Portland Passenger Rail

DanielPWM19

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I simply don't want a Train Station that looks like shit. Portland deserves better than that. While something utilitarian does the job, boy wouldn't it be lovely to arrive in Maine to something NICE? I don't think that's elitist.

Sure, the Portland Airport is fairly utilitarian and does the job, but is terribly uninspiring and kind of embarrassing IMHO. Maine wants to inspire visitors, but doesn't want to create something attractive with amenities to arrive to? Not to mention all of the wasted space on the first level of the airport as well. The Portland Ocean Gateway is okay, more inspiring than the airport and at least direct access to downtown.

If Maine is smart and wants to be forward-thinking, they will plan for BOTH:
- A walkable station in Portland for commuters from Boston, Brunswick, Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor, Saco (esp if Roux gets off the ground, soccer stadium, a new convention center).
- AND a more park-and-ride style station.
- While they're at it, reopen the lines to Quebec and Montreal.

But Maine never seems to be forward-thinking ENOUGH. If Mainers apparently care about Global Warming and the environment, then perhaps we SHOULD think less about accommodating cars. The younger generation is buying fewer cars as it is, though they're also more broke for other reasons. Wages are as inequitable as they get now.

Indeed - there is plenty of stigma about riding the bus lines in Portland that you don't see in large populous areas. It's hard to erase. I never cared about the bus stops I waited at in Boston (or the subways). The train station I pick up in Connecticut to get into NYC isn't some beautiful thing either. But you're not going to attract riders or erase stigma if you provide some shrug of a solution. The US needs clean, attractive, comfortable, and fast rail lines. While we're at it, Maine should do a marketing campaign to erase the misguided stigma of public transportation. Improve the bus lines, stops, stations, busses. Market to the younger generations.

If you don't want a East/West highway to Gorham or Windham (which is the only solution on the table to resolve the current bottleneck), cool. Then advocate for commuter rail lines or enhancements to the bus experience. Otherwise you're just talking politics and not solutions. Plenty of other Governors have had time to think of something too and haven't done anything. Leave it be.

So IDK ... we can either start acting like a de facto satellite of Boston ... or stop bitching about the wages, economics, and shortcomings of the area. Forward, yet oh-so-preservationist that we get nowhere except more stout stubby buildings and a housing market no one can afford. Sounds more perpetually NIMBY and elitist if you ask me. But all I want is a nice station to arrive to, so what do I know. We're not building a subway or satellite station on an existing commuter line. We're creating it. Nothing wrong with being innovative.
 
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Dr. StrangeHat

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This is a big problem in transit planning – the assumption that what's convenient for *my specific circumstances* can be applied to what everyone else needs. It even has a name: elite projection.
There's a balance to be had. I never said the station needs 1000 parking spaces, but it can't have 0. I never said that everyone drives to the station, just that some do. From your perspective, an active bike user and strong advocate for bicycle use and non-vehicular transit in Portland, you should also recognize that you likely have a bias against cars. Some available parking is sometimes a necessary evil. Again, there's a need to balance and compromise given nature of transit and transportation in our area. Portland is not and won't be in our lifetimes be a vehicle-less oasis, especially given the percentage of people in the metro/urban area that live outside of the city proper.
 
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DanielPWM19

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There's a balance to be had. I never said the station needs 1000 parking spaces, but it can't have 0. I never said that everyone drives to the station, just that some do. From your perspective, an active bike user and strong advocate for bicycle use and non-vehicular transit in Portland, you should also recognize that you likely have a bias against cars. Some available parking is sometimes a necessary evil. Again, there's a need to balance and compromise given nature of transit and transportation in our area. Portland is not and won't be in our lifetimes a vehicle-less oasis, especially given the percentage of people in the metro/urban area that live outside of the city proper.
Bingo.
 

TC_zoid

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Agreed. For Maine, some parking is needed. Although, I've used North Station going to or from Portland or Saco--a lot. I have zero idea where the parking is at North Station. I would never use it. I get that people in N.H. or Vermont who come to Boston have to use a car (or bus). But I guess they park in the suburbs and take the Green Line or commuter trains in? Western Mass. and R.I. and CT people take the train to Boston. It's easy and direct. Gen Z has made a statement. They don't want their own cars, or certainly as much as the boomers do. I think Portland could be relatively carless one day, like Boston is now, if it wanted to. I went to college in Boston and almost never used my car. I lived in Brookline, and went to school downtown and worked p/t in Chestnut Hill. My car mostly sat in the driveway. Anywhere I needed to go in Boston was no more than a 10 min walk from a T station. Boston is the best city in the U.S. for public transportation (train or trolley, not bus).
 
