Downeaster bound for Portland, Maine passing though Ballardvale, Andover, Massachusetts. Click to enlarge.

(MBTafan2011, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Downeaster logo.


The Downeaster is a 145-mile (233 km) passenger train service operated by Amtrak and managed by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), an agency of the state of Maine. Named for the Down East region of Maine, the train operates five daily round trips between North Station in Boston, Massachusetts, and Brunswick, Maine, with 10 intermediate stops.

In 2018, the Downeaster carried 551,038 passengers and earned ticket revenue of $10.2 million.



Previous service
The Downeaster follows the route historically used by the Pine Tree and Flying Yankee trains that traveled from Bangor to Boston and were operated jointly by the Boston & Maine Railroad and Maine Central Railroad. Passenger operations between Portland and Boston ceased in 1965.


Service resumption

In 1989, a group of volunteers founded TrainRiders/Northeast, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing modern passenger rail service to Northern New England.

In 1990, at the urging of Maine's congressional delegation, Amtrak estimated the cost of creating passenger rail service at about $50 million: $30 million for infrastructure improvements and another $20 million for equipment.

The following year, Amtrak agreed to provide the equipment at no charge to the State of Maine. Earlier in that same year, the Maine State Legislature adopted its first citizen-initiated bill, the "Passenger Rail Service Act", which was endorsed by the Maine DOT and signed by the governor. In 1992, Maine voters approved a $5.4 million rail bond for right-of-way improvements, and $60,000 was granted to the Maine DOT to design a Portland intermodal terminal. Later that year, Congress approved $25.5 million for more right-of-way improvements, and 1993 saw an additional $9.5 million in track improvements. By the end of 1994, total appropriations for infrastructure had reached $38.6 million.

In 1995, Governor Angus King and Commissioner of Transportation John Melrose ordered the creation of a passenger rail authority. TrainRiders/Northeast, led by Chairman Wayne Davis, worked with the state Chamber of Commerce and industry, Maine DOT, and others to convince the Maine Legislature to create the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority in August.

Service was initially expected to start in the 1990s. Negotiations between NNEPRA, Amtrak, and Guilford Industries (now Pan Am Railways) began in 1996, but began to fail over many factors, including equipment weight and speed limits. In December 1998, a speed limit of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) was agreed upon; the following year, the Federal Surface Transportation Board approved a limit of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h). Most right-of-way improvements were complete in 2000, but the following year, start-up was delayed again when Guilford refused to allow Amtrak to test track modulus or run trains faster than 59 miles per hour (95 km/h). The Downeaster made its first run on December 15, 2001.


Service improvements

In August 2007, top speeds were increased from 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), cutting 20 minutes from trips between Portland and Boston. The first expansion of Downeaster service came that month, when the improvements made it possible to increase from four to five daily round trips from Portland to Boston. Amtrak plans to eventually operate one or two additional round trips between Portland and Boston (six or seven round trips daily). In 2009, NNEPRA unsuccessfully applied for federal stimulus money to increase train speeds—enough to cut 10 to 12 minutes off travel time—and increase the number of daily round trips from five to seven.

In 2011, the Downeaster was the first Amtrak train to offer free Wi-Fi service and e-ticketing.

In May 2014, NNEPRA agreed to add a station stop in Kennebunk, Maine. Like Old Orchard Beach, it would have been a seasonal stop, open from April to October. Initial plans called for a temporary platform to be erected in 2016, with a permanent platform constructed with $300,000 in town money and $800,000 in state money for 2017 or 2018. Part of the former Boston & Maine depot building, used for passenger service from 1873 to 1965, was to be leased for use as a waiting area.  On October 9, 2018, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen cancelled the station project over concerns about the suitability of the site. In November 2021 it was announced a stop in Kennebunk was back on the table, although not likely a priority ahead of other expansions and improvements.

In 2019, NNEPRA officials began looking into moving the Portland station. The Portland Transportation Center is on a branch line, which adds 15 minutes to travel time for trains to or from Brunswick. Other concerns with the current station include limited parking and its location on Thompson's Point. A new location could put the station on the main line, move it closer to downtown, and improve vehicular and pedestrian access. In 2021, a MaineDOT study endorsed moving the station to a location near the original location of Portland's Union Station.

