PORTSMOUTH — The U.S. Navy has "not requested or budgeted" any money for its portion of the rehabilitation work on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, although a two-state task force expected the Navy to kick in $30 million.
The Navy goes even a step further. Lt. Cmdr. Alan Garas, a public affairs officer with the Navy, said, "should the rail line that is supported by the bridge structure not be available, the Navy will explore other alternatives."
The rail line underneath the Long Bridge deck services only the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The Navy has been the one unknown in funding a rehabilitation on alignment of the Long Bridge, which is expected to cost $118 million.
The Maine Turnpike Authority remains committed to buying the portion of Interstate 95 from the York toll plaza through Kittery from the Maine Department of Transportation at a cost of $28 million, said MTA Executive Director Peter Mills. The remaining costs were expected to be split between Maine and New Hampshire.
Work on the Long Bridge was expected to commence in 2014, although that may be delayed. The N.H. Department of Transportation wants to expand the center span or build a new bridge to accommodate ship traffic upriver at a potential additional cost of $40 million to $60 million.
Asked whether the Navy will commit in the future to the bridge, Garas declined to comment. But Paul O'Connor, president of the shipyard's Metal Trade Council, said don't count on it.
"I'm not at all surprised the Navy has said that," O'Connor said, adding the Department of Defense is facing $487 billion in known cuts over the next decade, and potentially another $600 billion in cuts by the end of this year. "There's not going to be much spending on anything."
The Navy's contribution to the Long Bridge rehabilitation project was laid out in the report of the Bi-State Funding Task Force, formed by both states' governors in 2010 to come up with immediate and long-term funding solutions for all three Piscataqua River bridges. The task force determined the value of the rail line in relation to the overall capital costs of a rehabilitation at $30 million.
"This value is derived by assessing the physical components needed for the rail portion of the bridge, $13 million, and adding in the value derived from the joint use (rail and vehicular) of the bridge," the report states.
The rail line is owned and maintained by Pan Am Railways of North Billerica, Mass. Company Vice President Cynthia Scarano said she did not have enough information to comment on Thursday, but did expect to be able to discuss the issue in the near future.
N.H. DOT Commissioner Chris Clement on Thursday said if the Navy isn't going to be a partner, "that's something Maine and New Hampshire are going to have to talk about. Regardless of which way it was going to go, funding has always been an issue. The Navy just announced major cuts this week."
Bruce Van Note, Maine deputy transportation commissioner, said it would be "premature for funding to be available at this time" from the Navy because the bridge project is still a year away. He said he'll work with New Hampshire and the two states' congressional delegations to "assure that rail service to the shipyard continues, as that is in the best interest of the shipyard and the regional economy."
But perhaps not, said O'Connor. "Don't forget, we have three ways to move material out — rail, road and water, or any combination of the three." O'Connor said he believes there's no correlation between the Navy's decision on the Long Bridge and any implication that it could be tied to a base realignment and closure process.
"We have workload going way out into the future," he said, which he doesn't believe the Navy will jeopardize. "However, the Navy decides to move the material, it will be done and will be done safely."
Even with the snow, Winchester residents showed up in force Thursday night at Town Hall to discuss the freight trains that are stopping the their neighborhood.
According to Winchester resident Susan Busher, a railroad switch has been established by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) at Cross Street at the request of Tighe Trucking, Inc. A railroad siding was also installed, allowing freight trains to come off the commuter rail for the delivery to the backside of Tighe Trucking at 45 Holton Street.
Cynthia Scarano Executive Vice President of Pan Am Railways attended the meeting and informed residents that there is little her company can do because they are a common carrier.
“We’re obligated to deliver to them because we’re a common carrier,” Scarano said. “The customer contacted us and wanted to make deliveries in that area.”
According to Scarano, the freight trains have to be delivered between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid running into the commuter rail, which takes precedence.
“We have a 10-hour window along the Lowell branch to make all our deliveries,” Scarano said.
State Rep. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), who also attended the meeting said that Tighe Trucking wants to use the option of a freight train service as a way to increase the value of the property.
“He looks at it as a way to grow his business,” Lewis said. “He has the right to offer freight service, as a way to market his property.”
Representatives from Tighe Trucking did not attend the meeting.
Winchester resident, Susan Busher, said that the rail service has been inactive for a number of years.
“It has empty for decades,” Busher said. “Residential growth was encouraged, an entire street was built. People didn’t buy into this neighborhood knowing there was going to be freight train service.
“The values of the homes goes down. If you have to move, you can’t sell your property. Besides the quality of life that will suffer, there’s a real vested interest for the residents. For most of us, this is the largest investment we have and it’s not something that you can change easily.”
According to Scarano, those tracks along Holton Street, while they were inactive for a number of years, were not abandoned. In order to abandon a line Pan Am would need to acquire a waiver from the Surface Transportation Board.