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markhb

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Agreed. For Maine, some parking is needed. Although, I've used North Station going to or from Portland or Saco--a lot. I have zero idea where the parking is at North Station. I would never use it. I get that people in N.H. or Vermont who come to Boston have to use a car (or bus). But I guess they park in the suburbs and take the Green Line or commuter trains in? Western Mass. and R.I. and CT people take the train to Boston. It's easy and direct. Gen Z has made a statement. They don't want their own cars, or certainly as much as the boomers do. I think Portland could be relatively carless one day, like Boston is now, if it wanted to. I went to college in Boston and almost never used my car. I lived in Brookline, and went to school downtown and worked p/t in Chestnut Hill. My car mostly sat in the driveway. Anywhere I needed to go in Boston was no more than a 10 min walk from a T station. Boston is the best city in the U.S. for public transportation (train or trolley, not bus).
Parking for North Station /TD Garden is mainly a large garage directly beneath it, accessed primarily from the vague remnants of Leverett Circle. There's also the now-partially-demolished Government Center garage within easy walking distance, and I think there are some others around too. Plus, there's Oak Grove at the end of the Orange Line when coming from our direction (I don't know enough about GLX to think about that one), if you can find it from Route One.
 

Dr. StrangeHat

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Although, I've used North Station going to or from Portland or Saco--a lot. I have zero idea where the parking is at North Station. I would never use it. I get that people in N.H. or Vermont who come to Boston have to use a car (or bus). But I guess they park in the suburbs and take the Green Line or commuter trains in?
Occasionally when I need to go to Boston for work but the Downeaster schedule doesn't work for me, I'll drive to Wellington Station in Medford, where there is ample parking, and take the Orange Line into town.
 

TC_zoid

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Occasionally when I need to go to Boston for work but the Downeaster schedule doesn't work for me, I'll drive to Wellington Station in Medford, where there is ample parking, and take the Orange Line into town.
That works too. Heading down to Boston from Maine, or up until a few years ago, I would sometimes park a car in the driveway of the Brookline house I lived in (rented a room) during my college years, as I'm still good friends of the landlord couple. It was at the mid-point of a short walk to the D or C lines (Coolidge Corner) to arrive downtown. The C line is fun as it's basically a trolley going down picturesque Beacon Street. The D line ends in the other direction at Riverside, where you can catch a GoBus to midtown Manhattan if you don't want to do the train, thus avoiding the HIGHLY depressing Port Authority Bus Terminal arrival. GoBus to NYC can also be accessed by the Red Line's Alewife Station in Somerville. Do not take Greyhound. Never. The Portland to NYC "limo bus" is good too. I've done that many times. And a few times in just over five hours travel time, when traffic is light, or lighter.
 

BosMaineiac

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This is a big problem in transit planning – the assumption that what's convenient for *my specific circumstances* can be applied to what everyone else needs. It even has a name: elite projection.

A significant number – and quite possibly a majority – of Concord Coach and Downeaster riders get picked up or dropped off at the station, whether by a friend, a METRO bus, or a ride-hailing service. We know this because there are about 700 spaces in the PTC's huge parking lots, and on any given day a lot of those spaces are either empty, or occupied by cars that have been sitting there for multiple days. But Concord Coach alone was getting about 1,000 boardings a day for its Portland-Boston trips at the end of 2021, when ridership was still low from the pandemic.

Putting a park-and-ride station on the peninsula, with its high land values, makes no sense. It would literally be more cost-effective for the Downeaster to hire a cab to chauffeur you twice from and to Westbrook than to buy the real estate and maintain a parking lot for you store your empty car for the day two blocks away from Maine Medical Center.

I also just want to note that the consultants who produced this study – HNTB – are the same quacks who have convinced the Governor's gullible brother that Mainers should spend a quarter-billion dollars to build a new Turnpike spur to Gorham.

