If you've ever driven the I-95 into Maine on a Friday evening during the peak summer season, you may have longed for an alternative to fidgeting behind the wheel in backed-up traffic. The same holds true if you've ever gripped the wheel tight during a snow or ice storm on your winter drive up north. There is good news: You can take the train to Maine.
After a 30-year absence, passenger rail service returned to Maine in 2001 thanks to a grassroots campaign and a joint partnership between the state and Amtrak, which operates the Downeaster. In an Amtrak press release, former Maine Governor Angus King said: "The initiative to restore passenger rail service has been in progress for more than 10 years, beginning with the largest citizens' petition drive in Maine's history. Ordinary citizens demonstrated an extraordinary belief in the value of rail service in building our economy, reducing automobile emissions in our air, and providing a relaxing and picturesque travel experience to link great locations along the northern New England coast."
Downeaster made its debut with a ceremonial inaugural run on December 15, 2001, with regular passenger train service connecting Boston and Portland, Maine. In November 2012, the Downeaster route was expanded northward to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine.
Here are the basics you should know if you'd like to leave the summer bumper-to-bumper or the winter bumper cars routine behind and make tracks to Maine instead.
Downeaster service originates in Boston from North Station at 135 Causeway Street. Stops along the route to Brunswick, Maine, include Woburn, Massachusetts; Haverhill, Massachusetts; Exeter, New Hampshire; Durham/UNH, New Hampshire; Dover, New Hampshire; Wells, Maine; Saco, Maine; Old Orchard Beach, Maine; Portland, Maine; and Freeport, Maine.
The Downeaster train makes five daily round-trips (only three scheduled trips extend to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine). The complete one-way trip along the rail corridor connecting Boston and Brunswick takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes. A more limited schedule is in effect on these holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and President's Day.
Amenities for Downeaster passengers include: reclining seats with fold-down trays; electrical outlets; free Wi-Fi; reading lights above each seat; conveniently located restrooms; overhead luggage racks; accommodations for bicycles—for a fee and with advanced reservations; and a Café Car featuring both upscale items and light snacks, plus a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, beer, wine, and mixed drinks.
A one-way ticket from Boston to Portland or vice versa costs $24-$30 (as of January 2019). For reservations or for more information on the Downeaster, call the Amtrak Information/Reservation Line toll-free at 800-USA-RAIL or make reservations online at AmtrakDowneaster.com.
Ways to Save Money on Reservations
Be sure to check the Downeaster Deals & Discounts page for promo codes before you make train reservations. There are many ways to save particularly for seniors, children, those on Medicare, and active-duty military personnel.