Jim Russell of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority gives a tour of the new train shed in Brunswick on Thursday. Longer than two football fields, it will become fully operational Nov. 21. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jim Russell of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority gives a tour of the new train shed in Brunswick on Thursday. Longer than two football fields, it will become fully operational Nov. 21. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority will finally unveil its new train layover facility in Brunswick this weekend, more than five years after it first proposed the project to improve service on the Amtrak Downeaster.

The 60,000-square-foot facility, which is longer than two football fields, will allow the rail authority to begin the overnight servicing of Amtrak Downeaster passenger trains starting in November.

Tucked between a quiet residential neighborhood to the south and the congestion that clogs traffic on Pleasant Street to the north, the facility is barely noticeable.

Once it becomes fully operational Nov. 21, the layover building will allow the Amtrak Downeaster to operate a third train between Brunswick and Boston – a service that Amtrak officials say is sorely needed, especially by passengers who might want to spend the day and night in Boston at a Bruins or Celtics game. Currently, Amtrak only operates two passenger trains north of Portland on a daily basis.

Siting and construction of the $13 million train shed between Stanwood Street and Church Road did not come without challenges. Neighbors fought the project aggressively, saying that it would pollute the air around their homes, produce loud noise while they tried to sleep, and degrade property values.

They lost their last chance of stopping the project when a citizen oversight board of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection rejected an appeal of a stormwater permit for the layover facility last year. The appeal filed by the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition was the residents’ last line of defense after the town of Brunswick and Federal Rail Authority gave their approvals.

“It’s over. It’s done and we are learning to live with our loss. It’s hard to fight the big people,” said Dan Sullivan, a member of the coalition. “We did the best we could.”

Sullivan’s home on Bouchard Drive, where he has lived for 12 years, is about 25 yards from the layover facility.

The 60,000-square-foot facility is barely noticeable, between a quiet neighborhood to the south and busy Pleasant Street to the north. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The 60,000-square-foot facility is barely noticeable, between a quiet neighborhood to the south and busy Pleasant Street to the north. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The rail authority is planning to hold a public open house at the layover shed from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Rail authority spokeswoman Natalie Bogart said Saturday’s event may be the last opportunity for the public to actually see the interior of the massive building, which is accessible from Lombard Street and Church Road. Once crews start parking trains overnight for servicing, the doors to the facility will be mostly closed to the public for security and safety reasons.

Amtrak has been servicing and cleaning its trains outdoors in Portland near the Portland Transportation Center and Thompson’s Point.

That system has proven to be inefficient, Bogart said, because crews have to crawl under trains in winter to clear their undercarriages of ice and snow. The trains in Portland run for 24 hours, but in Brunswick the trains can be shut down for several hours while crews empty sewage, clean coach cars and inspect each train’s brake system.

In Brunswick, the layover facility has the capacity to park three full-sized trains – each comprising a locomotive and six coaches – in a fully enclosed, heated building, said Jim Russell, the rail authority’s special projects manager. Ice and snow will melt off the trains and enter drains that empty into a drainage system.

Russell jokes when he calls the layover facility, “one big barn.” “It’s an extreme improvement over what we have now,” Russell said.

Trains can enter or exit from either end of the layover facility through 18-foot-tall bay doors. The trains will then roll onto three sets of tracks that run the entire length of the 655-foot facility.

The north side of the building – facing Pleasant Street – holds space for staff, including offices, a locker room, bathrooms, a train crew briefing room and a break room. There is also a loading dock and storage area where a vendor can load trains with food and beverages.

Russell said the insulated concrete walls on the south side of the building facing Bouchard Street and several abutting neighborhoods were designed to be soundproof – a measure that Russell says was done in response to residents’ concerns about noise.

Construction of the facility began in October 2015 and is mostly complete. Downeaster crews will begin training in the new facility next week.

Sullivan, who is a member of the neighborhood coalition, said the rail authority refused to consider other locations that he claims would have had less of an impact on residents.

Sullivan said that he first heard about the rail authority’s intentions in the spring of 2011 after the project came before the Brunswick Planning Board.

According to its website, the passenger rail service operates five round-trips daily between Boston and Portland – with stops in Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach. Two of those round-trips continue on to Freeport and Brunswick. Its ridership since 2005 has grown from just under 300,000 passengers to more than 500,000 annually.

Consigli Construction of Portland designed and built the facility.

 

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