Times Record: Save the rails (Sept. 27, 2013)

With NIMBYs on one side and the commercial establishment of Brunswick squarely on the other, we have reached a bit of a stalemate in the ongoing flap about the building of a proposed maintenance and layover facility for Amtrak’s Downeaster trains, which began service to Brunswick and Freeport last November.

That the facility will be built between Stanwood Street and Church Road is not credibly in dispute.

At last night’s hearing, neighbors of the proposed facility brought a familiar litany of understandable concerns: noise, pollution, vibrations, health, home value, peace of mind. Some of these are more quantifiable than others. All have some value all of us would like to ensure for ourselves and our families. Indeed, some residents of Brunswick feel as if they’re being literally run out of town on a rail.

We are on record supporting the facility as proposed. Having walked Maine Street on a recent Saturday when Amtrak was offering a special $5 fare from Haverhill, Mass., we can report there are literally dozens of new customers coming to the Mid-coast using the luxury and convenience of passenger rail.

This is a story of business success. It should be expanded, not scaled back. And expansion is exactly what officials say the layover facility will help them do.

Residents in the vicinity of the proposed facility are our friends and relatives. They are our readers. We hear their concerns, and we are aggrieved by them.

We would suggest that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority — the operator of the Downeaster — has done well to listen and respond to opponents of the facility. You don’t want to alienate those who would be your customers, or create a situation of anger and mistrust in a host community by automatically shunting aside what appear to be understandable concerns.

NNEPRA has gone the extra mile to bridge that gap.

An assessment has been completed, finding no significant impact. This assessment included the impacts of train noise, vibration and diesel fumes. Indeed, the proposed facility is intended to mitigate the worst of these effects. We’re not sure residents will be able to find the scientific footing to rebut these claims definitively.

But we would suggest that the Town Council, NNEPRA and representatives of the residents affected by the proposal draft a mitigation plan that could include establishing quiet zones, limiting times of train movement — perhaps even impact payments that could help residents install their own soundproofing or make up the difference in lost home value that allows them to sell and go elsewhere, should independent appraisals indicate their home values indeed suffered as a result of the train.

What cannot happen is a scuttling of the facility where it is proposed, nor any further delay in the timetable for construction.

Advocates haven’t — and won’t — be able to get “All Aboard” for the facility. And no one wants to feel railroaded. But our communities’ place in the world is far too enhanced by our new regional transportation links to go backward now.

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