If you thought you saw Amtrak coming down the rails Wednesday morning, Aug. 14, you weren’t seeing things, except maybe the future.
And the views from aboard were great, according to a Rockland official who took the trip from Brunswick to Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties and back.
The trip gathered information on travel times and track conditions on the seasonal, weekend passenger service route Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has been considering, NNEPRA’s executive director Patricia Quinn said in email replies Thursday.
Besides visual inspections, a “geometry” car gathered data about the track conditions, Quinn said. “Next steps include an analysis of this data and further safety assessments by Amtrak to help determine whether passenger service can commence in the spring of 2020.”
Quinn said NNEPRA is “hoping for” it and has targeted a Memorial Day start. Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland are proposed stops, she said. For the Aug. 14 trip, Quinn said Amtrak partnered with NNEPRA; the Rockland branch’s owner, Maine Department of Transportation; and the freight line that uses the branch, Central Maine & Quebec Railroad.
An Amtrak spokesman deferred comment to NNEPRA.
Officials interviewed around the region Thursday, including one who took the trip, are interested to see what happens. The director of Rockland’s department of economic and community development, Julie Hashem, said the other towns’ water, woods and wetlands were beautiful to look out and see, and she can’t think of a better destination to expand to than Rockland.
“(The proposed service) puts Rockland and the Midcoast on the national transportation grid ... I’m excited for all the possibilities and that opportunity for all of us.”
Wiscasset Town Manager John O’Connell said he had a chance to go or send someone but as far as he had heard, no one from town ended up going. He thinks the service would be another good thing for Wiscasset, on top of the sloop Providence getting worked on in the harbor, the yacht from Bravo’s “Below Deck” paying a visit and the state’s downtown project being far along.
Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission’s economic and community development director Mary Ellen Barnes said she will probably contact NNEPRA in October or November. If the service is coming, the sooner planning can start locally for marketing and more, the better, she said. “We can’t plan around optimism.” NNEPRA is a smart, hardworking organization, and she’s looking forward to its next steps, she said. “I’m glad they’re getting down to business.”
In a February 2018 letter on NNEPRA’s website, then-MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt said the administration would not approve state or federal money toward the expansion. He suggested seeking other sources. Asked Thursday if NNEPRA or the towns and cities on the proposed route have taken that advice, and if NNEPRA is asking the new administration, Quinn replied: “We first need to determine if a service is possible and what it would look like, then will determine what is needed and from whom. Communities would be responsible for establishing stations/platforms, and they are aware of that.”