Saco-Biddeford, ME (SAO)
The Saco-Biddeford station is considered one of the "greenest" in the Amtrak system, as the building is powered by a wind turbine and heated and cooled by a geothermal energy system.
138 Main Street
Saco Island on Main Street
Saco, ME 04072
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 43,292
- Facility Ownership: City of Saco
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Saco
- Platform Ownership: Pan Am Railways, City of Saco
- Track Ownership: Pan Am Railways
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
On February 27, 2009, Saco opened its new $2.2 million train station with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The station, which officials hope will boost tourism and economic activity, is said to be one of the first “green” stations in the Amtrak system.
The facility, a 5,000-square foot building, is powered by a 100-foot wind turbine and heated and cooled by a geothermal energy system using an adjacent 1,200-foot well, and was built with passive solar design. Designed by Paul Fowler of Lassel Architects in South Berwick, the station features a clock tower and a brick facade that resembles the nearby windmill. Its furniture was handmade in nearby Biddeford by the Richardson Allen Company. Heat is distributed via tubing from the wells under the lobby’s tile floors. South-facing windows and a central skylight help with both heating and light, while the windmill provides most of the structure’s electricity.
The station had been a long time coming. Former Saco Mayor Mark Johnston remarked that the project was started during his tenure in the 1990s, when Saco and Biddeford were vying to be the host city for the train station. It was a major achievement, Johnston said, to have the station located so centrally, between the two towns. Biddeford officials were recommending a site on the far side of Biddeford’s downtown, well out of walking distance from downtown Saco. Saco was awarded the location for Amtrak service in 1991.
Originally, a sheltered platform and parking lot for Downeaster passengers were built on Saco Island near the intersection of Main and Gooch streets. A roof and plexiglass windbreaks provided the only protection from the cold and wind. Doors of the new station, in contrast, open directly onto the platform; additional parking is now available on the northwest side of the building. The city owns the new facility, which was funded by tax increment financing in conjunction with the Saco Island revitalization underway by Augusta-based Mattson Development.
This location at the falls of the Saco River has been occupied since prehistoric times, first by members of the Abenaki peoples, who gave us its name, “Sawacotuck,” meaning “mouth of the tidal stream.” The most notable native settlement was on Saco Island, which the English settlers once called Indian Island. English occupation began as early as 1618 when Captain Richard Vines wintered over at Biddeford Pool, which was long called Winter Harbor as a consequence. By 1630, the falls of the Saco became a center for traders, fisherman, lumberjacks and farmers, with at least 37 families living there by 1637. The little settlement was temporarily abandoned at the outbreak of King William’s War, one of the conflicts with the French and Native Americans, and not repopulated until 1713 after the Treaty of Utrecht.
The naming of the area has shifted with the relative fortunes of the east and west sides of the falls. Come 1718, it was called Biddeford, which is still the name of the city on the west bank of the Saco. On the eastern side, in 1716, William Pepperell purchased acreage from the original grant and instead of creating a settlement, sold swaths of timbered lands to millwrights and shipbuilders Weare and Scamman. In 1752, Pepperell, by then an English Baronet, donated land to the east the falls for the growing town to use as a commons, burying ground and site for a meeting house. After incorporating in 1752, the settlement adopted the name of its benefactor, becoming Pepperellborough until 1805, when it went back to being Saco.
Both Biddeford and Saco benefitted from the falls location with the coming of the industrial revolution in New England. The first such corporation in the area was the Saco Iron Works, established in 1811, which prospered to such an extent that the same company opened a large seven-story cotton mill in 1825, the first of several. The business reorganized after an 1830 fire as York Manufacturing, which remained a major employer in the region until closing in 1958. The establishment of the Laconia and Pepperell Mills on Saco Island created one of the largest cotton milling districts in the country by 1850, and brought allied industries to Saco and Biddeford, such as the Saco-Lowell Shops to manufacture spinning and weaving machinery, and Garland Manufacturing for loom harnesses and other leather products.
The railroads came to Maine when the Portland, Saco and Portsmouth Railroad met the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1842 in South Berwick, Maine. Stations from the late 19th century still stand in some parts of the two cities, but are not serving rail lines. A wooden-framed combination passenger and freight station built by the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1870 is standing and in use as a business in Biddeford slightly to the west of Saco Island. In Saco, the Boston and Maine’s passenger and freight stations, dating from the 1880s, are also in use as businesses.
Saco and Biddeford have faced the challenge of diversifying their economies after the closing of the York mills and the decline of the lumber industry in the region. The mills of Saco Island are successfully being redeveloped after being successfully cleaned up, as they were industrial brownfield areas, as was the station’s location. Tourism bringing visitors to the Ferry State Park, Funtown Splashtown Water Park, and the large historic district in Saco also bolster the local economy.
The Downeaster is financed primarily through funds made available by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. Amtrak provides ticketing but not baggage services at the Portland station, which is served by 10 daily trains.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- High Platform
- Long Term Parking Spaces
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Short Term Parking Spaces