2011-12-02 / Opinion

Trains, residences don’t mix


Layover and maintenance facilities for passenger rail service operate at localities across the country, and while they may differ in size and traffic volume, most seem to have one thing in common: They operate in industrial areas.

The Amtrak Downeaster’s layover facility currently operates in an industrial area in Portland, near Interstate 295 and distant from residential homes. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), however, is intent on moving its facility to a site directly adjacent to hundreds of homes in Brunswick.

If you believe it makes no sense to move an industrial facility to a residential neighborhood, you’re not alone.

Case in point: Attleboro, Mass. For more than a decade, lawmakers, rail officials and residents worked to relocate a noisy train layover facility away from residential neighborhoods. Not only did they succeed, but the move allowed for an advantageous expansion of commuter rail services while relieving long-plagued residents.

As reported in Attleboro’s Sun Chronicle, the East Junction layover facility, which serviced MBTA commuter trains on the Boston to Providence line, tormented nearby residents for years, keeping them awake at night with train noise and vibrations.

In 2006, after years of extensive legislative action and political pressure, operations were moved to a new facility in an industrial area in nearby Pawtucket, R.I.

The result: Attleboro residents finally got the facility removed from their neighborhood, MBTA was able to add more rail services on their line, and the new location opened the doors to further mass transit expansion and economic development. This was clearly a win/win.

Whether indoor or outdoor, train maintenance and layover facilities are incompatible with residential neighborhoods, a point highlighted by Attleboro’s story. Negative impacts from these facilities are common and predictable, including round-theclock operations noises, vibrations, idling trains and horns.

Construction of this facility so close to homes absolutely requires mitigation of these impacts and others — a lot of mitigation — costs that NNEPRA must include in its budget.

Additionally, the proposed Brunswick West site — between Church Road and Stanwood Street — is too small to allow sensible growth if Amtrak or rail freight needs to expand.

Alternative sites exist in Brunswick, including the site known as Brunswick East at Cook’s Corner alongside Route 1. A layover facility here should not require extensive mitigation and the property could accommodate expansion.

Most important, Brunswick East offers the possibility of supporting freight traffic. That means opportunities for jobs and revenue in Brunswick.

NNEPRA prides itself on being a role model among Amtrak services nationwide, touting high revenue, on-time and customer satisfaction scores. But their initiative to move their layover facility from Portland to Brunswick was fumbled from the start, including an unnecessary hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals, zero proactive communication with the surrounding neighbors, and an ever-increasing construction footprint. To their likely dismay, the news media now refer to NNEPRA’s facility as “controversial.”

Lucky for NNEPRA, all they’ve done so far is cut down the trees at the site. They have time to reevaluate a bad decision. They should look at the Attleboro story as a lesson on how to achieve a win/win before they create a permanent problem.

How smart is it to hastily implement a plan that squanders opportunities for economic and operational growth, wastes taxpayer dollars and ruins local neighborhoods in the process?

There are smart alternatives right here in Brunswick. This is our town, and we need to make sure NNEPRA gets it right from the start.

JEFF EDMONDS lives in Brunswick.

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