Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Downeaster Extension Contingent on FRA Loan

Two real estate projects in Brunswick and Freeport, ME, with a combined value of $70 million, are banking on extension of Amtrak's Downeaster route from Portland to Brunswick. There's one not-so-small glitch. The extension is contingent upon the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) , which operates the train, receiving a $35 million loan from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Completion of the line would close a 30-mile rail service gap between the Downeaster, which now terminates in Portland, and the Maine Eastern's excursion train, which runs from Brunswick to Rockland. The money would pay for station platforms and upgrading the track, which is owned by Pan American Railways, formerly Maine Central.

NNEPRA hopes to commence service for Fall 2010. The agency's Patricia Quinn says delays in obtaining FRA loan approval could push back that schedule, however. Application for the loan was submitted in May. It is not clear how the departure of FRA administration Joseph Boardman to become chief executive officer of Amtrak will impact the decision-making process.

The two projects tied to development of the rail line are Maine Street Station, a $25 million multi-use project in Brunswick that will include a 2,400 square foot railroad station, and the $45 million Village Station shopping and parking garage complex currently under construction in Freeport.

Quinn is confident of eventually receiving FRA's approval, citing the Downeaster's track record , including a 32 percent jump in ridership last year to make her case.
"It really is a success story. It's really proved to be an economic development. It's going to open up a whole new corridor from Rockland to Boston for that development to occur. I truly believe the loan will be approved. We're giving it everything we have going forward and keeping our fingers crossed that this will happen sooner rather than later."

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