EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 25, 2013

Commuters mixed about Plaistow rail station

Plaistow MBTA station gets mixed reviews

By Alex Lippa

---- — Every morning, Jules Lemire makes the 20-minute trek from Kingston to Haverhill, to start her commute to work.

“I just moved from New York,” Lemire said while waiting for the train yesterday morning. “I’m not used to doing all this just to catch the train.”

But things could eventually get easier for Lemire. Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald has been pushing for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail to extend across the border. The town is eyeing a station off Westville Road near the park-and-ride lot.

“We want people to just get more information and consider the possibility,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want people to make up their mind already.”

HDR Engineering will start a feasibility study — at a cost of more than $650,000 — later this year. The firm will do an environmental assessment of sites for a layover facility and a station platform. The study also would include estimates of the operating cost and forecast ridership.

The layover facility may be the tougher sell. A nonbinding, citizen petition warrant article opposing a layover station passed at Town Meeting in 2012, 619-308. The station could move from its current location in Bradford, Mass.

At the Haverhill train station yesterday, opinions were mixed about a new train station in Plaistow.

“I don’t think it makes a big difference to me,” said Terri DeAngelo of Atkinson. “In Haverhill, I would have the option to take Amtrak, too.”

The Amtrak Downeaster runs through Haverhill and makes only one stop before going to Boston. It costs $13 to travel from Haverhill to Boston. The MBTA commuter rail costs $9.25 from Haverhill to Boston, but makes multiple stops.

“If I miss the Amtrak, I can just hop on the commuter rail,” DeAngelo said. “I think I would still travel to Haverhill.”

One factor could influence DeAngelo.

“If they make parking free, then maybe I’d go (to Plaistow),” she said.

Parking at the Haverhill station costs $4.

Yesterday morning, about 25 percent of the cars in the station lot and nearby parking garage had New Hampshire license plates.

Melanie McDowell, 43, of Plaistow said she would likely support a station in her hometown.

“The tracks aren’t near my house,” she said. “Practically, I think i would be for it.”

Peter Merrill, 56, of Exeter said he would like to see the MBTA extend to New Hampshire, but thinks Plaistow is the wrong destination.

“I just don’t see the benefit in it,” he said. “It’s only a few miles away, I feel like only North Haverhill would use it.”

Instead, Merrill sees Exeter as a better alternative.`

“The tracks go up to Exeter already,” he said. “This way you could get riders from the entire seacoast.”

But Fitzgerald said he thinks having a Plaistow station would make a difference to Southern New Hampshire residents.

“It can take as much of a half hour to get from Plaistow to Haverhill,” he said. “That can be a significant impediment.”

Mike Rutledge, 45, of Raymond is one rider who would take advantage of a station in Plaistow.

“It’s cheaper and it would be a little more convenient for me,” he said. “It makes sense.”

Plaistow has been granted $10.4 million from the state for the project, with $658,316 to be used on the feasibility study. But if the project is realized, there would be a funding gap of some $19.1 million, with a total project cost estimate of $29.5 million.