A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Construction on the Downeaster line

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority continues to wait for word from Washington about funding for its Brunswick extension project, but in the meantime, construction is about to get underway on a track rehabilitation project in Portland that will improve service on the existing Downeaster route and also prepare tracks for the eventual Brunswick extension.

Earlier this summer, the Federal Railroad Administration announced a half-million-dollar grant to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to improve the Downeaster's tracks in Portland, and to upgrade a turnaround near the Merrill Marine Terminal so that future trains will be able to turn and head north to Freeport and Brunswick. The map below shows the tracks that will receive upgrades as a solid red line, and the future northward extension will follow the dashed line up to Woodford's Corner and beyond:

If you've ever ridden the Downeaster, you've probably noticed the slow start coming out of the Portland station. The tracks that thread their way between the Cumberland County Jail and the new Mercy Hospital campus are old, and as a result, passenger trains are limited to a 10 mile-per-hour speed limit between the station and the bridge.

The planned upgrades will boost speeds on that section to 25 mph - not a huge difference, but one that will shave three to five minutes off of every trip south. The turnaround will also help the Downeaster deal with breakdowns more gracefully, and offer more flexibility for freight trains headed to the Merrill terminal.

Construction is set to begin this fall, and is scheduled to be complete by March 2010.

As for the extension to Brunswick, we should have a better idea of where that project stands next month, when the Federal Railroad Administration announces its first high-speed rail grants from the stimulus package (a Wall Street Journal article today outlines the stiff competition for stimulus funds).

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