Downeaster called way to move people to the future
BYLINE: JENNIFER DEPAUL Union Leader Correspondent
DATE: September 20, 2007
PUBLICATION: New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine -- With gasoline prices continuing their upward march, train travel is
drawing more people looking to get where they want to go without the hassles of stopping at the pumps.
About 345,000 riders got a good view of New England scenery this past year on the Downeaster Amtrak
line. The line services five roundtrips connecting Portland, Maine, and Boston. Each run takes 2 1/2
hours. Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority projects there will be 395,000 riders next year
and expects to see a steady 5 percent growth each year after that, said Patricia Quinn, executive director
"I think we will continue to grow if we focus on our reliable service, good promotions and frequency of the
trains," Quinn said. "There are more people that live in New Hampshire that take the train to get to work
The way to get more riders from New Hampshire involves coming up with a better schedule, she said.
There has been steady ridership increase since the run started in 2001. The majority of New Hampshire
passengers are commuter, she said.
"People like the options to getting to some place in New England beyond using their car," said Bob Hall,
board of directors for the Trainriders Northeast, a group that led an effort to return rail service to New
There are about 75 commuters who travel to Boston every day on the morning train out of Exeter, Hall
The Downeaster has been using different marketing strategies to attract travelers. Children ride free on
Sundays and senior citizens have discounted fare on Tuesdays. The line has also budgeted nearly
$28,000 for advertising. "It's getting people to try it that one time and then they will come back," said
Thomas Kraus, Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce president.
Quinn addressed the Downeaster's growth as well as funding problems at an operations committee for
NNEPRA meeting yesterday. The committee consists of volunteer representatives from the different
communities along the Downeaster line.
The annual operating budget is $13 million just for the Downeaster. Fares, advertising revenue and food
sales amount to about $6 million per year, leaving a $7 million operating gap, Quinn said.
About 80 percent of that operating gap is covered by the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program.
However, by July 2009, the Downeaster will no longer be eligible for the grant. Maine completely supports
the Downeaster line and NNEPRA is working with the legislature to make sure they will meet the
operating needs by 2009.
"The Downeaster is one of our glowing examples and having the support it has from the volunteers is a
good recent success story we tell to the people in D.C.," said Jeff Mann, senior director for Amtrak.
"We have a train here because it is a citizens initiative," Quinn said. "We involve our communities and
everyone works hard at making it work. It is successful because we have great relationships with our
communities and we have worked hard to create an identity for the stations."
The Downeaster is the only line in the country that has a stop in the middle of a major college campus,
the University of New Hampshire. UNH students are frequent riders on the line, primarily using it to attend
events in Boston.
"This is more than a train ride, this is about moving people to the future and trying to get a positive
image," Quinn said.
Group urges more NH mass transit
CONCORD -- Ridership on mass transit in New Hampshire has grown rapidly in recent years, but the
state could do far more to fight global warming, according to a report by environmental advocacy groups.
The report by Environment New Hampshire and Clean Water Action said New England reduced global
warming pollution more than 1.7 million metric tons in 2005, equivalent to taking 310,000 cars off New
England's roads for the year, according to the report entitled Cool Moves.
Most of that came from commuter rail use in the Boston area.
New Hampshire could significantly reduce global warming pollution if it focused more on transit
infrastructure development: Train, bus and van pool use in the region also saved 240 million gallons of
increasingly expensive gasoline, in addition to reducing congestion, spurring smart growth, boosting
mobility and developing local economies, the report indicated.
The study recommends lawmakers explore doing more, specifically:
* Move aggressively to build transit from southern New Hampshire to the greater Boston area.
* Build a Boston-New Hampshire-Maine high speed rail corridor.
* Improve existing transit services.
* Rethink transportation spending priorities.