Melanie Carden just wanted to know if she could get a full night’s sleep. According to Carden, more than a few times her and her husband have been woken up in the middle of the night due to a train horn, while the freight trains were making their stop.
“We bought our house four years ago and we didn’t sign up for this,” Carden said. “I’m not going to tolerate this. I won’t have it; we’ll move wherever – out of town. We deserve eight hours of sleep a night.”
Scarano said that she can look into the middle of the night train horn, and Town Manager Richard Howard suggested sound barriers to potentially limit the noise. Scarano informed the residents that she had never seen sound barriers used before.
“It would be nice to break the mold and do something nice for a well-established neighborhood,” Howard said.
Olver, Kerry, Brown, Neal: Massachusetts Awarded $2 Million to Initiate Improvements Needed to Expand Freight Rail Service Into New England
WASHINGTON, D.C. – 3/2/2012 - Today, Congressman John W. Olver, along with Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown and Congressman Richard Neal, announced that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has been awarded $2 million to initiate the work necessary to allow double-stack intermodal trains along Pan Am Southern’s Patriot Corridor, a critical first step toward improving and expanding freight rail intermodal service into New England.
This award allows MassDOT, in partnership with Pan Am Southern, to begin the preliminary engineering, design, and environmental assessment work necessary to remove 19 vertical clearance obstructions that prevent double-stack intermodal rail service into New England along the 155-mile Patriot Corridor. Improvements to this line were highlighted as a priority in MassDOT’s 2010 State Rail Plan because of the estimated high return on investment.
As part of this work, MassDOT will move forward with plans to increase the clearance in the Hoosac Tunnel, a 4.75-mile tunnel first constructed in 1875, that has acted as a significant impediment to efficient freight rail travel along the corridor.
“These federal dollars leverage $87.5 million in private investment along the Patriot Corridor and allow Massachusetts to move forward with its efforts to increase and expand freight rail traffic, an effort that has been constrained by low vertical clearances along this critical corridor,” said Congressman Olver. “The addition of freight capacity helps improve roadway safety, decrease the number of trucks on our roadways, and encourages economic development both in the region and across New England.”
“On behalf of the Patrick-Murray Administration, I thank our Congressional partners for helping secure these funds,” said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard A. Davey. “The improvements we will make to the tunnel are necessary for adding additional freight service in this corridor. We know that a reliable, efficient transportation system is critical the economic health of the Commonwealth and the region.”
“This is a big deal in expanding freight capacity along the Patriot Corridor.It’s a boost to the regional economy and ultimately helps free up over-burdened and congested roads,” said Senator John Kerry.
“Improving the Patriot Corridor will promote economic development while providing increased transportation alternatives for the New England region,” said Senator Scott Brown. “I am proud that the Patriot Corridor project received this award and look forward to helping make this interstate collaboration a reality in the coming years.”
"As a strong advocate of rail transportation throughout New England, I am very pleased that this federal investment will help improve service along the Mohawk Trail. The 155 mile Patriot Corridor is an important intermodal freight rail route that connects the Albany and Greater Boston markets. These improvements will significantly improve rail infrastructure, expand capacity on the route and increase train speed. It's another major step forward in our efforts to improve rail transportation in the region," said Congressman Richard E. Neal.
The FRA Rail Line Relocation Grant Improvement Program assists projects that improve community livability and promote economic development by addressing the effects of rail traffic on safety, roadway and pedestrian traffic, overall quality of life and local area commerce. Funding for these grants has been made available through appropriations and requires a 10 percent contribution from the project sponsor.Since FY 2008, Congress has appropriated a total of $90,104,200 for the Rail Line Relocation Grant Improvement Program.
** For more information, contact: Cyndi Roy, MassDOT, 617-973-8472 **
For nearly a year, ethanol trains have been a serious subject for discussion in Revere, but so far they haven’t entered much into the dialogue within Chelsea even though the potentially dangerous trains could be passing right through the heart of the city in just a year’s time.
Advocates in Revere have gone so far as to put a non-binding ballot question up for a vote in last November’s election. The large freight trains that are proposed to travel through many communities on the commuter rail – including Chelsea – and end up in Revere at the Global Oil Terminal, were decidedly rejected in that Revere vote.
Now – in advance of a state public hearing to be held in RevereCity Hall on March 8th – the Chelsea City Council and City Manager Jay Ash have prominently entered the discussion in passing an Official Resolution Monday night that rejects the idea of bringing ethanol trains through Chelsea to Revere.
Such a resolution hasn’t even been passed in Revere, though advocates have called for it more than once.
The Chelsea resolution passed on Monday night by a vote of 9-2, with the two negative votes coming because those councillors felt they needed more time to look into the issue.
