PORTLAND – Higher-than-expected construction bids for a train layover facility in Brunswick are forcing Maine rail authorities to look for more money or possibly change plans for the large shed for fixing and cleaning trains.

The layover facility is a key part of the plan to extend the route of Downeaster passenger service north to Freeport and Brunswick this fall, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Bids opened last week ranged from $12,245,332 to nearly $20 million. Quinn said the authority has been seeking $10 million in a combination of state and federal funds to pay for the facility.

“We’re seeing what our options are,” Quinn said, noting that the authority sought the bids, in part, to get a sense of the likely cost while pursuing grants to pay for the project.

She said the authority has about $5.5 million from unused bond money, grants and other sources. It has a grant application before the U.S. Department of Transportation that could lead to another $3.5 or $4 million for the layover facility, she said.

“We don’t have a budget yet (because) all of the funding is not yet in place,” she said.

The Downeaster is scheduled to expand north in November, Quinn said, and $38 million worth of track improvements are nearing completion.

The trains could be left overnight in Portland, next to the station off of the Fore River Parkway, she said, but there’s no structure for housing them and, long-term, it’s not an efficient setup. A train left in Portland would have to run, empty, to Brunswick in the morning for the first run of the day. At the end of the day, the train would run, empty again, from Brunswick to Portland.

“It always makes sense to put the garage at the end of your route,” she said. “We want to provide service to Freeport and Brunswick. We want to take those people to and from Boston, instead of just moving trains around.”

Wayne Davis, head of the rail advocacy group Trainriders Northeast, said the lack of an overnight facility in Brunswick would likely mean only two round trips daily north of Portland, instead of the three that are being planned.

“The closer your garage is to the operation, the better it is and the cheaper it is to operate,” he said.

Davis dismissed critics who say that the cost — $50 million between the track improvements and the layover facility — is an awful lot for an operation that the rail authority estimates will serve an average of 100 riders a day. The five daily round trips between Portland and Boston carry an average of 1,300 riders a day.

“Nobody really knows until the thing runs,” Davis said, noting that the first estimates for the number of passengers between Portland and Boston was 100,000 a year and its has grown to about five times that number. “The Downeaster has become probably the greatest example in the nation of, ‘Build it and they will come.’ “

But state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, whose district includes the site of the proposed layover facility, said the high cost is a reason for the authority to find another place for the maintenance shed.

He said a site in an industrial park or another non-residential location would allow the authority to build a shed large enough for one train, rather than three, and not worry about disturbing the neighborhood by moving trains around in the middle of the night.

“This could be an opportunity for a second look, a really hard look,” Gerzofsky said. “Money is tight and it’s going to be very difficult finding this money.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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