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Downeaster noise concerns persist in Brunswick as ridership exceeds expectations

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Downeaster noise concerns persist in Brunswick as ridership exceeds expectations

BRUNSWICK — Ridership during the Amtrak Downeaster's first month of passenger service to Freeport and Brunswick was higher than expected, according to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA executive director, Tuesday said preliminary ridership north of Portland was 5,200 for November, with an average of 180 rides a day, or 80 percent more than projected. She said the official report for November ridership is expected next week.

But despite – and perhaps, because of – the Downeaster's early success, noise  generated by the train remains a concern for some residents who live near the tracks.

Some residents are also complaining about noise created while the trains idle in Brunswick for an average 5 1/2 hours a day, which state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he hopes to address with legislation.

NNEPRA plans to build a maintenance facility that will address some of these noise issues by moving the trains indoors, but neighbors remain concerned the site will generate more noise and have a negative impact on their quality of life.

Though the facility has not been funded, some residents are already preparing to contest NNEPRA's plan.

Gerzofsky said he is introducing legislation to target train idling near Cedar Street. He said the rumbling and vibrations from the trains have caused distress for some nearby residents.

The bill will be based on an anti-idling law in Massachusetts, Gerzofsky said. It would limit the time a train could idle to 30 minutes and require trains to upgrade their fuel to a type that would make them more efficient and less noisy for nearby residents.

Quinn said the trains idle in Brunswick because Downeaster's schedule requires a train to stay in town for morning and evening one-way trips. She said the trains need to idle to maintain power for certain functions and stay warm during the winter.

Any limits imposed on idling could threaten the train service, Quinn said.

But NNEPRA is nonetheless working to address the idle time.

Quinn said the rail authority is planning to install an extra track where trains can plug in for electricity, which would decrease the amount of time they would have to idle.

Another plan will see the maintenance facility constructed between Stanwood Street and Church Road, Quinn said.

But that has already found opposition from neighbors on Bouchard Drive, a street that runs parallel to the rail yard where the facility would be constructed.

Dan Sullivan, a Bouchard Drive resident, said he can deal with noise from trains passing on occasion, but the maintenance facility will create a far bigger problem.

Sullivan said he and others have been frustrated by the process by which NNEPRA chose the site for the maintenance facility, a decision Quinn said was made last year as a result of a public hearings in Brunswick and findings by the rail authority's board.

"Our board of directors made a decision in August 2011 to choose that site," Quinn said. She said the site was chosen because it's been a rail yard since 1860 and it's part of an industry mixed-use zone.

Sullivan said he thinks NNEPRA was not fully honest with the information it presented to the public that led to that decision. There were specifications the board presented that downplayed the impact the facility will have on his neighborhood, he said.

"You can gather statistics and adjust them any way you'd like," Sullivan said. "We think NNEPRA did just that."

Quinn denied that accusation.

"NNEPRA has not intentionally misrepresented information," Quinn said. She said her board responded to questions and concerns during the 2011 hearings and that other sites were reviewed "in earnest."

But Sullivan said he and others are not convinced.

"I am continuing to work with entities to help identify whether the maintenance facility will have a significant impact on the environment," he said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.