NNERPA plans to extend an existing 2-mile (3.2 km) siding in Wells by 6 miles (9.7 km), which will allow an additional daily Brunswick-Wells round trip. Wells station will get a second platform and a footbridge. In February 2020, NNERPA was awarded a $16.9 million federal grant for the project.

In July 2019, local officials proposed an infill station in West Falmouth next to a Maine Turnpike exit.

High-speed rail
In October 2000, the Federal Railroad Administration designated a route from Boston to Portland and Auburn as one component of the Northern New England Corridor, a proposed high-speed rail project.


A Downeaster special train at Brunswick Maine Street Station in June 2012, five months before the start of service. Click to enlarge.

(Jason A. Patron, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Brunswick extension

Service to Brunswick was originally intended to begin within five years of the Downeaster's 2001 launch, but was delayed by lack of funding and other obstacles. Ground was broken in October 2008 for the Brunswick Maine Street Station, a retail development that included shops, condominiums, an inn, and office space. In January 2010, NNEPRA received a $35 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for track and signal upgrades for the Portland-Brunswick line. Pan Am Railways began work on the line in summer 2010, and on May 14, 2012, the platforms in Brunswick and Freeport were declared complete. Service began on November 1, 2012, with two daily services to and from Boston.

The extension to Brunswick led to the construction of an enclosed layover facility there, just west of the station; trains had been stored outdoors in Portland. The facility opened in November 2016, permitting a third daily Brunswick–Boston trip. NNEPRA announced plans for the facility in 2013, with construction slated to run from summer 2013 until late 2014, but local opposition delayed the project. Neighbors of the planned location demanded further environmental studies, saying they believe the facility would hurt nearby areas. State politicians became involved; Governor Paul LePage, concerned about job creation at Brunswick Landing, suggested alternate locations in eastern Brunswick. Several Democratic state legislators asked NNEPRA to build in an existing rail yard in South Portland, and to focus on the "core product" of Boston-Portland service instead. Legal challenges to the facility ended in January 2016.

In 2017 and 2018, NNEPRA constructed a 4-mile (6 km) passing track, the Royal Junction siding, on the 30-mile (48 km) single-track section of line between Portland and Brunswick to enable an increase from three to five daily round trips to Brunswick. The increase to five weekday round trips between Boston and Brunswick (with four Brunswick round trips and one Portland round trip on weekends) took place on November 12, 2018. All five weekend round trips began running to Brunswick on May 20, 2019.


2015 winter and track work
The Downeaster's ridership, finances, and performance suffered in the first half of 2015 because of an exceptionally brutal winter and a subsequent large-scale tie replacement project funded by the NNEPRA. During its fiscal year 2015 (July 2014 to June 2015), Amtrak cancelled 488, or 13 percent, of its scheduled Downeaster trains. The trains that ran saw an on-time percentage of 30%, less than half the national average of 71%; during the tie replacement, none ran on time in May and 8% in June. Ridership dropped 18.2% (nearly 100,000 fewer riders) from the previous fiscal year.

The Downeaster resumed its full schedule on August 1, 2015, following the completion of the track repairs. By December 2015, the Downeaster was up to a monthly on-time percentage of 86%, well above the national average.

COVID-19 pandemic
In April 2020, the Downeaster was suspended as part of a round of service reduction in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A single round trip resumed between Boston and Brunswick on June 15, 2020. Service was increased to four daily round trips in July 2020; the full five round trips resumed on May 3, 2021. On June 24–27, 2021, Downeaster trains stopped at Falmouth Country Club to serve attendees of the Live and Work in Maine Open.


A typical Downeaster consists of 4 coaches, a business/café car and a Non-Powered Control Unit (NPCU), drawn by a GE Genesis P42. Click to enlarge.

(Bubblecuffer, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)




Most Downeaster trains consist of five cars hauled by a locomotive.

