By Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2020

BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) - The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded nearly $17 million to improve infrastructure on Maine’s regional rail service.

The money granted will go toward improvements to the Amtrak Downeaster service in Wells, North Berwick and Brunswick, the Portland Press Herald reported Friday.

The Downeaster runs from Brunswick to North Station in Boston, with stops along the way in Portland, Old Orchard Beach and other popular destinations in southern Maine and New Hampshire.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the rail service’s operator, plans to use the funds to build a six-mile-long rail extension on the Pan Am Railway’s freight line in Wells. The operator hopes the improvements will add capacity to meet the increase in passenger and freight demand as well as reduce delays.

The federal funds will also allow the rail authority to add a sixth daily round trip between Brunswick and Wells, according to a news release issued Thursday by U.S. Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee.

“In recent years, the Downeaster has set new records for both ridership and ticket revenue. It is an economic engine for Maine, providing good jobs, supporting Maine vendors of goods and services, and strengthening our tourism industry,” Collins said in a statement.

The Downeaster had 574,404 passengers last year, up nearly 8% from the previous year, the operator said earlier this month. The service’s previous record was a little less than 550,000, and it was set in 2017.

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