In 2014, Kennebunk voters approved spending town funds to build a seasonal train platform to be a stop on the Amtrak Downeaster line, which travels from Boston to Maine.
But that proposal has gone off the tracks, after a proposal to consider a larger, more expensive year-round station was voted down by the Board of Selectmen last week.
The majority of selectmen said they feel the town’s priorities have changed since the vote was taken and funding items like roads, seawall repairs and the high school renovation, among other projects, comes before paying for a train station, especially as the station in Wells is so close.
In 2014, voters approved a referendum question to take out a bond of about $2.7 million to pay for drainage projects, parking, road repair, and more, along with a seasonal train platform and associated parking on Depot Street near existing railroad tracks.
About $300,000 of the bond had been set aside for the project, which was to be supplemented with $800,000 from the Department of Transportation. If the town does not move forward with the train platform it would likely forfeit the DOT funding.
On Nov. 28, Economic Development Committee Chair Robert Georgitis said if the town were to move forward with a train station it should take a long range view. When planning a seasonal platform, if ridership and demand should grow, what would be needed for a year-round station should be considered as well. He proposed forming a committee to research the matter further.
“The train station, even though it’s seasonal, could be something bigger and better for the community,” Georgitis said. “We’re being shortsighted if we’re just looking at a seasonal stop.” He said bringing people people from Boston and north to the town could be an economic driver for the town.
But the majority of selectman objected to the plan.
“We don’t have enough money to do what we need to do,” Selectman Edward Karytko said. He said he thought that Kennebunk didn’t need it’s own train stop as the one in Wells was close enough.
Selectman William Ward Jr. said he didn’t see the value of a train station. “What’s it really doing for the town?”
There are a number of demands competing for town funding along with building a train stop, Town Manager Michael Pardue said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“A good portion of the school bond is kicking in this year,” he said. The town approved funds for a public service building in June. A permanent repair for the breached seawall at Beach Street and Boothby Road is needed.
Other items to consider if a station were built is where to park cars nearby for traingoers and how to arrange transportation to their destination for town visitors.
Pardue said after consultation with the town’s bond counsel, he was assured that while the Board of Selectmen received authorization from the voters to expend money for a train platform, it was not mandated to spend money to build it.
A vote to form a committee charged with studying the viability of a year-round train stop failed 4-3. However, Pardue said discussion of a train stop is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Dec. 12.
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