If you design your transit system for people who own cars – i.e. people who don't really need it – in a way that makes it less convenient and attractive for people who don't, then you're setting it up to fail.
I think there's a way you can balance out a new station to be built for cars and pedestrians/transit/bikers. Whether we like it or not, as iterated a few times above, Maine is a car-centric place. That won't change if the state decides not to build a large parking capacity at the new station.

On the surface, it might be a better value to lease the surrounding station land to developers and pay for a shuttle from far away, but do you know how many people that would dissuade from even taking the train? I'd love to see a study but I'm guessing it'd be quite a few. And just because the current parking lot may be full of cars parked there for days, wouldn't you rather see them there instead of contributing to more pollution and road traffic, knowing they took the bus or train for a large portion of their trip? I highly doubt a TOD around the Portland station would be able to house enough people that regularly ride the Downeaster. MAYBE a commuter rail, but if the job center's right where they live, where would they have to go on a train?

Public transit is already inaccessible enough in ME, let's not make it harder for those who own a car. I'm sure there's an equitable solution that involves the automobile.

EDIT: My computer glitched and I didn't see all the replies above, I don't mean to pile on to what others have said but I do think this needs to be driven home.
 

GIL

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Occasionally when I need to go to Boston for work but the Downeaster schedule doesn't work for me, I'll drive to Wellington Station in Medford, where there is ample parking, and take the Orange Line into town.
THAT is a good Park-n-Ride example— Logan Express busses to the airport from North Shore, South Shore, New Hampshire are others. The gross amount of parking at centrally located transit facilities is not a good example of P-n-R, since the idea is to park cars in less-dense areas so the transit station can be more human-focused and walkable within the denser cluster.
 

cneal

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THAT is a good Park-n-Ride example— Logan Express busses to the airport from North Shore, South Shore, New Hampshire are others. The gross amount of parking at centrally located transit facilities is not a good example of P-n-R, since the idea is to park cars in less-dense areas so the transit station can be more human-focused and walkable within the denser cluster.
Exactly this. For people who need to chauffeur themselves to a station, the drive to Wells (whose park-and-ride station is by a highway off-ramp on low-value land) is not a major inconvenience or detour on your way to Boston. NNEPRA is also looking at building a new park-and-ride station in West Falmouth so that car-dependent customers from points north of Portland won't have to drive into the city.

A lot of people in Maine are extremely dependent on their cars, but that dependency frequently leads them to underestimate how many people don't drive at all. About 40,000 (roughly 1 in 10) households don't own a car in Maine. Quite a few more own cars, but would rather walk or have someone else drive if it's possible – such people are probably the core constituency for the Downeaster and Concord Coach, hence the high proportion of pick-up/drop-off riders at the PTC.

From a ridership perspective and a basic financial perspective, it's a huge waste to write off acres of valuable downtown transit-oriented real estate to build low-value, taxpayer-subsidized parking lots just because satisfy the unjustified assumption that we "need" a parking lot at every single station. That's certainly true in Portland, and probably also holds even in smaller cities like Biddeford/Saco, where the train station's parking lots have waterfront views of the Saco River.
 

Dr. StrangeHat

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A lot of people in Maine are extremely dependent on their cars, but that dependency frequently leads them to underestimate how many people don't drive at all. About 40,000 (roughly 1 in 10) households don't own a car in Maine. Quite a few more own cars, but would rather walk or have someone else drive if it's possible – such people are probably the core constituency for the Downeaster and Concord Coach, hence the high proportion of pick-up/drop-off riders at the PTC.

From a ridership perspective and a basic financial perspective, it's a huge waste to write off acres of valuable downtown transit-oriented real estate to build low-value, taxpayer-subsidized parking lots just because satisfy the unjustified assumption that we "need" a parking lot at every single station. That's certainly true in Portland, and probably also holds even in smaller cities like Biddeford/Saco, where the train station's parking lots have waterfront views of the Saco River.
Again, I think you're projecting a little bit of bias here. Based on my comment on the prior page and your responses, you probably think of me as some sort of fat, lazy, car-dependent person that circles for the closest parking spot at the grocery store. Far from it. When we moved back to Maine in 2011, we got an apartment on Morning Street in Portland. I worked in Westbrook at the time and rode my bike to work at least two times a week. When I bought a house in Westbrook six months later, work was closer but still a mile away. For 4 years I walked to work or rode my bike almost every single day, before getting a new job in 2015 that was 100% work-from-home (save for my regular trips to Boston). I like walking. Thoroughly enjoy it, honestly. I'd love to be able to walk or bike to the PTC. But to catch the 5:18am train to Boston, that isn't happening, especially in the winter, and in my many Downeaster trips to work in Boston, I have not been the only one.

