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Rail Authority Sticks to Brunswick Layover Plans, Despite Opposition

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority appears to be unswayed by opposition to a planned $16 million layover facility in Brunswick. Opponents, including state lawmakers and local residents, say the facilility will generate noise, and say Brunswick is not the best site.

But Authority officials say they have explored the idea of alternative sites, and still believe that, as the current end of the line for Amtrak Downeaster, Brunswick makes the most sense.  

Among the group of legislators who recently sent a letter to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority were the two co-chairs of the Transportation Committee and a co-chair of the Appropriations Committee. They echo concerns of local residents who worry that constant idling of locomotives create noice and air pollution, and have a negative effect on property values.

But Patricia Quinn, executive director of the authority that oversees the Amtrak Downeaster line, says Brunswick is the logical choice for Amtrak's
60,000-square-foot facility.

"This decision has been made by the board and with staff recommendations and in concurrence with Amtrak," Quinn says, "and we are moving forward with it because it is a sound plan."

Quinn says efforts will be made to reduce the levels of noise and pollution at the new facility, which she says will allow Amtrak to continue its investment in Maine.

"It will maximize the efficiency of the operation of the service, allow us to provide more service to the people of Maine, more passenger rail service at a lower cost," Quinn says.

But opponents are suggesting that NNEPRA concentrate on upgrading Amtrak's Portland-to-Boston route, and on exploring expanded passenger rail service to Montreal through Lewiston. And they say Rigby Yard in South Portland would be a more logical hub for Amtrak. But again, Quinn disagrees.

"We looked at locations in the Portland area and again determined that, even if the terminus of the service stayed in Portland, that Rigby was not the most efficient place to put a layover facility. So we're working on a plan - we do have a plan - to have the facility in Brunswick," Quinn says. "We are looking at expanding services and operating feeder services, and the potential for feeder services, from other locations in the state of Maine."

"The rail authority, once they make their mind up, I think it's kind of set in stone," says Sen. Ed Mazurek, a Rockland Democrat.

Mazurek was joined by Reps. Kenneth Theriault, Wayne Werts, Christine Powers, Mike Shaw and Peggy Rotundo in urging the authority to select another site for the layover facility. But Mazurek says, because Brunswick is the end of the line, it would save money for Amtrak.

"If they idle there, they don't have to move the train for an hour one way and, then move it back," Mazurek says.

But at least one opponent remains convinced that the Brunswick layover facility is far from a done deal - despite what Patricia Quinn suggests. "I'm not sure I understand why she feels that there's a green light on this particular project," says Bob Morrison, chair of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, which has long opposed the location of the maintenance and layover facility.

Morrison says a recent court decision that vacated a storm water management permit for the facility should serve as an indication thatt NNEPRA has failed to follow the appropriate process. Brunswick Rep. Mattie Daughtrey says residents will have a chance to weigh in when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection holds hearings on the project.

"I do think this is a great opportunity for the neighborhood to speak up and make their case for what kind of an impact this facility will have," Daughtrey says. "And what I'm really hoping is that we've seen sort of an adversarial relationship where NNEPRA hasn't really been listening to the concerns of the neighborhood."

Daughtrey says the proposed layover facility has been a controversial topic in Brunswick since passenger rail service arrived there two years ago.