U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a longtime champion of the Downeaster rail service, hailed its expansion from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick today while riding on the train on its maiden trip. Delivering remarks at both Freeport Station and Brunswick Station, Snowe called it a "monumental occasion" and said Maine is "on the vanguard of implementing rail service."
Senator Snowe has been a strong advocate for the Downeaster since its start eleven years ago, and rode on its maiden trip from Boston to Portland. While serving in the House of Representatives, Snowe helped secure the first federal funds for the service. Senator Snowe helped gain approval from the Surface Transportation Board to allow the speeds along the rail line to be increased to 79 miles per hour, a major threshold in making the train more competitive.
In 2005, Senator Snowe fought for a funding waiver and led the charge to ensure language was included in the highway bill to allow flexibility for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding to be used for passenger rail services, specifically the Downeaster. The 2005 bill expired on September 30, 2009, and was subsequently extended eight times by Congress. Earlier this year, the Downeaster faced a drastic cut of nearly $6 million a year due to language in the 2012 highway bill, so Senator Snowe introduced a vital amendment that allowed the State of Maine to continue its access to CMAQ funding. Her amendment was adopted and passed in June 2012 with the final highway bill.
Excerpts of her remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
"The bottom line is, Maine continues to be on the vanguard of implementing rail service -- with a projected 535,000 riders for the Downeaster in 2012 and an increase of 36,000 passengers over last year. With this expansion, the Downeaster will become invaluable to Freeport and Brunswick, and even more invaluable to Maine. Because the Downeaster isn't simply just the train to Maine, but the train for Maine.
"From my position as a United States Senator, I've long believed that passenger rail service is in our vital national interest. That's why I went to bat in my role as a senior member of two of the committees charged with writing the highway bill -- Commerce and Finance -- to introduce an amendment that was included in this year's highway bill and passed into law, to provide Maine with permanent access to the critical funding that covers the majority of operating expenses for the Downeaster. I also championed the designation of the Downeaster route as a High Speed Rail Corridor, and fought to win approval from the Surface Transportation Board in 1999 for increasing speeds along the rail line to 79 miles per hour, to make the Downeaster more competitive."