BRUNSWICK — Ridership during the Amtrak Downeaster’s first month of passenger service to Freeport and Brunswick was higher than expected, according to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
Executive Director Patricia Quinn said Tuesday that preliminary ridership north of Portland was 5,200 for November, with an average of 180 rides per day — 80 percent more than projected.
She said the official report for November ridership is expected next week.
But despite — and perhaps, because of — the Downeaster’s early success, noise generated by the train remains a concern for some people who live near the tracks.
Some also have complained about noise created while the trains idle in Brunswick for an average 5½ hours per day, which state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he hopes to address with legislation.
The NNE Passenger Rail Authority plans to build a maintenance facility that will address some of these noise issues by moving the trains indoors, but neighbors remain concerned the site will generate more noise and have a negative effect on their quality of life.
Though the facility has not been funded, some people are preparing to contest the plan.
Gerzofsky said he is introducing legislation to target train-idling near Cedar Street. He said the rumbling and vibrations from the trains have caused distress for some nearby residents.
The bill will be based on an anti-idling law in Massachusetts, Gerzofsky said. It would limit the time a train could idle to 30 minutes and require trains to upgrade their fuel to a type that would make them more efficient and less noisy.
Quinn said the trains idle in Brunswick because Downeaster’s schedule requires a train to stay in town for morning and evening one-way trips. She said the trains must idle to maintain power for certain functions and to stay warm during the winter.
Any limits imposed on idling could threaten the train service, Quinn said. Even so, the authority is working to address the idle time.
Quinn said the rail authority is planning to install an extra track where trains can plug in for electricity, which would decrease the amount of time they would have to idle.
Another plan would see the maintenance facility constructed between Stanwood Street and Church Road, Quinn said. But that has already found opposition from neighbors on Bouchard Drive, a street that runs parallel to the rail yard where the facility would be built.
Dan Sullivan, a Bouchard Drive resident, said he can deal with noise from trains passing on occasion, but the maintenance facility would create a problem.
Sullivan said he and others have been frustrated by the process by which the rail authority chose the site for the maintenance facility, a decision Quinn said was made last year as a result of a public hearing in Brunswick and findings by the rail authority’s board.
“Our board of directors made a decision in August 2011 to choose that site,” Quinn said. She said the site was chosen because it has been a rail yard since 1860 and it’s part of an industry mixed-use zone.
Sullivan said he thinks the authority was not fully honest with the information it presented to the public that led to that decision. There were specifications the board presented that downplayed the effect the facility will have on his neighborhood, he said.
“You can gather statistics and adjust them any way you’d like,” Sullivan said. “We think (the rail authority) did just that.”
Quinn denied that.
“(The authority) has not intentionally misrepresented information,” Quinn said. She said her board responded to questions and concerns during the 2011 hearings and that other sites were reviewed “in earnest.”
Sullivan said he and others were not convinced.
“I am continuing to work with entities to help identify whether the maintenance facility will have a significant impact on the environment,” he said.