The passenger cars are the Amfleet I series passenger cars built by the Budd Company in the mid-to-late 1970s. Most trains include an Amfleet club car which has a combination of Business Class seating with a Café (food service/lounge) and four Coach Class cars. Trains are pulled or pushed on the northbound end of the train by a GE Genesis diesel locomotive at speeds up to 79 mph (127 km/h). A second GE Genesis or a Non-Powered Control Unit (a former EMD F40PH locomotive converted into a control car) runs on the southbound end of the train.

In the coming years all equipment will be replaced with Amtrak Airo trainsets, the railroad's branding of its combination of Siemens Venture passenger cars and a Siemens Charger diesel-electric locomotive. The trainsets for the Downeaster will have six passenger cars, which will include a food service area and a mix of 2x2 Coach Class and 2x1 Business Class seating.


Classes of service

All classes of service include complimentary WiFi, an electric outlet (120 V, 60 Hz AC) at each seat, reading lamps, fold-out tray tables. Reservations are required on all trains, tickets may be purchased online, from an agent at some stations, a ticketing machine at most stations, or, at a higher cost, from the conductor on the train.

Coach Class: 2x2 seating. Passengers self-select seats on a first-come, first-served basis.
Business Class: 2x1 seating with more legroom than coach. Passengers receive complimentary soft drinks. Passengers self-select seats on a first-come, first-served basis.
Some Downeaster trains carry volunteers, coordinated by Trainriders Northeast, to inform passengers about destinations, attractions, and transfers.


Downeaster Route Map. Click to enlarge.

(Jkan997, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



The Downeaster uses the MBTA's Lowell Line from Boston's North Station to Wilmington, the Wildcat Branch to Wilmington Junction, and the Haverhill Line to the Massachusetts–New Hampshire state line. From there to just short of Brunswick, it uses the Pan Am Railways Freight Main Line. The last mile of track in Brunswick is owned by MaineDOT. All of these lines were once part of the Boston and Maine Railroad; the part south of Wilmington Junction was once the mainline and a branch of the Boston and Lowell Railroad, and the rest was the mainline of the B&M.

If the Downeaster were to run solely on the Haverhill Line, it would conflict with the local commuter rail service, since the Amtrak train makes no stops between Woburn and Haverhill. By using the Wildcat Branch to cross between the Lowell and Haverhill lines, the Downeaster can pass a Haverhill train.

Passengers are generally prohibited from purchasing Downeaster tickets to ride between Woburn and Boston, a route served by MBTA commuter trains; this keeps seats free for longer-distance passengers. This restriction is lifted during MBTA service disruptions on the Lowell or Haverhill lines.

The Downeaster is separated from the rest of Amtrak's system because there is no direct link between Boston's train stations. Downeaster passengers continuing from Boston can ride six stops on the MBTA Orange Line to Amtrak's Back Bay station, where they can make connections to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor services to New York and points south, as well as the Lakeshore Limited to Chicago.

A proposed connection is strongly supported by U.S. Senator Ed Markey, former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, and others who are pushing for the connection so the diesel engines that currently haul the Downeaster can be replaced by electrified ones.


Station stops


Brunswick, Freeport, Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, Wells

New Hampshire

Dover, Durham, Exeter


Haverhill, Woburn, Boston


Proposed extensions

Proposed extensions include Bangor, Lewiston–Auburn, Bethel, Rockland, and Westbrook. See more here.



Service type: Inter-city rail
Locale: New England
First service December 15, 2001
Current operators: Amtrak in partnership with NNEPRA
Annual ridership: 444,812 (FY22) Increase 116.3%
Route Termini: Boston North, Massachusetts / Brunswick, Maine
Stops: 12
Distance traveled: 145 miles (233 km)
Average journey time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
Service frequency: Five daily round trips
Train numbers: 679–699
On-board services
Classes: Coach Class, Business Class
Disabled access: All cars, all stations
Catering facilities: Café
Baggage facilities: Overhead racks
Rolling stock: Amfleet cars, GE Genesis locomotives
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed: 44 mph (71 km/h) (avg.); 79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
Track owners: MBTA, CSX