By Alex Lippa
---- — The future of commuter rail in Plaistow is uncertain, but local lawmakers are trying their best to derail any potential problems coming down the track.
Legislation has been proposed by Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow, to limit the idling of commuter rail trains in New Hampshire to just 30 minutes. There is currently no limit.
The bill was proposed in case the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority extends its rail line through Plaistow.
“It gives the communities an opportunity to regulate the locomotives,” Major said.
Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said the bill is necessary if commuter rail were to come to Plaistow. The MBTA line ends in neighboring Haverhill.
“This is just one of the things that must happen if we are going to seriously go forward with the feasibility of commuter rail in Plaistow,” he said.
Town officials have been looking to bring commuter rail into Plaistow for years, saying it would provide an economic boost. But there have been many concerns about potential air and noise pollution.
“We are going to continue to evaluate how we can support clean air and ensure the best possible mitigation for any of the impacts associated with a project of this magnitude,” Fitzgerald said.
Major and bill co-sponsors Rep. William Friel, R-Atkinson, and Rep. Debra DeSimone, R-Atkinson, presented the proposal to the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee on Tuesday.
The state representatives worked with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to push the bill.
“We are always in favor of implementing programs which reduce emissions,” said Rebecca Ohler, the department’s transportation and energy programs manager.
Ohler said there are few reasons why a train should be left with its engine running.
“You can do electric shore power and auxiliary power units, which serve the same function,” she said. “There can be some idling for maintenance reasons, idling can be eliminated through current technology.”
Plaistow Selectman John Sherman urged Major to sponsor the bill.
“New Hampshire should have a law that restricts idling in order to protect the natural environment from air pollution and that protects individual residents and neighbors by reducing noise pollution,” Sherman said.
The restrictions could prevent a layover station from being built in Plaistow. The closest layover station is in Bradford, Mass.
“That would be fine with me,” Sherman said. “It’s the right thing to do for any potential layover station, built anywhere in New Hampshire.”
Major said the legislation was tailored after the law in Massachusetts, which also limits idling to 30 minutes.
The bill allows local police to enforce the law. A first offense would carry a fine of no more than $500 and future offenses are punishable by maximum fines of $2,000.
It has not been determined if the operator or the train company would be fined.
The bill would not apply to freight train and amusement railroads unless they are within 1,000 feet of a residential area.
The Department of Transportation will conduct a feasibility study on the construction of a layover station and expansion of commuter rail. Last month, Plaistow and Atkinson agreed not consider a site on Blossom Road in Atkinson for the study.