$20M track upgrade in Mass. to benefit Downeaster


PORTLAND — A federal grant for track upgrades in Massachusetts will smooth out bumpy sections of track and set the stage for another daily round trip for Amtrak’s Downeaster between Boston and Portland, officials said Monday.

The $20.8 million will be used to eliminate a bottleneck by extending double track between Wilmington and Andover, Mass., allowing trains to pass each other, as well as replacing older welded rail and making other improvements, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

The U.S. Department of Transportation grant, announced by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, was made possible by Florida’s rejection of $2.4 billion in funding for rail projects.

While the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority applied for the grant, the track is owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which will make the improvements.

The changes could trim another 15 minutes from the running time, bringing the service closer to a goal of completing the Portland-to-Boston route in less than two hours, said Wayne Davis, president of TrainRiders Northeast, a rail advocacy group based in Portland.