The Amtrak Downeaster began service from Portland to Boston in 2001. It expanded service to Brunswick in 2012, and gets over half a million passengers a year today. Now there's a proposal to expand service once again to Lewiston, Waterville, and Bangor. It's time to make this happen.

A lot of things have to happen to expand rail service, and some of it is already being done by the railroad that owns the track to the planned expansion cities. CSX Transportation has been installing continuous welded rail along its route, the same route that would likely be used by the Downeaster. This type of rail allows faster speeds in part because there are no joints to the rail, not only for CSX's trains, but for the Downeaster as well.

But before anything can move forward, research into the project has to be done at a cost of $500,000. It's money well spent. Passenger rail is an affordable and safe way to travel and get more vehicles off the highways.

The expanded route that would most likely be used would travel through the towns of New Gloucester, Auburn, Lewiston, Monmouth, Winthrop, Belgrade, Oakland, Waterville, Pittsfield, Newport, and Bangor. It's unlikely the train would stop in all of those towns, but that's part of the research.

If you told me that by 2001 passenger rail would have returned to Maine after a 40-year absence, I would have thought you were crazy, but here it is. Don't expect an expansion anytime soon though. It took the idea of passenger rail service 10 years to become a reality. Fingers crossed.

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