Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tracking Success

As we celebrate ten years of revived passenger rail service in Dover, here's what I remember the day the Downeaster came to town. I remember that on December 15, 2001, I had lunch at the pizza place next door to the transportation center, and watched the festivities from there, as opposed to being part of the mob, with a fellow employee of the Community Services Department.

I remember that I felt bad for Bruce. Bruce was the planner (who recently retired) who had championed the City's efforts to secure the train stopping in Dover. I felt bad because Bruce was in the Air National Guard and he had been called up as part of the massive call up post 9/11. So as people were celebrating the arrival of something he had worked so hard to help secure, Bruce was in the Middle East defending the rest of us.

Beyond that specific day, what I think about the Downeaster falls into two categories. The first is emotional and the second is rational. The emotional is the connection the Downeaster has to parental memories. My son was 3 in 2001. He and I would drive downtown, get a coffee and a pastry, run to the post office for the mail (we had a PO Box), and then head to the transportation center to watch the train come through every Saturday. We rode it for the first time together in December of 2002, when we went to Exeter and back.

My son's reaction to seeing the train, and (in my experience) general every child's reaction is that of elation. Kids love to see the train come into town, and they love to ride trains when they can. This feeling I think is second only to planners love of the idea of a train, or mass transit for that matter. Not sure where the emotional connection comes from (that's why its emotional, right?), but it is a visceral response. Eyes light up, we start swaying to a fro, get nervous; the whole nine yards. You'd think the prom was coming up and we are taking a model.

This flows into the rational connection I have with the Downeaster. We are very lucky as a community to have not only the Downeaster stop through Dover, but to have our station downtown. The ability for travelers to step off the train, cross the street (admittedly not the safest crossing), and shop, eat, stroll, etc, is a true bonus for us. I won't go into ridership numbers or the statistical info, but will say they are excellent and continue to grow each year.

The Downeaster was Amtrak's fastest-growing service in fiscal years 2006 and 2008, and continues to be a route that brings in necessary revenue for the Amtrak system. Are there things that could be improved upon? Sure, there are in every aspect of life. That said, on a birthday, let's focus on the great thing it is to be located on this line, to be able to experience that feeling of giddy joy riding the train and celebrate ten years of success.

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