Consultants are recommending a controversial site near a neighborhood in Brunswick for a train layover facility that will operate once the Downeaster passenger service is extended north from Portland.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said it needs the layover facility to clean and make minor repairs to trains overnight, after they finish daily runs between Brunswick and Boston. The train now runs between Portland and Boston; service is expected to be extended to Freeport and Brunswick in late 2012.

Consultants hired by the authority looked at three potential sites near Brunswick, and settled on the same one the authority chose originally, near Bouchard Drive.

Residents in that area have raised concerns about air pollution, vibration and noise from as many as three diesel trains that will be parked in the facility overnight.

Rail officials downplayed those concerns. Patricia Quinn, the authority’s executive director, said the fears “aren’t necessarily realistic.”

“We’ve tried really hard to listen to the people in the community,” Quinn said. “Hopefully, they will listen as well.”

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority plans to move its train layovers from Portland to Brunswick, because the trains will begin and end each day in Brunswick after service is extended. The trains now lay over outdoors, near the Portland Transportation Facility off the Fore River Parkway.

The rail authority hired Parsons Brinckerhoff after residents in Brunswick balked at having the facility near their neighborhood. At its closest point, the layover building would be about 240 feet from the houses on Bouchard Drive.

The consultants looked at three sites, including the one near Bouchard Drive, called Brunswick West. The others are near the Brunswick Industrial Park, a little farther west of the train station than the Brunswick West site, and near Cook’s Corner, about three miles east of the station.

Jan Okolowicz, an engineer who led the review of the sites, said the cost of locating near the industrial park was a concern because the rail authority, which is using a $5 million federal grant to pay for the facility, would have to piece together six parcels from five owners to secure the site. He also said the site contains wetlands, and construction could disturb wildlife habitat.

The Cook’s Corner site is probably more suitable than the industrial park location, Okolowicz said, but it’s farther from the train station. He said Amtrak estimates it could take as long as 45 minutes to move trains between the station and that site, reducing the amount of time they can worked on.

He also said the route would pass over several railroad crossings, which Amtrak tries to avoid.

Okolowicz said his firm ran tests and concluded that the engines would not violate air quality standards for the Bouchard Drive area. He said noise and vibration could be mitigated by insulating the layover building.

He, too, downplayed the potential impact.

“If we were running buses instead of trains, we’d call this a garage,” he said.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority will meet with residents tonight to discuss the consultants’ report, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Maine Street Station. The authority’s board is scheduled to meet Monday, and could vote on the plan then.

Quinn said a lawsuit by neighbors will soon “go away.”

She said the authority sought and received a zoning variance for a building near Bouchard Drive, but learned later that the town doesn’t have the authority to review the location of train facilities.

Quinn said the authority never filed the variance, so there’s no standing for the neighbors to file a lawsuit challenging it.

State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he wants to hear why the consultants reached the conclusion they did and wants the rail authority to be open to alternatives.

“I want to be able to see their justification for being the best site,” said Gerzofsky, who would like the authority to consider a larger facility — on a different site — where more extensive repairs could be done for both passenger and freight trains.

“This is an opportunity we have” for a facility that could produce more jobs, instead of simply shifting work from Portland to Brunswick, he said.

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

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