Despite assurances, Brunswick neighbors remain uneasy about train facility
BRUNSWICK — As construction plans progress for a train layover facility between Church Road and Stanwood Street, a neighborhood group remains opposed to the development.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has worked with the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition since 2011 to ensure that a layover facility will mitigate noise and diesel pollution from Amtrak Downeaster trains that now idle up to five hours a day near the neighborhood.
But Brunswick West remains unconvinced NNEPRA has done enough to address the group's concerns.
Bob McEvoy and other members have made several statements about the health risks they face with the idling trains and what could come with the layover facility.
They are also concerned about noise, vibration and decreased home values.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of NNEPRA, said when the 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot, two-story layover facility becomes operational, trains will only have to run their engines for a fraction of the time they do now.
"The vast majority of the time it won't be running," Quinn said. "It won't be running when it's in the building."
According to a 2011 siting report conducted by Parsons Brinckerhoff, the layover facility will house up to three Downeaster trainsets for overnight storage, cleaning, servicing and repair work.
Quinn said the trains will not have to idle for repair work, and they will only have to idle for 15-20 minutes when preparing to leave for Brunswick Station. She said the layover facility will allow the Downeaster service to add a third daily round trip to Boston.
When asked about the health risks of diesel train emissions, Quinn said that all trains are compliant with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. In a November 2012 report from a local newspaper, she was quoted as saying, "Anecdotally, I can tell you it's not harmful."
Members of Brunswick West have contested this claim with their own evidence, including a 2011 report from the Environmental Defense Fund, titled "Smokestacks on Rails," that links oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter emissions from diesel trains with premature death and disease.
Hilary Sinnamon, a clean air consultant with EDF, worked on the study. She said part of its purpose was to push for delayed EPA action to tighten its standards for locomotive diesel emissions.
"It was our intent to sort of explain the health burden as a result of the locomotive emissions and outline the potential benefits for EPA action," Sinnamon said.
In 2008, EPA updated its standards for locomotive diesel standards and made them more stringent.
But some trains didn't have to comply with the updated standards, Downeaster trains included.
The Amtrak trains used for Downeaster service are General Electric Genesis P42DC models and were manufactured between 1996-2001, according to Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole.
This means they must meet EPA's Tier 0 diesel standards, the least stringent standard for locomotives.
However, Cole said because "there are no certified remanufacturing systems available from any manufacturer," the Amtrak trains are unable to comply with the updated Tier 0 standard in 2008 (known as Tier 0+).
He said Amtrak "requested and received a waiver from the EPA" in 2009 to comply with the older Tier 0 standard.
Though the trains cannot be updated to comply with more stringent emission standards, Cole said all Amtrak trains have transitioned from using "low-sulfur to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, which has reduced emissions."
In addition, he said, automatic engine stop-start systems were installed in all trains between 2003 and 2005.
When Parsons Brinckerhoff conducted the 2011 siting report for NNEPRA, the firm included an assessment that found no significant health risks associated with the operation of a layover facility near a residential neighborhood.
The assessment was based on several factors: six Downeaster trains passing the facility every day, one or two freight trains passing every day; three Downeaster trains stored overnight within the facility, three Downeaster trains returning to the facility during the day for cleaning and restocking, and a gas-fired heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system.
Despite the assessment and other assurances, McEvoy and other members of Brunswick West said they still believe the facility will have an adverse impact on their neighborhood.
"There's going to be a concentration of trains at the layover facility," McEvoy said,
"so some portion of Brunswick is going to have a deterioration of the air quality."
Quinn said in the coming months, NNEPRA will begin meeting with an advisory group that includes neighbors from Brunswick West, town officials, state officials and representatives from Consigli Construction Co. of Portland, which was awarded the design and construction contract for the facility in March.
"I think we acted very cooperatively to provide as much information as we can to people and explain what we’re doing," she said.