Friday, February 19, 2010

Downeaster’s Planned Expansion Highlights Its Popularity

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
Recent news that the federal government is funding an extension of Downeaster train service from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick underscored the popularity of the rail service that connects Maine with Boston. One of the key stops in that system is the Wells Regional Transportation Center.
“The extension to Freeport and Brunswick will boost things here,” said Brent Marriner of Marriner Marketing, the group the town contracts with to coordinate management and staffing of the center. “With all the seasonal campgrounds and condominiums here, people will park here for free and take the train to Bean’s.”
The Downeaster is only one of several transportation modes using the center, albeit an important one. In 2009, for example, the station handled 46,082 total passengers, not surprisingly divided almost equally between boardings and alightings. Among other Downeaster stations in Maine, only Portland surpassed that total. An informal survey of boarding passengers at the Wells station indicated that over 80 percent of the people were traveling for leisure, with nearly 8 percent commuting to work.
“This is a transportation center, not just a train station,” Marriner said. “There’s about 5,000 people a month that go through the building. We have buses that go to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the WAVE from Sanford, the Trolley, Mermaid Transportation, cabs, and bicycles. Our long term goal is to re-establish the intercity bus service.”
A short-term goal is beefing up the volunteer and revenue supported staff that work at the center. “We’re in the process of recruiting volunteers,” he said. “Since August, volunteer hosts have averaged 120 hours per month. Our goal is to cover 105 hours per week with revenue supported staff. That’s 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, which covers all the trains except for the last one at 1 a.m. The Wells Police department is pretty good about meeting that one.”
In addition to the plans to expand service northward, Marriner, who attends monthly operations meetings with system representatives, said other improvements are under study as well. “The goal is to see double track construction between Portland and Plaistow to allow an increase in trains,” he said. Currently, the first weekday northbound train doesn’t depart Wells until 10:49 a.m. That essentially precludes commuters from southern Maine to Portland using the train to get to work. The double track could address that issue.
“The greatest need is an early morning trip to Portland,” Marriner said.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Marriner at 646-4793 or email