The MBTA is looking to extend the Haverhill-to-Boston commuter rail line closer to New Hampshire, possibly even setting up a stop in Plaistow, according to a Massachusetts lawmaker.
Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is negotiating to buy property north of downtown Haverhill for a new commuter stop and to also provide space for a layover station — a place where trains park and idle overnight.
The layover station has been located at Haverhill's Bradford commuter station since 1987. Neighbors of that station have complained for years that the idling trains wake them up in the early morning hours and send fumes through the open windows of homes during the summer.
"The neighbors in Bradford have had to deal with the layover station near their homes for long enough," Baddour said.
The MBTA is looking at several locations in Haverhill and Plaistow for the layover station and new commuter stop, said Baddour, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He said the MBTA should know by the end of the year whether the new station is going to happen.
Plaistow officials have been trying to get a commuter rail stop in town for years without success.
Selectman Dan Poliquin was excited to learn that dream could finally become a reality.
"I think it would be a definite benefit," he said. "So if it would benefit Plaistow and the area towns, we'll take it."
Town Manager Jason Hoch was a little more skeptical. He said the plan was always for Plaistow to complement the station in Haverhill.
"However it gets here, we would love it," he said. "But I don't think the conversation has ever been to take it at Haverhill's expense ... we want to share, not take."
Part of Hoch's hesitation is due to the fact the MBTA would have to cross into New Hampshire. The authority doesn't serve any state other than Massachusetts, he said. To make the change, he said, there would be too many "bureaucratic obstacles" to overcome.
Plaistow has held commuter rail discussions with the Amtrak Downeaster in the past, he said. The purpose has been to cut down on the traffic traveling farther down Route 125. Moving the station north would actually create more traffic on Route 125 as people from Massachusetts could likely drive to Plaistow to get on the train to Boston.
"It's kind of self-defeating. You are just shuffling cars around," Hoch said. "The purpose is to make vehicle trips shorter."
Baddour said he has secured $10 million to move the Bradford layover facility in the Massachusetts Senate's version of the new transportation bond bill. The money can be used to buy land, move the layover facility and build a new station, he said.
While only the governor can release money for items in the transportation bond bill, the authority also has its own money it could use for the project, Baddour said
Last year, the MBTA considered moving the layover station to the former Lucent Technologies site in North Andover, where a new commuter stop was also being considered. North Andover opposed the layover, however, and it did not go forward for that and other reasons, Baddour said.
Adding a stop in North Andover would have further extended the long train ride to Boston, he said. Adding a stop north of Haverhill would not affect the ride to Boston because downtown Haverhill is the last stop on the line.
Baddour said it is premature to identify the sites being considered for the new station because the MBTA is in active negotiations for the privately owned lands. The authority could also use eminent domain powers to seize the property determined to best suit the needs of the region and its ridership, he said. Each of the sites being eyed is in a rural area and not close to homes, he said.