Amtrak ridership in Maine is up 85% from 2003 to 2013, the sixth fastest growth rate in the nation over that time frame. In this post, we’ll examine the trends underlying that impressive growth rate. But first, let’s look at the train stations and routes in the state.
Maine is served by Amtrak’s Downeaster, a 145-mile route that began service in December 2001 connecting Maine to Boston via intermediate stations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The route began with year-round service to three stations in Maine: Portland, Saco-Biddeford and Wells, and seasonal service to Old Orchard Beach. In November 2012, the year-round service was extended to Brunswick and Freeport. The Downeaster has been a huge success, proving to be one of Amtrak’s fastest growing routes in the country in recent years, if not the fastest. This graph shows the Downeaster’s average monthly ridership:
The route grew rapidly from 2005 to 2008, before peaking in December 2012. Even with a slight slackening of ridership since then, average monthly ridership over the time frame shown has risen 90%. Now let’s break down the passengers using the route by station. Portland, as the biggest city in the state, is not surprisingly the busiest station.
This pie chart shows how Portland relates to the rest of the state. While once the far-and-away most dominant station, it now accounts for roughly half of the state’s passengers as two new stations have entered the mix and ridership at the less busy stations has increased. While Portland ridership has grown 30% from 2003 to 2014, it’s surged 182% at Old Orchard Beach, 163% at Saco-Biddeford, and 112% at Wells. This mirrors trends we’ve seen in other states where ridership growth at smaller stations is outpacing those at busier hubs.
Actually, there’s more to the story here. It may not be merely that the smaller stations are outpacing Portland in terms of growth, but that they may actually be drawing riders from it. There’s an argument to be made that the opening of the stations at Brunswick and Freeport has actually caused some of the ridership declines in Portland, as people who would have had to drive all the way to Portland can now pick up the train more conveniently at either Brunswick or Freeport. This line graph shows that Portland ridership decreases coincide with the opening of the two new stations.