Sunday, March 9, 2014
The rail authority is moving forward with plans to build a $12 million layover facility in Brunswick despite the opposition of nearby residents and Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a veteran Democrat who lives in town.
The proposed train layover facility that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority wants to build in Brunswick for Downeaster train service has upset residents in Brunswick who say the rail yard was unused when their neighborhood was built in the 1970s.
Rendering courtesy Consigli Construction of Portland
The 635-foot-long facility would allow Amtrak's Downeaster service to make one additional daily round-trip between Brunswick and Boston, and it would eliminate the need for trains to idle outside for hours between runs each afternoon to keep the engines warm in winter, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
The service, which began Nov. 2, now operates two round-trips a day. The train returns empty to Portland every night to a layover facility there and returns to Brunswick empty every morning.
But residents in the Bouchard Drive area, adjacent to the proposed site, continue to fight the proposal. They got a boost last week when Gerzofsky told the authority's board of directors in a letter that residents are being "abused" and that the rail authority's plans would reduce property values and increase health risks.
"When taxpayers lose their faith in how government agencies, including quasi-government agencies, function, the credibility of government suffers and our communities suffer as a result," Gerzofsky wrote.
Wayne Davis, head of TrainRiders/Northeast, a rail advocacy group, said he fears that Gerzofsky's attempt to discredit the rail authority will jeopardize future federal funding for the railroad. The layover facility would primarily be funded with federal dollars.
In an open letter rebutting Gerzofsky's letter, Davis said the proposed site has been used as a rail yard since the mid to late 1800's and is currently zoned for rail and commercial use. He said the rail authority went "above and beyond both its legal obligations and normal practice" to ensure that the positions of all parties were presented and considered.
Gerzofsky's letter, he said, appears to be the "product of Not-In-My-Back-Yard-ism at its worst."
The rail authority, which has hired Portland-based Consigli Construction for the project, has submitted a draft environmental assessment to the Federal Rail Administration for review.
When completed, the assessment will be available for public comment before the administration makes its final decision.
The regulation of railroads in the United States falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government rather than local boards.
Quinn said she expects a public hearing will be held in Brunswick. She said she hopes to get a decision in time for construction to begin by the end of this year.
Gerzofsky said in an interview that he is using his stature as a legislator to give neighborhood residents a voice in the process. Nobody else was standing up for them, he said.
Still, although he has urged the rail authority to consider other sites, such as the town's industrial park, for the layover facility, it is now time for residents to focus on mitigating the project's impact, he said.
"People should have a voice and have their concerns addressed," he said. "Should they stop it? I don't think that's going to happen. I think they should have their concerns addressed. I think they should have the best facility they can get."
Residents say they will continue to fight plans to build the facility at the proposed site.
When the neighborhood was developed in the 1970s, there was no rail activity on the site, said Bob Morrison, a retired school superintendent and board member of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition.
He said the layover facility will turn the quiet neighborhood into noisy industrial area as crews work late at night taking apart and moving trains in and out of the 55,000-square foot facility.
"That's a huge monster. I don't want to live next to it," he said. "It's mind-boggling and maddening. We are angry and upset and will remain so. We are not going away."
Suzan Wilson, who chairs the Brunswick Town Council, said opposition to the proposed facility is limited to one neighborhood and that the vast majority of residents in Brunswick and neighboring towns are excited that the project is moving forward.
She said the rail authority has done a good job of listening to people's concerns and she thinks the federal authorities will listen to input and make a good decision.
"I'm going to believe the federal authorities will do what needs to be done to make the system work," she said.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-369 or at: