Brandon Wohl holds the hand of his son, Corbin, 5, as they board a southbound Downeaster train in Portland to have lunch in Saco on Thursday. The operators of the Amtrak train that runs from Boston to Brunswick are considering moving the station out of the Portland Transportation Center to a different part of the city. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The operator of the Amtrak Downeaster hopes to increase the passenger train’s efficiency and appeal to travelers by building a new Portland station along the main rail line that runs from Boston to Brunswick.

Passengers hope the new station will ease traveler and parking congestion where the Downeaster currently stops at the Portland Transportation Center, a facility owned by and shared with the Concord Coach Lines bus company.

Located near Thompson’s Point at Congress Street and Interstate 295, the transportation center takes the northbound Downeaster onto a branch of Pan Am Railways’ main line. To continue north, the train must back up to the main line, a process that takes 15 minutes and reduces the timeliness and efficiency of the passenger service.

“That extra time makes the train less attractive as we’re trying to promote more cooperative transportation options,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster.

Quinn said the authority, in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation, is considering three sites for a new station and platform along the main line and will present them in an online public meeting next Thursday from 6-8 p.m.

The sites are along St. John Street, she said. Two are between the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Congress Street; one is just beyond Congress Street. Quinn declined to identify the sites specifically before the meeting.


During the meeting, authority representatives will discuss the purpose of the project and various options involved. Afterward, they will seek public input on the project, with a particular interest in gathering local and regional views and identifying concerns and issues.

“We’ve been working on this as a strategic issue for several years,” she said. “The goal of the meeting is to provide information and seek public feedback.”

Whether the project moves forward and how a site will be selected will be determined after next week’s meeting, Quinn said. Concord Coach Lines would continue to operate out of the transportation center.

A new train station and platform would cost $25 million to $30 million and could be completed within five years, she said. The authority would apply for federal funding to design and build the project.

Passengers wait to board a southbound Amtrak Downeaster train at the Portland Transportation Center on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The authority was established by the Maine Legislature in 1995 to oversee the restoration and running of passenger rail service from Boston to Maine. It manages day-to-day operations of the Downeaster, including budgets, contracts, marketing and customer service.

The Downeaster currently runs five round trips a day between Brunswick and Boston.


Passengers waiting to board a noontime train heading south on Thursday were open to the idea of a new station, especially if it addressed the need for additional parking at the Portland Transportation Center.

It’s a particular problem during the tourist season and school vacations, including this week when parking lots at the transportation center were full and cars were parked on grass and along medians.

Brandon Wohl, of South Portland, was heading to Saco with his wife and two sons to have lunch at the Fish & Whistle seafood restaurant in Biddeford.

“We do it every now and then for a little getaway,” he said. “I don’t think a new station would change much for us, but it might make more parking available, which would be good.”

A northbound Amtrak Downeaster train pulls into the station at the Portland Transportation Center on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Limited parking at the Portland station also was a concern for Kirstien Davidon, of Hampden, near Bangor. She was traveling to Dover, New Hampshire, with her two daughters to visit the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.

“I was thinking of going to the Brunswick station, but the parking lot there looked tiny,” she said.

Abe Schafermeyer was heading to Boston for a few days with his wife and two sons. They planned to visit the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium and get some dumplings in the Chinatown neighborhood.

Schafermeyer also rides the Downeaster three days a week to an administrative job at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, biking to the station from his home in Portland’s Deering Center neighborhood.

“It might be a little bit more of a bike ride to get to a new station,” he conceded, “but I’m a big fan of public transportation, so if it helps to increase ridership and gets more cars off the road, then I’m all for it.”

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