PLAISTOW — Selectman Larry Gil approached Haverhill, Mass., officials for years to discuss extending the commuter rail into Plaistow, but always failed.
"It was like I was speaking a foreign language," he said. "They'd point out all the obstacles, that the state Legislature would have to approve it."
So Gil was shocked when he learned last week that the Massachusetts Senate Transportation Committee had taken up the issue themselves, he said.
Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, chairman of the committee, has said neighbors of the Bradford layover station — where trains park and idle overnight — have had enough of the noise. Bradford is a section of Haverhill.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is looking at property north of downtown Haverhill for a new commuter stop and layover station. Some of that property is in Plaistow, according to Baddour.
Plaistow officials don't know where it would go or how it would be funded, but they are eager to begin researching the possibility of commuter rail extending to their town. If the rail line were extended to Plaistow, the layover station also would be sited there, Baddour said.
Gil approached the Planning Board Wednesday to talk about logistics. He said he plans to bring it up at the selectmen's meeting tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.
The positives would have to outweigh the negatives — noise, fumes and potential petroleum spills, Gil said. But commuter rail is something Plaistow officials have wanted for at least five years.
The town previously discussed trying to bring Amtrak's Downeaster through Plaistow, but ultimately decided the town couldn't afford it.
"But this is coming a different way now," Gil said.
In his research, Gil said, he found that the MBTA has a layover station in Rhode Island, which suggests crossing the border into New Hampshire might not be a big issue. The state needs to start looking at transportation alternatives, given the problems with the proposed widening of Interstate 93, he said.
Planning coordinator Leigh Komornick spent much of Friday trying to obtain paperwork on Bradford's layover station. She said she learned Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency changed the air standards, and now trains only have to idle if the temperature is below zero. That could make the whole issue moot, since Bradford residents were angry about the noise, she said.
Some residents think the idea is a good one.
Pam Johansson, 22, said she thinks she would be employed if there were a public transportation option from Plaistow, where her mother moved while Johansson was in college. She graduated almost a year ago and has been searching for a job ever since.
"There are so many more opportunities in the city," Johansson said. "But I won't drive there and sit in traffic every day."
Sitting in traffic is exactly what Tony Grey does each workday to get to his job in the financial district, his wife, Kristy, said.
The Greys chose to raise their children in New Hampshire, but the commute almost defeats the purpose because Tony Grey is gone about 11 hours a day.
If her husband could take the train to Boston from Plaistow, Kristy Grey said, she firmly believes it would be quicker and get him home for dinner some nights.
"Trains don't get stuck in traffic," she said. "It's a straight shot."
Sandra Smith said she decided to retire soon after moving from North Andover, Mass., to Atkinson. A lawyer, Smith said the extra 30 minutes in the car — each way — quickly got to her.
"I always brought work home with me, but there was an hour less in my day to get that work done," she said. "If I could have taken a train and prepared along the way, I would have practiced longer."