EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 7, 2014

Sites unveiled for potential Plaistow rail station

Eight locations studied in Plaistow, Atkinson, Haverhill

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — The engineering firm hired to study the possibility of commuter rail coming into Southern New Hampshire unveiled possible sites for a layover and commuter station yesterday.

There are six potential sites for a layover station and five for a passenger station.

Three of the layover stations would be located in Plaistow, with two touching the Plaistow border in Atkinson and one in Haverhill, Mass. Four of the five passenger stations are located in Plaistow, with one touching the Plaistow border in Atkinson.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation directed HDR Engineering to look at all possible sites north of the existing Haverhill station up to the Newton line.

“These are sites that could be considered doable,” HDR Engineering project manager Ron O’Blenis said.

The locations were unveiled at a meeting of the Plaistow Rail Advisory Committee. Stakeholders from HDR Engineering, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, NHDOT, Rockingham Planning Commission, and Plaistow and Atkinson representatives were present.

While there are 11 options for the two stations, there are only eight separate locations. Three locations are being looked at for both a commuter station and a layover station.

“It would make sense for the layover station and passenger station to be located near each other,” said John Weston of HDR Engineering. “But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.”

Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald cautioned that this just a very early step in a long process.

“This is preliminary and there will be a lot of configurations,” he said. “These sites will be vetted through technical discussions. There will be a public meeting to present these options and why a number of them won’t work.”

The northernmost layover station would be located at the Newton border off Kingston Road.

“That area presents concerns because it’s located in a residential area and close to an aquifer,” Fitzgerald said.

There are two layover/passenger station options located west of Main Street. Two other options for layover stations are located in Atkinson at the Plaistow border, north of Route 121. A final layover station option is in Haverhill, close to Hilldale Avenue.

Atkinson resident Robert Clark said he preferred the site closest to Newton.

“It seems to fit all the criteria while impacting the least amount of people,” he said. “Certainly, there would be some people in Plaistow impacted, but not nearly as much as the two Atkinson sites.”

Clark said he was disappointed the Haverhill site was included.

“We’re using New Hampshire money for this project,” he said. “Why are we using that to look at Massachusetts sites?”

The study costs approximately $659,000.

There was one site that Plaistow and Atkinson officials agreed not to consider — the Westville Homes site off Blossom Road.

The firm is going to do an environmental assessment of the sites as part of the study. The study also would include estimates of the operating costs and forecast ridership.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has been looking to replace the layover station in Bradford, which they have said is outdated.

But the possibility of a layover station in Plaistow has caused controversy.

In a nonbinding referendum in 2012, 619 residents said they would not be in favor of a layover station in Plaistow, while just 308 residents said they would be in favor. An additional 227 residents requested more information.

Prior to the meeting yesterday, two Plaistow residents spoke out in support of the study.

“We need to develop a mass transit system for the town of Plaistow,” said Larry Gil, a former selectman. “I’m dismayed to hear the negativity of the project before it is even given a chance.”

Plaistow resident Rick Blair said a passenger station would benefit him because he is legally blind.

“Whether it’s good for us or not, we haven’t found out yet,” he said. “I can’t get to Boston via car. I can’t get to Haverhill via car. It opens up lots of opportunities for those of us that can’t drive.”

The study is expected to be completed by the end of this year.