The future of the Downeaster is up in the air.
The trains ridership and revenue are up but it operates at a loss. A federal grant worth $6 million will disappear after June 2009 and the service is now depending on receiving between $7 and $8 million annual aid from the state of Maine to continue the service beyond July 2009.
Some of the state’s lawmakers and Gov. John Baldacci have expressed support for the project but Maine’s budget is currently facing a shortfall and additional money could be hard to find.
Commuters – as opposed to visitors or tourist – make up 33% of the Downeaster’s ridership, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the NNEPRA but that figure is based upon the number of passengers who purchase regular passed rather than single one-way or round-trip tickets.
The total ridership on the Downeaster in December was 34,240. Of that number, 24,081 or approximately 70% took the train during the weekdays when commuters are more likely to travel.
Additionally, the service’s most popular trains are the weekday 680 train, which departs Portland at 5:55 AM and the 685 train, which departs Boston at 5:00 PM. During December the 680 train averaged 199 passengers and the 685 train averaged 234 passengers.
To date in the 2008 fiscal year, which ends June 30, ridership on the Downeaster is up by 25% compared with the same period in the previous year, according to Amtrak. Revenue has grown by 27.7% to $943,521.
Still, the revenue covers only about 55% of the Downeaster’s cost, Quinn said, and the net loss runs about $12.80 per rider ship. So the train depends on subsidies and needs the additional money from Maine to stay in business. Massachusetts and New Hampshire don’t contribute subsidies to the service.
Quinn said if Maine legislators fail to pass the grant for this year’s budget she will have a very small window of opportunity to try again next January before the money runs out.
toolmaker wrote:So, why doesn't Amtrak increase it's rates to cover the cost of the operation?
Cowford wrote:You can't blame NH for not ponying up any operating subsidies. Considering that the NH stations are paid for locally, there is negligible incremental operating cost associated with NH service. In fact, if looked at on purely an incremental basis (i.e., the train has to run between Portland and Boston anyway), the NH riders- which constitute nearly 50% of the passenger count- ARE subsidizing the train through their fares.
Dick H wrote:For list members that can get WMUR-TV9 in Manchester, NH, there will be a segment on the Downeaster on the February 26th programs at 7:30PM.
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