BRUNSWICK — Passenger rail officials last week said they are considering three sites for a proposed train layover facility.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority first proposed building the depot, which would be used to service Amtrak’s Downeaster, between Church Road and Stanwood Street. But overwhelming neighborhood opposition moved the agency to take a step back and consider other locations.
Now the organization is considering sites in the Brunswick Industrial Park and at Cook’s Corner, along with the original location. Another three sites previously considered by NNEPRA are all but off the table due to size and topography challenges, according to a presentation by consulting engineer John Burckhardt at a July 14 public forum.
Among the three that remain, the Brunswick Industrial Park site is physically large enough to accommodate the facility, but has a steep ravine that Burckhardt said would have to be filled. That work could add to the cost.
The Church-Stanwood site, while surrounded by residential neighborhoods, could easily accommodate the large building, and is close to a “Y” in the railroad tracks that would allow the trains to easily reverse direction. Amtrak New England Division Superintendent Fred Fournier said the track configuration would improve the Downeaster’s on-time performance, and is his preferred site from an operational standpoint.
Many residents at last week’s meeting seemed most interested in the Cook’s Corner property, which belongs to Topsham construction company owner Ted Crooker. Located three miles east of Maine Street Station along Bath Road, the site is large and flat enough to accommodate a 350-foot long building.
But placing the facility there would force the train to cross several additional roads, sounding its horn each time, Fournier said. Depending on the train’s schedule, those whistle blasts could occur late at night and early in the morning.
The railroad tracks through that area are owned by Maine Eastern Railroad, which means the Downeaster would have to switch tracks before heading into the maintenance facility and communicate frequently with that railroad’s dispatcher.
Fournier estimated that the switching would mean it would take the train 40 minutes to travel from downtown the three miles.
The discussion of the pros and cons of each location gave some residents had a feeling that NNEPRA still intends to put the depot on the Church-Stanwood property.
“There’s a great place (at Cook’s Corner) and you guys are fighting hard to put it back in my backyard. Is there anybody who hasn’t noticed that except me?” asked Dan Sullivan, a Bouchard Drive resident.
Anna Nelson, who also lives on Bouchard Drive, said in an interview that she believes NNEPRA is trying to convince neighbors that the Church-Stanwood site is the best choice.
“It’s obvious that our location seems to make the most sense for them,” she said.
But state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, assured residents that NNEPRA has not made a final decision.
“I don’t think there is a decision … about where anything is going to be at this moment, there is still room for discussion,” he said.
While the location may still be up in the air, NNEPRA’s engineering consultants also gave residents more concrete details about the facility.
It would be wider than initially proposed, containing three tracks instead of two, a change that brings the building’s size closer to 60,000 square feet from an initial 40,000 square feet.
NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn explained that expanding the width of the building to 107 feet would eliminate the need to have trains idling outside.
“We wanted to build a facility that could accommodate all the equipment we currently use and could foresee potentially using, so we could keep it all inside,” she said.
In the next few weeks, the engineers will obtain more details about the three sites, including noise levels, construction, and costs. They hope to present their findings to the NNEPRA board in August, so that the group can choose a site before fall.
NNEPRA intends to have the depot operating by October 2012, in time for the expansion of Downeaster service from Portland.