As I mentioned above, I'll probably start using the West Falmouth station if that is built, but that is not a convenient option for those in most of Windham, Gorham, Standish, Buxton, etc. These people are never going to drive to Saco or Wells to catch the train. They're not going to get an Uber or Lyft. They're not going to wake their friends up at 4am to given them a ride to Portland. They're not going to get on a non-existent bus in Westbrook at 4am. They're going to drive to Portland, and that is the stone cold reality, especially given the schedule options to get to Boston. The new train station needs some parking.

And again, I'm not talking 1000 spaces. Not 500, not even 250. Maybe 100 spaces would work as part of a larger multi-use development at Union Station plaza (and I'm not talking surface lots either...a parking garage or underground parking is the way to go). There just needs to be a relatively easy option for those people to park, or some are going to opt to drive all the way to Boston instead. Because if they're driving to Wells, then they'll probably just keep going to Boston. That's the mentality and reality that you're not going to change overnight. We need to accommodate everyone, even if you don't agree with their more car-centric mentality; not just the walkers, bikers, or those close enough to catch an Uber/Lyft or have a friend drive them.
 
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TC_zoid

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It's kind of like storage. If you build more than you need, you still find a way to fill it (from this past August, I believe).

Untitled 519.jpg
 

DanielPWM19

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So it sounds like there's a bit of a desire for both.
  • West Falmouth hub for a larger parking and drop-off facility.
    • But then why wouldn't they just keep it at Thompson's Point?
  • A Union Station location on the Peninsula for those who don't have vehicles, want a walkable experience.
    • This lends itself to future generations who desire a direct connection to Boston, Bangor, Roux, USM, Soccer, Baseball, Concerts, Convention Ctr.
  • Methinks the Rock-Row idea is basically defunct at this point?
    • It's already planning parking garages and a bus hub and in a decent midpoint for Gorham, Windham residents.
 

GIL

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So it sounds like there's a bit of a desire for both.
  • West Falmouth hub for a larger parking and drop-off facility.
    • But then why wouldn't they just keep it at Thompson's Point?
  • A Union Station location on the Peninsula for those who don't have vehicles, want a walkable experience.
    • This lends itself to future generations who desire a direct connection to Boston, Bangor, Roux, USM, Soccer, Baseball, Concerts, Convention Ctr.
  • Methinks the Rock-Row idea is basically defunct at this point?
    • It's already planning parking garages and a bus hub and in a decent midpoint for Gorham, Windham residents.
The current station is not on the mainline tracks between points north and south of Portland, so it’s requiring a route deviation to reach the PTC, then the train has to back up onto the mainline in order to proceed. It’s a waste of time, fuel, everything.
 

markhb

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Putting a park-and-ride station on the peninsula, with its high land values, makes no sense. It would literally be more cost-effective for the Downeaster to hire a cab to chauffeur you twice from and to Westbrook than to buy the real estate and maintain a parking lot for you store your empty car for the day two blocks away from Maine Medical Center.

I also just want to note that the consultants who produced this study – HNTB – are the same quacks who have convinced the Governor's gullible brother that Mainers should spend a quarter-billion dollars to build a new Turnpike spur to Gorham.

If you design your transit system for people who own cars – i.e. people who don't really need it – in a way that makes it less convenient and attractive for people who don't, then you're setting it up to fail.
Another thing to consider is the ridership makeup of the train. I haven't ridden the early trip since before the pandemic, but in my experience there were a few commuters leaving from Portland, with most more boarding at Wells and Exeter. I am sure there are some people riding for medical or government appointments in Boston. But my gut feeling is that the vast majority of trips on the Downeaster are trips of choice, going into Boston for fun thing X, Y or Z, or for a business meeting but I would wager that most people, if they're going to Boston for a business meeting, have the ability to choose between driving and taking the train. My point being, I don't think the service as it exists today is a lifeline so much as it is a quality of life upgrade for those who are... not in precarious circumstances.

