The NNEPRA Board met at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The well-attended meeting heard reports on the Downeaster's performance numbers and further details on the proposed Coastal Connection.
Representatives from the MidCoast were present to add their support for the proposed summer weekend service expansion.
Ridership & Revenue Report:
The first six months of NNEPRA's fiscal year delivered record-breaking numbers or as Executive Director Patricia Quinn put it, "It was a good story - the best ever!"
Ridership in FY2018 saw a 13% increase over FY2017. On the revenue side, income grew in FY2018 by 26%! Ms. Quinn noted that the last three months of FY2017 were plagued by extensive tie-replacement work.
On-time performance averaged a poor 63.5% for the first six months of FY2018. One factor is the Merrimack River Bridge which only has one track in operation (the next two months will see both tracks utilized as winter construction work halts). Another factor is the Rockingham siding which only allows the Downeaster to proceed at 10 mph when meeting another train. To address this issue, NNEPRA applied for a New Hampshire CMAQ grant to improve those tracks for faster passage. It was granted by the Granite State.
The Downeaster's overall customer satisfaction rating for October, the last month reported to NNEPRA, declined into the 80's (83). It has regularly been in the mid-90s. This lower number put it one point below Amtrak's overall rating of 84. That, too, is a surprise as the Downeaster has regularly exceeded Amtrak's overall numbers. The data will be analyzed further as Amtrak is believed to have changed the methodology by which the ratings are determined.
Coastal Connection News
The proposed summer weekend service to the MidCoast received a lot of attention, both from the board and representatives from that area.
Ms. Quinn presented the following:
- The service would be operated using Amtrak train equipment and crews.
- Tickets would be sold through Amtrak's national reservation system.
- A 2-hour travel time between Brunswick and Rockland is NNEPRA's goal
- Preliminary technical evaluation of the Rockland branch indicates that Amtrak will be able to operate on the line.
- A final decision on the proposal is expected in late February at the next board meeting.
- Informational gatherings in Rockland and Newcastle/Damariscotta have been very positive. Wiscasset and Bath are next.
- NNEPRA will need "in-kind" support from the communities, which was pledged by representatives from the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission, the Rockland Chamber of Commerce and Rockland Maine Street.
Ms. Quinn informed the board that the Lewiston-Auburn passenger rail feasibility study is underway.
Kennebunk is close to a new Downeaster stop proposal.