$17M Grant Awarded to Downeaster from DOT

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) awarded close to $17 million to Downeaster earlier this week, as part of a proposal to make crucial infrastructure upgrades. This money will go toward bolstering Maine's failing regional rail service, which has been spoken about for years in terms of needing important upgrades.

The specific entity receiving this grant will be the Amtrak Downeaster service, located in Wells, North Berwick and Brunswick. The Portland Press Herald broke this story early Friday, 2/29, much to the delight of residents who have waited a long time for upgrades to take place.

The Downeaster is an important line that runs down from Brunswick to North Station, located in Boston, with stops along the route in Old Orchard Beach and Portland, as well as other destinations in the New England area. However, for quite a long time now, the entire infrastructure of this line has needed an expansion, and these funds should get the job done, officials hope.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has plans to take this $17 million grant and put it into a six-mile rail extension running from the Pan Am Railway's line in Wells. The hope is that this expansion will meet the demands of the increase of passengers needing public transport in the area in recent years. Though for many officials behind the scenes, this $17 million should be seen as just a start, as much of the infrastructure already existing could use upgrades.

Federal Funding Has Been Long Coming

For many different years now, politicians of the area have tried to receive federal funding for expansions and repairs regarding the Amtrak railway. However, federal authorities have been reluctant to toss funding at the area, citing that they have a healthy tax base and that federal funds should be reserved for poorer areas in much more need. Though after many attempts to receive this funding, officials in the area have finally succeeded, and the $17 million should be available to use right away to start making upgrades to the railway service and its routes.

According to the Chair of the Transportation Appropriation Subcommittee, Susan Collins, the Downeaster has set new records in terms of passengers in recent years, so the problem could no longer be ignored. The railway needed upgrades, and the money needed to be allocated. According to Collins, the grant promotes an economic engine for Maine, providing good jobs, supporting Maine vendors of goods and services, and also adding more tourism, she finished.

In 2019, the Downeaster had over 574,000 passengers, which was an increase of 8% from the previous year, with projections for this year to go up even more.

The State of America's Infrastructure

One common thing that we can all pick up from 2020's Democratic Presidential nominees is that they claim to want to rebuild America's infrastructure. The area around Maine, and New England in general, is considered one of the most genuinely operational spots in the United States in terms of infrastructure that's intact and fully functioning. It usually calls for new infrastructure in cities like Chicago, San Francisco and Detroit that echo the loudest. However, Maine's issues just shine a light on the fact that it's been many decades since this nation has had an infrastructure overhaul in most cities.

To add insult to injury, we see some Asian nations continuously upgrading their infrastructure, adding bullet-train railway systems and more, with trains that absolutely blow ours off the tracks in terms of speed and efficiency. Even still, politicians bicker back and forth over every penny to be allocated, and it seems as if nothing ever gets done.

This is why it's such a win for the Maine area, for DOT to offer this federal grant of $17 million. While it's a mere drop in the bucket compared to DOT's budget, or the government's fiscal budget, it can make a world of difference in the area and how people are able to board and travel on public transport.

With an improved and expanded system, officials in Maine, such as Collins, are hoping that even more people start to take public transportation. For a lot of progressive Democrats, this spending is essential, as more people riding on public transportation means fewer cars on the roadways, which ultimately equates to fewer greenhouse gases emitted and a boon for our environment.

Time will only tell which other cities get their needed infrastructure upgrades. But for now, the people of Maine are very happy for this grant.

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