And I think the move off of Thompson's Point has killed the Rock Row idea. It might have worked if they had been able to stay on the Mountain Branch, but if any move to the mainline happens then they'd be having to make the same backup move the Downeaster does now to get to the new station.

Also, did anyone view the Zoom meeting about Portland-Bangor last night? I don't know how long it takes them to convert the recording to a virtual public meeting but it's not available right now.
 

PWMFlyer

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NNEPRA has always wanted to leave TP due to the complications at PTC. Concord Coach has always been resistant to the train since its arrival. To them, it's taking revenue away from their business. State money was used to expand the parking lot before covid. Concord Coach's model is to bring you to Logan or South Station and nowhere in between. They also have no intention to bring you to the Jetport or any local town. Lots of travelers do park in the lot and take an uber or taxi to the Jetport to save money on parking. How many people take the bus to South Station to take Amtrak to DC, Philly, or NYC? vs Downeaster to North Station then transfer. NYC is in the works for the Downeaster which is coming in the next year or 2. This will become a game changer. I would like to see the Sunday River Silver Bullet Express come back with service from Portland to Bethel. Stop at the Oxford Casino and Sunday River. The train would originate in Portland with connections via Amtrak. Its amazing that no one markets packages to Sunday River via Amtrak. Its all about going to Bean Town.
 

TC_zoid

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NNEPRA has always wanted to leave TP due to the complications at PTC. Concord Coach has always been resistant to the train since its arrival. To them, it's taking revenue away from their business. State money was used to expand the parking lot before covid. Concord Coach's model is to bring you to Logan or South Station and nowhere in between. They also have no intention to bring you to the Jetport or any local town. Lots of travelers do park in the lot and take an uber or taxi to the Jetport to save money on parking. How many people take the bus to South Station to take Amtrak to DC, Philly, or NYC? vs Downeaster to North Station then transfer. NYC is in the works for the Downeaster which is coming in the next year or 2. This will become a game changer. I would like to see the Sunday River Silver Bullet Express come back with service from Portland to Bethel. Stop at the Oxford Casino and Sunday River. The train would originate in Portland with connections via Amtrak. Its amazing that no one markets packages to Sunday River via Amtrak. Its all about going to Bean Town.
How does the Downeaster train go from North Station to South Station/Back Bay? Isn't that a billion-dollar (or more) connecting tunnel dig? So far, the best option for NYC is the Concord Coach limo bus. I've taken it many times. Direct service and on a light traffic day, can make in just over 5 hours (though I've seen up to 7). A train from Portland to NYC can take up to 10 hours with the timing of the departures with Portland and South Station. GoBus to Manhattan from Cambridge is the only real alternative.
 

markhb

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How does the Downeaster train go from North Station to South Station/Back Bay? Isn't that a billion-dollar (or more) connecting tunnel dig? So far, the best option for NYC is the Concord Coach limo bus. I've taken it many times. Direct service and on a light traffic day, can make in just over 5 hours (though I've seen up to 7). A train from Portland to NYC can take up to 10 hours with the timing of the departures with Portland and South Station. GoBus to Manhattan from Cambridge is the only real alternative.
So far as I can tell, the plan would be a cross-platform transfer at North Station to a new Amtrak Inland Route service that would go via the Grand Junction (the tracks that run through MIT to the BU Bridge) to Worcester / Springfield / Hartford / New Haven / NYC.

I would like to see the Sunday River Silver Bullet Express come back with service from Portland to Bethel. Stop at the Oxford Casino and Sunday River. The train would originate in Portland with connections via Amtrak. Its amazing that no one markets packages to Sunday River via Amtrak. Its all about going to Bean Town.
I'd love to see it too, but right now the Grand Trunk is mothballed south of Danville Junction in Auburn (it would have to be reopened at least as far south as Yarmouth to connect with CSX, and Yarmouth Junction would need new trackwork), and the current ownership of the railroad and Sunday River are not as adventuresome as Matt Jacobson and Les Otten were.
 
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GIL

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So far as I can tell, the plan would be a cross-platform transfer at North Station to a new Amtrak Inland Route service that would go via the Grand Junction (the tracks that run through MIT to the BU Bridge) to Worcester / Springfield / Hartford / New Haven / NYC.
I believe the mid-last-century routes between Portland (and points northeast) and New York City (and points South, to Washington) did not stop in / near Boston. The route can be explored here:
 

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