In other train-related news: — NNEPRA EXECUTIVE Director Patricia Quinn said NNEPRA’s contractor, at the behest of DEP, performed air and water quality tests linked to the train shed. “To date, they haven’t found anything from keeping us moving forward,” Quinn said. — WHILE ADVOCACY GROUP TrainRiders Northeast is calling for an expanded Downeaster service that would make it possible to take the train from Brunswick to New York City, bypassing Boston, Quinn said NNEPRA will focus expanding service to the Lewiston/Auburn area instead. — FREEPORT AND BRUNSWICK ridership numbers exceeded projections by 50 percent, according to NNEPRA’s annual report.

In other train-related news: — NNEPRA EXECUTIVE Director Patricia Quinn said NNEPRA’s contractor, at the behest of DEP, performed air and water quality tests linked to the train shed. “To date, they haven’t found anything from keeping us moving forward,” Quinn said. — WHILE ADVOCACY GROUP TrainRiders Northeast is calling for an expanded Downeaster service that would make it possible to take the train from Brunswick to New York City, bypassing Boston, Quinn said NNEPRA will focus expanding service to the Lewiston/Auburn area instead. — FREEPORT AND BRUNSWICK ridership numbers exceeded projections by 50 percent, according to NNEPRA’s annual report.

PORTLAND

The authority overseeing the Downeaster passenger rail service may only need to obtain an environmental permit before starting construction of a 60,000-square-foot train shed in Brunswick.

The permit in question is still pending approval by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP has “determined that the only permit the facility will qualify for is the storm water permit,” said Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn, speaking at NNEPRA’s annual board of directors meeting in Portland on Tuesday.

Plans for the $12 million facility have been met with stiff opposition by neighbors who said they are concerned with decreased property values, and the possibility of vibration, noise and pollution.

In June, the Federal Railroad Administration green-lit the project, but a setback occurred in July when an existing state storm water permit was vacated by a Maine Superior Court judge, because abutters to the site weren’t properly notified.

NNEPRA reapplied for the permit in August, but was told by DEP that the new application lacked sufficient information.

DEP found another application sent in September acceptable for processing on Oct. 3.

The facility would shelter overnight up to three train sets indoors in a heated space about 655 feet long, 70 feet wide and about 37 feet high. Advocates note the shed would prevent issues associated with Downeaster trains idling during the day in the Cedar Street area of Brunswick, where the facility is planned.

Trains, including ones that terminate in Brunswick, currently layover at night in Portland.

“The project is very controversial,” Quinn said. “I do believe we are being held to a higher standard than many organizations are. We’ve risen to the occasion.”

Air, water tests

Quinn said NNEPRA’s contractor, at the behest of DEP, performed air and water quality tests.

“To date, they haven’t found anything from keeping us moving forward,” Quinn said.

DEP is expected to rule on the permit by Dec. 17.

Quinn called the planned Brunswick train shed the “cornerstone” to the future expansion of Downeaster service.

NNEPRA is looking at improvements to increase the number of round-trip trains that terminate in Brunswick from two to five, and possibly adding a sixth Portland-to-Boston train, said Quinn.

While advocacy group TrainRiders Northeast is calling for an expanded Downeaster service that would make it possible to take the train from Brunswick to New York City, bypassing Boston, Quinn on Tuesday said NNEPRA will focus expanding service to the Lewiston/Auburn area instead.

Grant money would be needed to make such an expansion a reality, said Quinn in an interview.

“It really depends on what policy direction we get from the state, what grant money is available, and let the pieces come together,” she said. “None of this happens quickly.”

A Lewiston/Auburn route would be a “feeder service” that connects with the Downeaster in Portland, not Brunswick, according to Quinn. Downeaster service would still end in Brunswick, and so it would make little sense to locate the train shed in Auburn, as had been proposed by some lawmakers.

“The maintenance layover facility is the priority project,” Quinn said, addressing the authority. “We do have funding for it. It’s very important and very controversial.”

DEP will hold a public meeting and gather public input on Nov. 13 in Brunswick.

Meanwhile, NNEPRA is looking ahead to a difficult fiscal year as a result of ongoing track repair. The authorityexpectsa3percent decrease in ridership and more delays in service. Revenue projections are flat.

According to the Downeaster website, all Downeaster trains are experience delays of 30 to 50 minutes. Through Oct. 31, two weekday trains are canceled and two others are running on modified schedules and will not stop at all scheduled stations. (Go to Amtrak- Downeaster.com for more information.)

Track repairs

Track repairs and tie replacements between Brunswick and the Massachusetts border resulted in delays and 50 canceled trains during the past summer when tourism is at its peak, according to NNEPRA staff. The result was a loss of 5,000 riders and $100,000 in revenue.

However, NNEPRA officials noted that, despite the delays and cancellations, ridership increased 4.6 percent in the fiscal year ending in June over the previous year, amounting to more than 536,000 riders. Revenue increased 6.2 percent.

Freeport and Brunswick ridership numbers exceeded projections by 50 percent, according to NNEPRA’s annual report.

Citing a manager at The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern, NNEPRA said about 400-room nights were booked at the business because of the Downeaster. That number could triple with expanded service.

Freeport hoteliers reported that 100-room nights have been booked as a result of Downeaster service coming to that town, according to NNEPRA.

“The Downeaster is the single greatest amenity Brunswick has seen in the post-Brunswick Naval Air Station era,” said Mike Lyne of JHR Development, the private firm behind Brunswick’s Downeaster station. “If there’s one knock, we’d say we just need more of it.”

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