Monday, November 10, 2008

Star Performer Could Burn Out

Amtrak's Downeaster, which runs five times a day between Boston and Portland, ME, is the fastest-growing intercity passenger train in America. For FY 2008, it boasted a 36.7 percent ridership gain, compared with 17.5 percent for Amtrak's 26 other short-distance lines. Yet, according to the Boston Globe, it faces a rocky financial future.

Next July, a $6 million federal subsidy is set to expire. The money covers nearly half of the train's $13.5 million operating budget. Ticket sales cover another $6 million, and Maine taxpayers kick in another $1.5 million. Maine Gov. John Baldacci has proposed an $8 million state subsidy, but the state legislature, so far, has not gone along. Neither Massachusetts nor New Hampshire, the other states along the route appear ready to chip in.

The fate of the Downeaster could be a bellwether for the future of other state-supported intercity services.

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