Noise and vibrations created by a proposed Amtrak layover facility in Brunswick would not exceed federal noise guidelines, according to an environmental assessment submitted to the federal government by the agency that operates the Downeaster passenger rail service.
Residents who live near the proposed facility, however, plan to challenge the assessment at a public hearing Thursday in Brunswick.
The assessment is an “extremely biased” document designed to convince the Federal Railroad Administration to approve the facility, said Dan Sullivan, leader of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, a group leading the fight against the proposed facility.
Sullivan said his group wants the federal agency to order an independent analysis. “We want an unbiased look at the impact,” he said.
He said the noise study submitted by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is flawed because it considers average noise levels during the day rather than short-term spikes in noise levels.
Residents are particularly worried about noise that would occur around 2:30 a.m. when the last train from Boston is scheduled to arrive in Brunswick, according to the new schedule the rail authority plans to implement once the facility is built.
The rail authority would have encountered less resistance if it had chosen a site that wasn’t so close to a residential neighborhood, said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a veteran Democrat who lives in town.
“They took into account their needs but nobody else’s needs,” he said.
The regulation of railroads in the United States falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government rather than local boards.
Town officials have no say in approving the project.
The rail authority wants to build a 655-foot-long building in a former rail yard to store three trains overnight. The site is just over a half-mile west of the train station in downtown Brunswick.
Currently, the Downeaster’s schedule includes two round-trips between Brunswick and Boston each day.
A train also travels from Brunswick to Portland every night and back the following morning because there is no facility in Brunswick where the train can be parked overnight and serviced.
A Brunswick layover facility would eliminate the need for “dead-end” trips to and from Portland every day, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the rail authority.
As a result, an additional round-trip between Brunswick and Boston could be added without any additional operating costs, she said.
In addition, the layover facility would eliminate the need for trains in Brunswick to idle for hours at a time during the winter to keep train equipment warm, said Town Councilor Margo Knight, who represents downtown Brunswick.
While residents who live near the proposed site, particularly those on Bouchard Drive, are opposed to the project, most residents in Brunswick believe that the rail authority has done its “due diligence” in selecting a site and designing a facility, Knight said.
“People are very excited about the train service being here and are excited about the increased train service,” she said.
The service currently carries about 150 passengers a day on the part of the route north of Portland, Quinn said.
Brunswick is a more popular destination and departure point than Freeport.
The yard, built by predecessors of the Maine Central Railroad in the 1850s, once had enough side tracks to hold 95 freight cars.
Most of the tracks and the remaining railroad buildings were removed during the 1980s.
A residential subdivision was built adjacent to the yard in the 1970s and 1980s.
Funding for the $12 million layover facility would come from state bond funds and $6 million in federal highway funds set aside for projects that reduce highway congestion and air pollution.
The public hearing on the environmental assessment will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brunswick Town Council Chambers, located on the second floor of 16 Station Ave.
A 30-day public comment period ends Oct. 13. Comments can be sent to Marina@nnepra.com.
The environmental assessment can be found at: http://www.nnepra.com/sites/default/files/Brunswick%20Final%20EA%20-%20%20091213.pdf
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: