Auburn to Portland.