PORTLAND, Maine -- Getting Amtrak service between Portland and Boston took longer than construction of the transcontinental railroad and cost more than $50 million in public spending on new track and equipment. For many, seeing the trains roll will be the fulfillment of a dream.
Still, how many riders will climb aboard is anyone's guess.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority estimates 320,000 passengers will ride the Downeaster in the first year. Supporters say that number is conservative, while New Hampshire officials say it could be just half that.
"It's all speculation," said Wayne Davis of TrainRiders/Northeast, whose 1988 letter to Amtrak's chief executive set in motion Maine's push to restore rail passenger service that was abandoned in 1965.
The Downeaster began service Saturday, with four round trips a day, providing a test of the public's willingness to set aside the automobile in favor of a new transportation option.
The projected 320,000 trips translates to $3.3 million a year in fares, well short of Amtrak's $5.3 million operating cost. The federal government will spend up to $2 million annually to subsidize the service for three years.