Want to enjoy fall foliage without worrying about overcrowded roads? The Maine Eastern Railroad recommends a ride on the 57-mile stretch between Brunswick and Rockland.

Scheduled to operate through the end of October, the line might stay in service longer if leaves are still on the trees. That happened in 2005.

The uncertain nature of nature creates challenges for Juanita Roberts, reservations manager for the passenger excursion line. Bookings are up and the phone rings constantly, she said, but she is doing her best to estimate when foliage will peak while making sure not to overbook the train.

The combination of fall foliage, coastal scenery, and a train ride makes the Maine Eastern an attractive alternative to jostling for space on country roads.

"What's better than watching the world go by from the comfort of an overstuffed, reclining seat?" she said. "The train is the most stress-free way to travel."

According to Maine's official fall foliage website, which updates conditions every Wednesday through Oct. 18, autumn colors will start to appear by the weekend of Sept. 23-24 and reach their peak between the second and third weeks of October.

This year's wet weather has helped, with above-average rainfall reported throughout the spring and in early summer and cooler-than-normal temperatures in August. Those conditions have produced a healthy tree canopy in each of the state's seven foliage tracking zones.

State forest and park rangers predict particularly vivid colors in Zone 1, covering mid-coast and south coastal Maine. At the moment, however, fall foliage is only 30 per cent of projected color in zones that cover all of extreme northern Maine and the western mountains.

There are 52 native species of leaf-producing trees in the state.

For further information, see www.mainefoliage.com or contact Maine Eastern Railroad (Tel. 866-MERAILS, 207-596-6725, www.maineeasternrailroad.com).