BRUNSWICK — Attempts to pressure the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to install equipment to limit train idling failed at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.
NNEPRA will, however, still move forward with installation of an auxiliary power unit to reduce idling, based on a directive from the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
A bill before the committee, LD 439, would have limited any train idling to 30 minutes before shut-off, but was tabled with advice from the committee that NNEPRA work with the town.
Two council motions, sponsored by Councilors John Perreault and Jane Millet, wanted the town to ask NNEPRA to purchase equipment that allow trains to fully shut off above 45 degrees, and to install that equipment at Maine Street Station.
The sponsor of the state bill, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, spoke at Monday’s meeting.
“The only reason you’re here tonight is because legislation was introduced … and I introduced that legislation” he said.
Because the motions failed, however, the Transportation Committee will move forward without town input.
“Basically, (the town) has no view,” Gerzofsky said after the meeting.
The lack of a formal motion belies a heated public discussion that took place in Council Chambers.
Perreault and Millet both said train idling is an issue of health and safety, and the motions were not attempts to “undermine” a proposed Amtrak layover facility planned between Church and Stanwood streets.
But members of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, who have organized around blocking the layover facility, advocated for the council to ask NNEPRA to install a complete “wayside station,” which would allow engines to completely shut down.
Dan Sullivan, of Bouchard Drive, said he recently visited such a system in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which allows four engines to fully shut off simultaneously. He said the system was installed as a result of neighborhood pressure.
Speakers also requested the wayside facility be installed at Maine Street Station, saying that if equipment were installed, it would allow trains to stay shut down overnight, rather than making “deadhead” runs to and from Portland.
On the other side, members of Trainriders Northeast, an advocacy group that has supported the layover facility, called the motions a “diversionary tactic.”
Claudia Knox, of Cumberland Street, says the idling continues to happen because “Brunswick West, with Sen. Gerzofsky in collaboration with Gov. LePage … stalled the project” that would have eliminated idling.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of NNEPRA, said because of the type of engines the Downeaster uses, the only way to assure that trains could completely shut down is in an indoor facility. She said, however, that NNEPRA had received bids for an auxiliary power unit that would allow the trains to idle at a lower RPM and also turn off intermittently.
She also said NNEPRA is “investigating” other equipment to reduce idling, like an air compressor to maintain the brake systems.
Quinn said Maine Street Station is not a suitable spot for the equipment, because of safety concerns about mechanics doing inspections on live tracks and the complication of Downeaster trains being in the way of the Maine Eastern Railroad.
Millet said she was disappointed with the amount of “conflicting information” presented. “This is the fourth time I’ve brought up this issue … it’s not a diversionary tactic, it’s a health and it’s a safety issue,” she said.
Perreault, along with speakers from BWNC, expressed dismay that the supporting documents Quinn supplied on behalf of NNEPRA had only come in that evening before the meeting.
Perreault said, “This council is just looking for the truth. … Can you shut the stinkin’ trains off, or can you not?”
Other councilors expressed concern over what passing the motions would actually mean.
In terms of making NNEPRA do anything specific, “the authority of this council … is virtually nonexistent,” Councilor Dan Harris noted.
Councilor Suzan Wilson, who cited her background in transportation, said she would not be comfortable telling NNEPRA what to do.
“There are letters from four agencies related to (the idling equipment), indicating that NNEPRA should decide,” what to purchase and where to place it, she said, referring to documents supplied by Quinn.
Both motions were defeated by 5-4 votes.
Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said she still believed progress had been made.
She said NNEPRA had received bids for the auxiliary power unit, which will reduce idling as a temporary measure. She said the purchase was a direct result of conversations at the town and state levels.
“I don’t think anyone is happy with the current (idling) situation,” she said.
NNEPRA has received $75,000 from the Maine Department of Transportation for the equipment. Quinn said delivery would take about eight to 10 weeks; installation is expected to take another five weeks.
As for NNEPRA continuing to look into equipment that would further reduce idling, “we will hold your feet to the fire,” Brayman said.