“We’re concerned about the safety aspects really more than anything,” said Council President Leo Robinson. “It would be passing by the school and that is a major concern to us.”
Ash said his wing of the city government is also standing tall against Global’s plan.
“ChelseaCity government is very much against it,” he said. “We’re concerned about the potential circumstances that an accident or a terrorist attack would have.”
The ethanol train plan by Global Oil – which is situated on Lee Burbank Highway just across the Creek in Revere – has been one of the most under-the-radar plans proposed in the area over the last year. Concerned citizens and environmental advocates believe the idea could be one of the greatest issues facing the Chelsea and Revere area.
The plan came into focus about 10 months ago during a Conservation Commission meeting in Revere, where numerous activists from Chelsea and East Boston rose in opposition to the plan.
That meeting ignited a fire in Revere, and that community seemed to take the lead in bringing light to the measure.
The Global plan calls for two, 60-car trains loaded with Ethanol – an alcohol based fuel made with corn that is added to gasoline – to pass through Chelsea each week. The freight trains – operated by Norfolk Southern and Pan Am Railways – would navigate on the commuter rail during the night when commuter trains are not running. The operation would amount to more than 187 million gallons of ethanol passing through Chelsea on the commuter rail every year.
After arriving from the Midwest, the trains would start their journey in Albany and travel across western Massachusetts to a railroad hub in Ayer/Ft. Devins. From there, the trains would switch to the commuter rail tracks and proceed through the western suburbs of Boston – finally passing through Boston, Everett and Chelsea before finishing the journey in Revere. Once there, trains would back into the Global Terminal for unloading and be off the tracks before the first morning commuter rail run. Each train would contain a minimum of 60 tank cars, each filled with 30,000 gallons of Ethanol.
Ethanol is federally-required to be blended with gasoline – a 10 percent mixture in Massachusettts – and Global does blend Ethanol with gas on its site. Currently, they bring in Ethanol by truck or by a water barge. However, they do not currently bring in anywhere near the same amounts that are proposed to be brought in by freight train, causing some postulation that they also plan on shipping out Ethanol to foreign countries from their site.
Through an agreement with the commuter rail from the 1970s, the railroad has the exclusive right to use the commuter rail for freight train traffic.
While other Ethanol Trains pass through the state regularly, this is the first plan that would have them operate in a dense urban area and with a final destination point in eastern Massachusetts.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising thing about the plan, according to city officials and activists, is the numerous Ethanol Train explosions that have occurred in other areas of the country. Because Ethanol is a hazardous material that is very volatile and extremely flammable, many trains that derail or get struck by lightening end up exploding into fantastic balls of fire. Videos and news footage of these explosions are enough to make a person stop and think. Some of the explosions have killed bystanders and have forced the evacuation of hundreds of neighboring homes.
Global officials and Fire Chiefs both near and far – including Revere’s Chief Gene Doherty – have said that they believe the trains can be contained and that with careful planning, fire officials can be ready for anything.
Most of the explosions have occurred in extremely rural, remote areas, and they are typically controlled and allowed to burn out over a period of several days.
“Most of those explosions are in remote, hard to get to areas,” said Doherty in a previous interview last year. “First responders cannot get to those explosions quickly and so they get bigger and bigger. I believe we would be able to respond very fast and to contain any accident before it spreads.”
Concerned citizens point out that even a quick response would not be enough in a place like Chelsea. They point to the fact that if there were an accident on the tracks with Ethanol, the dense population in Chelsea could prove to be a deadly combination – like a bomb going off.
To add to the concern, Ethanol Trains have been classified by the federal Department of Homeland Security as a possible threat for terrorist attack – especially at train intersections or during unloading.
At-grade intersections, of course, are of a major concern for Chelsea, which has no fewer than five of those types of railroad crossings in the city.
Ash said it’s hard for him to understand why anyone would be a proponent of such an idea – especially for dense urban areas like Chelsea, Everett and Revere.
“I have spoken with state and federal officials about it to reflect my concerns and I don’t quite understand why, in this post-911 age, we continue to suggest we’re concerned about Homeland Security and we have a process by which something like this can occur,” he said. “I’m not saying it will be the subject of an attack, but it does concern me. Why would you want to allow 1.8 million gallons through a dense community all at once? This will be passing directly by hospitals, senior centers, schools and other buildings of concern.”
Ash and others in City government will be expressing those ideas at the March 8th public hearing, which will be conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and will officially concern the granting of a Chapter 91 Waterways license (since the project at the terminal would be located next to the Creek).
“We’ll be there and communicating these ideas at the upcoming public hearing,” said Ash. “I would say my preference would be to have that Ethanol barged in to the site if it has to go there. Even then, I don’t think it’s a good solution.”