Consultants and the DOT are working on a study that could expand commuter rail service from Haverhill into Plaistow. (ADAM SWIFT/Union Leader Correspondent)
Residents voice concerns over rail service in Plaistow
PLAISTOW — During a public listening session at town hall on Thursday night, state transportation officials and planning consultants made it clear that they were looking for citizen input on the possibility of the MBTA extending commuter rail service over the state line from Haverhill to Plaistow.
“We are coming out to the public a little earlier than we normally would,” said Mark Sanborn, the federal liaison for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. “There has been a lot of public debate about the possibility of rail service coming to this part of the state. We wanted to start out talking to all of you with an informational meeting to hear the needs of the residents of Plaistow.”
Over the next year, Sanborn said HDR Associates will complete a study that will look at options for extending rail service from Haverhill into Plaistow. That study will look at possible locations for a railroad station and layover facility, as well as taking into account the cost and potential ridership for a commuter rail extension.
While Sanborn and several HDR representatives laid out a basic outline for how the study will proceed, Sanborn reiterated several times that the only thing that has gotten the go-ahead so far is the study.
“We know there are a lot of concerns,” said Sanborn. “We are gathering information for you so you can make an informed decision.”
During the meeting, a number of residents laid out many of those concerns, from noise and pollution associated with a potential station and layover facility to fears about the possibility that a commuter rail station would bring increased crime to Plaistow.
Several people also referenced a non-binding petition vote from last year where residents overwhelmingly stated they did not want a layover facility in the town.
“Two-thirds of the town’s residents said they did not want this, yet here we are and they are taking taxpayer money to fund something that we do not want,” said Plaistow resident Tom Alberti. He noted that the Haverhill station is only about six miles from Plaistow and that there is not a huge need to extend the service into Plaistow.
Sanborn noted that the funding for the study comes from the Federal Transit Administration and is set aside specifically for rail projects.
Former Haverhill and current Plaistow resident Brian Hall said he was concerned about the noise and vibration from the trains.
“I lived a mile from the station and I could hear the noise and feel the vibrations just from the station,” said Hall. “I’m glad that I don’t live there now.”
While a number of people spoke against extending rail service to Plaistow, there were several people who said they either supported extending service or at the least wanted to hear the results of the study before making a final decision.
“I don’t have the luxury of getting into a car and driving to a train station because I’m legally blind,” said Rick Blair. “I would love to have a train station in Plaistow. I’m hearing a lot of negative things, but what is being proposed here is a comprehensive study on whether a train would make sense in Plaistow.”
Plaistow resident Larry Gill also said residents should take a close look at the study before making up their minds on a potential rail project.
Several residents asked if the rail station or layover facility could be built in town if the residents opposed it.
Sanborn said the rail project would need the approval of the state legislature and governor.
However, resident Robert Clark noted that New Hampshire does not have a host community statute that would specifically let the town vote to stop the project.
Plaistow Selectmen Chairman Robert Gray said he could not imagine the selectmen would move forward with the project without residents taking a vote on it.
As the study continues in its initial stages, Sanborn said there will be a community advisory board formed that will include residents from the communities impacted by the study. He also said there would be more public input sessions as the study moves forward.
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