December 1, 2012

Brunswick residents upset about idle locomotives

The rail authority warns that if trains aren't left running in cold weather, the engines might freeze.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Now that the Downeaster has reached Brunswick, its operator doesn't have enough money to build a huge shed to store trains at the end of the line.

Locomotives left idling outdoors for hours are angering residents of nearby neighborhoods, and might even lead to a new state law.

Neighbors said this week that they think Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, has dodged their concerns while steering the train layover facility toward their homes, rather than other potential sites.

Quinn said that the process has been inclusive, and that Brunswick residents' concerns will be incorporated into the design of the storage shed.

"I have extensively communicated with the neighbors," Quinn said. "I know that property is zoned industrial mixed-use in a rail corridor. The area is, and has historically been, a railroad yard. ... We have examined other sites and I think the board (of directors) is confident that to build the facility there is the decision that they are going to stay with."

Quinn said bids to build a 650-foot-long shed to enclose the locomotives ranged from about $12 million to nearly $20 million -- far exceeding the $4 million to $5 million estimated in 2011.

And because federal grants did not materialize last year, the Downeaster's operator, which extended service north to Brunswick on Nov. 1, now must let locomotives idle outdoors for nearly five hours every day.

Residents' complaints about diesel fumes and vibration have drawn the attention of state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, who said he plans to propose legislation to limit train idling to 30 minutes.

He also is advocating for the rail authority to choose another site for storing trains, farther from homes.

"(Quinn) hasn't tried to come to the table to work anything out," said Gerzofsky.

"She came to the table to give people some spin and false hope. I don't have 'Quinn spin,'" he said. "I have Stan talk."

Gerzofsky's legislation would mirror a law in Massachusetts that he said protects the environment and residents whose live next to rail facilities.

"(Quinn) can come in and explain to us why it's OK to idle trains whenever she wants to idle trains," Gerzofsky said. "We'll see what the Legislature thinks."

Quinn said the trains must be left running when temperatures dip below 55 degrees. If they sit in the cold, she said, the diesel engines can freeze.

With a heated building, trains could be parked there and shut down, she said. But without an indoor storage area, the authority has no alternative to letting trains idle outdoors.

Residents see it differently.

"It shouldn't be idling anywhere," said Nesta Morrison, who lives on Bouchard Drive with her husband, Bob. The tree-lined street parallels the tracks. "The noise and pollution is above what they claim it will be," Morrison said.

Gerzofsky said Pan Am Railways, the largest rail operator in the country, has developed ways to heat engines with electricity, effectively eliminating excess diesel fumes and noise.

Bob McEvoy of Bouchard Drive, a retired transportation engineer, said the locomotives' vibration can be felt 1,000 feet away.

"This is the wrong place for it," McEvoy said. "And (the rail authority) just doesn't seem to comprehend that."

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com 

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