The Federal Railroad Administration has found that a proposed layover facility for Amtrak trains and crews will have no significant environmental impact on a Brunswick neighborhood.
News of the agency decision, which was dated June 13, spread throughout the passenger rail community on Tuesday as well as the affected neighborhood that has opposed the facility.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said the decision means that her agency can move forward with its plans to build a $12 million layover facility for Downeaster passenger trains at the site of the Brunswick freight rail yard between Church Road and Stanwood Street.
“This is huge. It will enable us to move forward with construction of the facility,” Quinn said Tuesday. “This is the outcome that we had hoped for.”
Supporters of the facility say the layover facility is needed because it will provide an enclosed facility for repairs, cleaning and light maintenance of trains and will reduce fuel costs and pollution by eliminating the need to move trains between Brunswick and the current layover facility in Portland. But opponents say a facility that is the size of two football fields will increase pollution from diesel fumes and produce noise in a quiet residential neighborhood.
Quinn said the rail authority submitted an environmental assessment study for the proposed facility in September, and it was in turn reviewed by the Federal Railroad Administration.
“They could have told us that we needed to do more work,” Quinn said.
But that was not the case.
In its decision, the Federal Railroad Administration said the rail authority’s assessment met all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, adding, “The project will have no foreseeable significant impact on the quality of the human or natural environment.” The agency also found that the project will not require a full environmental impact statement.
Wayne Davis, chairman of the board of directors for TrainRiders/Northeast, said a full environmental impact study would have taken up to three years to complete. TrainRiders is a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to promoting the use of the Downeaster and passenger rail serivce.
Davis said he was notified Tuesday about the long-awaited decision.
“I said all along there was no other decision the Federal Railroad Administration could have reached,” Davis said. “They (the rail authority) dotted every i and crossed every t.”
Other than a lawsuit, Davis said he does not see any other obstacles to the layover facility’s being built.
“When the dust settles and the facility has been built, I think people in that neighborhood will be stunned,” Davis said. “I think they will find it was a tempest in a teapot.”
However, Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, which has opposed the layover facility out of concerns it will pollute the environment, generate loud noise, and lower property values, said the fight to have the facility moved to another location is not over.
Bailey, who was notified Tuesday, said the group is still reviewing the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision. The coalition has not ruled out a legal challenge.
“Their building will be the length of two football fields. How do you build something this big and have no environmental impact?” Bailey asked. “I think it’s premature to suggest this is the end of the story.”
Quinn said she will have to meet with the project contractor – Portland-based Consigli Construction Co. – before a construction timetable can be established.
Consigli has completed 50 percent of the layover facility’s design. The facility will be a single-story building that is 655 feet long, 70 feet wide, and 37 feet high.
According to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s website, the layover facility will feature a building for overnight storage of up to three diesel locomotive-powered passenger train sets that will be used for the Downeaster train service between Brunswick, Portland and Boston.
The layover facility will be located six-tenths of a mile from the passenger train station in downtown Brunswick.