Massachusetts residents might soon be able to once again experience the scenic shores of Central Maine by train, if rail officials in “Vacationland” have their way.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority hopes to reconnect Boston with Rockland, Maine, on the Amtrak Downeaster line for weekend service during the summer, using existing tracks viewed by some as underutilized.
NNEPRA, which manages the Downeaster line, plans to conduct test runs this month to judge the potential schedule and cost of extending the line past Brunswick, where it currently ends, according to Executive Director Patricia Quinn.
The extended service would reach Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Rockland, Maine.
“It’s conceptual,” Quinn said of the extended service. “We’ve penciled it out and we’re in the phase of trying to see if we can actually do what looks like [it] might be possible on paper.”
NNEPRA hopes to announce in January the specifics of how the rail could operate, Quinn said. The extended service could run Fridays through Sundays during the summer months, she said.
“Obviously it’s a heavily visited area. There’s a lot of tourism up the coast of Maine,” she said, adding that it is a “very beautiful and scenic ride.”
Because the line is still exploratory, Quinn had no estimates as to what a trip from Boston to Rockland could cost. The standard cost for a trip on the Downeaster from Boston to Brunswick is currently about $30 each way, and it takes a little over three hours.
Amtrak and NNEPRA would use their current trains and tracks for the Downeaster extension, Quinn said.
Passenger service to Rockland was halted in 2015 when Maine’s Department of Transportation accepted a contract bid from Central Maine and Quebec Railway to operate the tracks from Brunswick to Rockland for freight service, The Bangor Daily News reported at the time. Officials said they would eventually accept applications for passenger service that would start this year.
“The railroad infrastructure is a valuable resource that’s not being used to its full potential right now,” Quinn said.
She said Route 1, which snakes from Boston through New Hampshire and Maine, can become congested, and reinstating passenger train service could be a potential fix.
NNEPRA announced earlier this year that it exceeded its ridership goals for fiscal year 2017, transporting 511,422 people from July 2016 to June 2017. That was about 7,000 people less than the authority’s record ridership, which was hit in 2014.
“We’ve had significant growth this year,” Quinn said.
The authority hopes to “build on that and attract more people to areas in the state of Maine,” she said.
While the coast of Maine is primarily seen as a tourist destination for people traveling north, Quinn said, the authority has seen an increase in Maine residents using the Downeaster to get to Boston.