ROCKLAND — The City Council is exploring the possibility of hiring an environmental expert to test emissions from the Maine Eastern Railroad locomotives.
City attorney Kevin Beal met with the City Council on Wednesday night to discuss the existing regulatory authority of railroad operations.
In 2006, when passenger service began running again in Rockland after ending in 1959, Code Enforcement Officer John Root did considerable research reviewing his authority as a code enforcement officer and reviewing options in the code that he might use in enforcement, Beal said.
“There have been ongoing complaints this year against the seasonal restart of the train at the station in regards to noise and emissions, substantially affecting the lives of the people in the homes,” Beal said.
Maine Eastern Railroad addressed some of the concerns this year by switching to a low-sulfur fuel, which has fewer particulates but a more offensive odor than the old fuel.
The council is limited in its authority to enforce the railroad because of Interstate Commerce Commission regulations covering trains. The ICC can override local and state regulations on railroads in the interest of public safety, he said.
After a brief discussion, Councilor Thomas Molloy pointed out that the council does not want to regulate the railroad or interfere with the ICC.
“Nobody has said to get rid of the train,” Molloy said. “We want to regulate the odor and noise. We’re trying to address the neighbors’ concerns of health and noise.”
Beal said that Congress is the only legislative body that can regulate the railroads.
“We have to take some steps and try some things,” said Councilor Deb McNeil. The concerns have been more about the railroad idling its diesel engine locomotive near the station for too long a time. The railroad said it would limit the idling to 30 minutes, but several people have timed the idling and found it to be in excess.
Councilors realized that the state and the neighbors have monitored the emissions, but the city has not.
“First we need the data,” said Councilor Brian Harden.
The council took no action but agreed to look into a request for a proposal for hiring an environmental consultant.