HAVERHILL — Commuter rail officials will bring in newer, cleaner burning locomotive engines and change the procedures for morning start-ups after neighbors complained the MBTA has not done enough to reduce noise, vibrations and fumes they say continue to plague their part of the city.
They said their ultimate goal is to get the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to move the layover station out of Haverhill, but as an interim measure they want locomotive engine idling to be less intrusive, and happen for shorter periods of time.
They say excessive idling causes the windows in their homes to rattle, results in noise reverberating for blocks and fills the air with clouds of noxious fumes.
City Councilor Melinda Barrett, who has been working with neighbors along with state Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, and state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, to get the MBTA to address these problems, said Monday's meeting in City Hall was another step in the right direction.
"If we did nothing to help the neighbors, where would we be?" said Barrett, a Bradford resident who has taken a lead on the idling train issue.
Front Street resident Joseph Zappala, whose backyard overlooks the layover station, outlined concerns to Jody Ray, general manager of railroad operations for the MBTA and Ryan Coholan, chief railroad officer for the MBTA.
Zappala, who took over the fight from his mother, Mary Zappala, said residents in his neighborhood have been battling to get the layover station out of Haverhill for the last 30 years and that short of getting it moved, changes need to be made.
Zappala said the MBTA addressed several concerns following a 2014 meeting at Northern Essex Community College attended by the MBTA and Keolis Commuter Services, which manages the commuter rail line, along with city and state officials.
At that meeting, Zappala was asked to be a point of contact for neighbors.
"The got rid of the screamers, which were the noisiest locomotive engines, and they provided us with a hot-line and a contact person we can go to," Zappala said.
Officials said those particularly noisy F40 diesel locomotives create a screaming sound when started up and during idling. They were replaced with newer models that are less noisy and emit fewer pollutants.
At Monday's meeting, Ray and Coholan agreed to continue offering a hot-line that neighbors can call to report concerns of excessive idling and other issues, and told Zappala he could continue contacting the Keolis representative he has been reporting his concerns to.
"What we are trying to do is to ensure there is a protocol in place," Coholan told Zappala.
O'Connor Ives pressed MBTA officials for a response to neighbor concerns about excessive idling, vibration, noise and fumes.
"What can be done in terms of equipment?" she asked.
Roy said the MBTA can do several things in the short term, noting it had already removed "screamers" from the layover station. He said a priority will be to bring in more new MPI 2000-series trains the MBTA purchased, and retrofit older locomotive engines with automatic start and shutdown systems that will help avoid mechanical problems that can result in longer idling times.
Zappala said a big problem is when two trains are idling side-by-side, which he said causes a reverberation effect that impacts the neighborhood.
"It creates a sound wave you can hear in our homes," Zappala said.
Ray said the MBTA will make some procedural changes and will also keep older F40PH-2 engines away from the layover station
"We'll try to put specific locomotive engines that neighbors have identified as less bothersome at the layover station," Ray said about the locomotive engines that park there. "They identified the PH-2 as a problem, so we'll assign more MPI Series-2000 engines to Haverhill."
Zappala told Ray and Coholan that excessive morning idling is a problem and that as many as four locomotive engines are started up at around 4 a.m. daily.
In response, Ray said the MBTA will install an instructional sign for train maintainers, who he said typically rotate from one layover station to another. He said this should eliminate any misunderstanding on the part of train maintainers as to the order in which locomotive engines should be started in preparation for their first run of the day.
"They don't need to start an engine earlier than needed, and there should not be more than two engines idling at a time," Ray said.
O'Connor Ives asked if Haverhill could benefit from the same kind of $5 million power upgrade project that just began at the commuter rail station in Rockport, which will allow trains to plug in and, in theory, idle less at the last stop on the line from Boston.
Ray responded, saying "They (Rockport) will get what you already have."
Campbell said that since the 2014 meeting at Northern Essex Community College, the MBTA has been making progress in responding to neighborhood concerns.
"What we can work on in the short term is to get as many Series-2000 engines as possible, although we have more of them now that before," she said. "And we can retrofit older trains with auto start and shut down so we end up with less idling."
Both Campbell and O'Connor Ives said the long-term goal would be to have the layover station moved out of Haverhill.
"Some really good action steps they will be taking are to remove the PH-2 engines and replace them with Series-2000 engines, and install that sign for train maintainers," O'Connor Ives said immediately following the meeting. "Our goal today was also to ensure a hot-line will still be available for residents to call."
Germain Avenue resident Bert LaCerte Jr. said he wants the MBTA to build a containment barn for idling trains, and that such a barn should include a "scrubber" device that would prevent what he said are "poisonous" pollutants spewing from diesel locomotive engines, from spreading through the neighborhood.
LaCerte said he has contacted the office of Attorney General Maura Healey to report what he said are possible violations of train idling laws and also what he says is pollution from idling trains.
Residents with concerns about excessive train idling, noise and fumes at the Bradford layover station can call 617-431-8996.