All aboard: Open house draws interest, but no critics

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BRUNSWICK — An open house for the newly completed Downeaster layover barn drew hundreds of people and little protest Saturday, as staff reported more questions about the building’s functionality than complaints over its existence.

The 60,000-square-foot, 665-foot-long overnight barn can store up to three trains that are six cars in length at one time. On Saturday, however, only a single, four-car long locomotive was on display for the public to view and photograph.

Meanwhile, staff from the Downeaster’s operator, the New England Passenger Rail Authority, stood by to answer questions, the most popular question of which was, “How do you shut (the trains) off?” according to Special Projects Manager Jim Russell.

Though ostensibly benign, the question was loaded with neighbors’ concerns about whether the building would inject noise into a mostly residential area.

While there was no outward displays of animosity Saturday, the project faced drawn-out opposition during the planning phase from neighborhood residents, which took issue with a large industrial building creating an eyesore in the backyard, as well as create disruptions in a mostly residential neighborhood.

Russell pointed out that, ironically, the barn will decrease the amount of noise created by trains.

He said technicians inspect the brake system of every train on a 24 hour basis, and in order to supply the power and pressure to perform the inspection, the engines must remain on.

However, when trains begin to stay overnight in the new layover building, the facility will supply the compression and the 480 volts of power necessary for the inspection. That means the trains can remain off, instead of idle noisily outdoors.

Russell also said the building will increase the safety of the mechanics performing the inspection, as their work is easier and less dangerous if they are sheltered from harsh weather.

In Portland, trains are outside at night, and gather ice along the rails and carriages during the winter. Railroad mechanics have to remove the ice with picks and sledgehammers, which Russell said can be dangerous.

Consigli Construction Project Superintendent Dave Provencher agreed. “I think (NEPRA) jumped through hoops to do what they needed to do to keep it quiet for the neighborhood,” and referred specifically to the soundproof walls that were built with the neighborhood in mind.

In fact, Provencher suggested that the building might improve the area, citing the amount of trash and spent needles – as well as the homeless people – that were in the area prior to construction.

“The site is now very clean, is better for the neighborhood,” he said.

Provencher retired after his work on the train barn, and was present Saturday in an unofficial capacity. Construction on the project wrapped in August, and he was there only to see the finished product.

Provencher was pleased with the level of public interest, and said he had only heard one complaint about the project since construction began – a woman thought the tan building should have been painted a different color.

While the train barn was controversial on a local level, the open house drew visitors who were simply excited to tour a working railroad facility.

Mike Pedersen drove all the way from North Berwick to tour the barn. Identifying himself as a train enthusiast, he said he rode the inaugural Downeaster ride from Boston to Portland back in 2001.

Pedersen snapped photos, and commented on the impressive size of the building.

Provencher himself might fall into that same category of enthusiasm, if to a somewhat lesser degree. He said he spent his career building hospitals, and was excited to end his career “doing something fun” like working on the layover barn.

“I’ve always loved trains,” he said.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Hundreds of members of the public toured the completed Downeaster layover facility during an open house Oct. 22. The New England Passenger Rail Authority began construction on the Brunswick train barn in October 2015.

The new Downeastser layover barn in Brunswick is 665 feet long and can house three, six-car trains overnight.

Downeaster Special Projects Manager Jim Russell answers questions from the public during an Oct. 22 open house at the new layover barn in Brunswick.

Members of the public check out office space and locker rooms in the newly completed Downeaster layover facility in Brunswick, where an open house was held Oct. 22.

Edited 11/9 to correct the name of the New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or