Friday, November 10, 2017

Could the Brunswick Layover Facility Have Operating Problems?


A column of ours appears in today’s edition of the local newspaper, as shown above.  The link to the full column is this:

Knowing that most of our readership doesn’t read the paper, or have access to its digital pages, we’re posting the original here for your convenience:


(note that meeting start time has since been changed to 7:30 pm)

Times Record: Downeaster has a problem moving east

Complaints of excessive noise from Amtrak Downeaster train movements in Brunswick have become a significant public issue. A formal complaint has been filed with the town, along with numerous complaints by email. Accordingly, the Town Council has scheduled a Workshop for Tuesday, November 14th, at 7 pm.. Officials from NNEPRA and federal rail agencies will brief the council on technicalities associated with train noises, and possible remedies to lessen noise pollution.

The $15 million Brunswick Layover Facility (BLF) was built by NNEPRA to simplify train operations, increase daily round trips, and minimize unnecessary train movements. The BLF has three doors at the East end and three doors at the West end, along with “ladder tracks” to use these doors for entry and departure.

The idea was that if a train being laid over had to move to Maine St. Station, it would exit the east end and head directly to the station. If an incoming train from points south pulled into the Station, and was scheduled to layover, it would backup and enter the east end doors. This would minimize the grade crossings for such movements, and hence noise and diesel fumes generated by movements.

Empirical evidence at this point suggests that east end access doors and tracks are not being used. Instead, a train stored in the BLF moving to the Station exits West end doors, heads west across Church Road so a switch can be thrown, and then back across Church Road and on to the station. Similarly, when a train at the Station heads to the BLF, it passes east end access, makes two crossings at Church Road, and then enters the facility west end.

Each movement therefore creates two additional grade crossings, with attendant whistles, traffic interruptions, and diesel pollution. This can happen multiple times per day, adding significantly to aggregate noise and pollution.

One approach the upcoming Workshop will consider is “Quiet Crossings,” as Freeport currently has. Qualifying for such crossings is complex, and if approved, requires considerable expense to upgrade each crossing. This expense will likely fall completely upon Brunswick, since it will have been instigated by town decree, not by federal regulations governing train operations.

Several weeks ago I submitted a formal request to NNEPRA asking whether east end access doors and tracks at the BLF were routinely being used for applicable train movements. I got no answer, nor even a reply I wrote again, and have yet to hear back on that inquiry. I can't help but wonder whether there are significant design and/or construction issues with the BLF that NNEPRA doesn't wish to acknowledge. Public comment is not allowed at the Workshop, so NNEPRA's leadership will not have to publicly explain things.

Noise pollution associated with Brunswick crossings will become more troubling when the Downeaster adds summer trips to Rockland as recently announced. This will add grade crossings at Maine Street, Park Row, Jordan Avenue, Dragon Cement, Merrymeeting Plaza, Cooks Corner, Old Bath Road, BIW Harding Facility access, and New Meadows Motel access. While the private crossings may not be affected, the six public crossings in town presumably will. Depending on schedules, additional movements in and out of the BLF area, with associated crossings and diesel pollution, may also be involved.

When I met with a then NNEPRA Board Member with actual railroading experience some years ago to discuss BLF location, he said the BLF could not be built at the “Crooker Site” in the Cooks Corner area. The reason? Because the grade crossings east of Brunswick Station would each require upgrading to Downeaster Standards. There are six of those just in Brunswick, with who knows how many north of town limits. He said it would cost “millions of dollars” to do so.

Given the natural way of all things governmental, and especially all things federal, whatever numbers are tossed around this coming Tuesday should be taken with several grains of diesel dust. While the expense to move the BLF a few miles east and out of a residential area was prohibitive, suddenly we'll hear that taking excursions up the coast for a few months will be “well worth the cost.”

Whatever it may be. And how much of it will fall upon you, me, and that guy behind the tree.

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