Portland Press Herald

Opponents of a proposed Brunswick layover facility for Amtrak trains hope that a letter Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, sent to the Federal Railroad Administration will boost their efforts to get the facility moved elsewhere down the line.

In a May 26 letter to FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo, King urged the agency to “conduct a full, fair and transparent” environmental assessment of the proposal.

“The proposed facility will abut residential and commercial zones that have an interest in maintaining Brunswick’s environmental integrity,” King wrote. “The FRA should provide these neighbors with an ample opportunity to express their concerns and to offer their suggestions.”

King, who has a home in Brunswick, was a strong supporter of the Downeaster when he was governor and rode on the inaugural train to Brunswick last November.

The group that opposes the plan, the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, issued a news release Wednesday after getting approval from King to release his letter to the media.

Dan Sullivan, the coalition’s chairman, said in an interview that the group is pleased with King’s letter, even though King refrained from taking a position on the proposal.

“It reflects what we have been complaining about,” Sullivan said. “The process has not been fair. It hasn’t been transparent. We are just little guys, and they are trying to railroad us.”

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages Amtrak’s Downester service between Boston and Brunswick, said the letter will have no effect because federal law already requires the authority to do everything King is asking for.

“We agree,” she said. “We want it to be a transparent and open process as well. It’s a controversial project, and we want people to have a level of confidence that we have done a proper analysis, and we have made the best recommendation.”

The proposed 635-foot-long facility would allow the Downeaster to make one additional daily round trip between Brunswick and Boston, and it would eliminate the need for trains to idle outside for hours between runs each afternoon to keep the engines warm in winter, Quinn said.

The service was extended from Portland to Brunswick last November and now operates two round trips a day. The train returns empty to Portland every night to a layover facility there and returns to Brunswick empty every morning. The facility would allow the train to stay in Brunswick overnight.

The authority this spring gave the federal agency a draft environmental assessment detailing the impacts from the project. After the document is reviewed by the FRA’s legal staff, the public will have the chance to comment on it.

Quinn said she hopes the comment period will occur later this summer. She added that there will be a public meeting scheduled in Brunswick and that comments at the meeting will be collected and given to the agency.

However, residents of the Bouchard Drive area, next to the proposed site, continue to fight the proposal, arguing that the site is too close to a residential neighborhood and that the facility should be built instead in one of two industrial sites in town that are on the rail line.

Moreover, the authority refuses to discuss how it could mitigate noise and diesel odors produced by trains as they move in and out of the facility in the middle of the night, said Sullivan, whose Bouchard Drive home is about 100 feet from the site.

Regulation of railroads is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, not local boards.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said residents deserve to be treated fairly by an organization supported in part by tax dollars.

“We need to get this right the first time, that it’s the right location and done properly,” he said. “This is a big deal.”

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