2014-11-07 / Community

Passenger rail service may return

Downeaster officials eye seasonal stop in Kennebunk
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


The old Boston & Maine Railroad station, located on Depot Street in Kennebunk, will likely become the seventh stop in Maine for the Amtrak Downeaster. The building, which still maintains a platform, is owned and occupied by Dietz Associates. The town is working to purchase a parcel almost directly across the street at 11 Depot St. to be used as a parking lot. (Alex Acquisto photo) The old Boston & Maine Railroad station, located on Depot Street in Kennebunk, will likely become the seventh stop in Maine for the Amtrak Downeaster. The building, which still maintains a platform, is owned and occupied by Dietz Associates. The town is working to purchase a parcel almost directly across the street at 11 Depot St. to be used as a parking lot. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNK — Kennebunk is rapidly on its way to becoming the seventh stop in Maine for the Amtrak Downeaster.

The former Boston & Maine Railroad Station on Depot Street is the proposed site for the train stop, a venue that, if approved, would be the oldest station on the line, said Town Manager Barry Tibbetts.

The total cost of the project, which would include the renovation of the building and installing a trolley loop and parking lot, is estimated at about $1.15 million.

The town will have has access to about $1.1 million in 2016 — about $800,000 from the Maine Department of Transportation and $300,000 from a TIF that was approved by voters in June. The TIF portion would primarily be used for building a platform and a parking lot, Tibbetts said at the Oct. 28 selectmen’s meeting. The town intends to continue seeking additional grants to make up the difference.

Dietz Associates owns and occupies the building, which is located about a mile from Main Street. The property includes a 300-foot platform, which “would allow a train to stop there and disembark both people and unload bicycles,” said Mat Eddy, economic development director.

This sort of “high-level” platform is comparable with what the Portland and Brunswick stations have, Eddy said. “We think it’s a very important marketing strategy for us.”

The operating cost of an Amtrak train station can vary dramatically based on size, location and accessibility, Eddy said. Because the ticketing facility would be small (about 100 square feet of space), annual operating costs are projected to be on the low end, around $42,000.

If the station is very successful in its first few years, it is possible it would be open year-round. In that case, Eddy said, operating costs would obviously be higher — likely between $60,000 and $70,000.

“The demographics and the interest suggest that, after a couple years of operation, we could very well be a yearround train stop,” Eddy said.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has recommended that the town complete the project in phases and aim for a start date in 2016.

The first phase, Eddy told the board, includes purchasing residential property across the street from the station.

The town and homeowners have reached a selling price of $183,000. The board of selectmen authorized the town’s purchase of the parcel to be used for a parking lot with 60- 75 spots, a trolley loop and possibly a temporary drop-off area, Eddy said.

Chris Osterrieder, town engineer, along with Eddy and Tibbetts, are also interested in purchasing a temporary platform for the station to allow for a “soft opening,” Tibbetts said.

A temporary platform is estimated to cost about $100,000.

Of the current six stops in Maine, Eddy said, a Kennebunk stop would be one of the more “transient,” meaning that, not only will downtown be accessible by foot, but many resident commuters will be able to walk or bike ride to the station.

Amtrak has not specified how many trains will stop in Kennebunk, Eddy said. “Their (Amtrak’s) capacity will increase when the storage area is improved in Brunswick. If that were to happen there would be a capacity to either add more cars or add more runs.”

The Downeaster “does a lot of surveys on where people are going on the train,” Tibbetts said. “When they’re traveling up from Boston or New Hampshire, where are they going? Their number one destination is Portland. Their number two destination is the Kennebunks.”

“People are going to Portland, renting a car and coming down here, or they’re getting off in Wells and taking a bus or taxi and they’re going over to the Kennebunks,” Tibbetts said.

“I think the chances of this (train station) being a success is very, very high,” Tibbetts told the board.

Selectman Dick Morin also spoke in favor of the proposal: “We’ve invested immense time and energy in getting our downtown cooking, this is one more way to bring people to our downtown and I would put money on, when we go live, that we will start to put pressure on Saco and Wells to figure out how they’re going to stay open, because I think the train is going to want to just buzz right by and stop here. I don’t think we have anything but good things to come of this.”

The station proposal was moved to the next meeting for a second reading.

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