State officials are considering three sites for a train layover and maintenance facility in Brunswick, in response to neighbors’ objections to the first site selected by the New England Passenger Rail Authority.

The authority and the Maine Department of Transportation are preparing to extend Amtrak’s Downeaster service north of Portland, with stops in Freeport and Brunswick, in late 2012.

Authority officials identified three sites Thursday night that are being reviewed by consulting engineers to determine which one would be best for the $5 million layover facility.

“Each site has pros and cons,” said state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who hosted Thursday’s public forum in the Town Council chamber at Brunswick Station. More than 100 people attended the meeting, which sometimes became emotional when residents offered testimony or asked questions.

The three sites under consideration are:

The initial site, a strip of land amid neighborhoods off Route 1 in west Brunswick; it runs along the north side of the tracks, between Church Road and Stanwood Street.

Another site in west Brunswick, near the Brunswick Industrial Park, between Church Road and Route 1, but closer to Interstate 295; it’s uneven terrain that may include wetlands.

A large, flat parcel on Farley Road in east Brunswick, near the Cook’s Corner shopping area; it has few residential neighbors but is three miles beyond the downtown train depot.

The layover facility would include a 40,000-square-foot industrial shed, large enough to hold the three passenger trains that would travel to and from Brunswick each day, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the rail authority. Each train would have an engine, several passenger cars and a control car.

The rail authority wants to build a layover facility in Brunswick to service the Downeaster there instead of in Portland, where the trains are stored and worked on outdoors, Quinn said. There is no plan to service other trains at the layover facility, she said.

Wherever the facility is built, the state plans to buy the land and pay for construction by using transportation bonds, said Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt.

Bernhardt plans to tour the three sites with Gerzofsky next week, the senator said.

Gerzofsky said the site on Farley Road generated the most discussion Thursday night, in part because it would allow plenty of space for passenger parking, something the downtown depot doesn’t have.

However, it would take as long as 40 minutes for trains to go from the downtown depot to the site, depending on track-switching requirements, which could increase operating costs, Gerzofsky said.

The rail authority has hired Parsons Brinckerhoff of Boston, a consulting and engineering firm, to assess the three sites and recommend the best one. Gerzofsky said he hopes to present the firm’s analysis at a public forum in early August.

The assessment will cover development and operating costs, logistics and obvious environmental conditions, but it won’t include a full environmental study. That will be done after the rail authority chooses a site, Gerzofsky said.

Without a full environmental study of all three sites, neighbors of the initial site worry that the rail authority won’t fully consider the noise, pollution and other problems they may have if the layover facility is built near their homes.

“It seems like they’re doing the process backward,” said Jeff Edmonds, whose family lives on Bouchard Drive. “We’ve heard there’s coal ash buried back there. What happens when they dig that up, and what happens when we’re breathing particulates from diesel exhaust?”

Still, Edmonds said, the process of developing a layover facility has improved since neighbors sued in June to block the town’s approval of the initial site. Town officials have since learned that they have no jurisdiction over the state-authorized, federally funded project, making many residents wary.

“Two months ago, NEPRA was putting their facility in our neighborhood,” Edmonds said. “Now, they’re considering three sites and they’ve opened a dialog. It’s better now, but people are distrustful.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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