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Amtrak work keeping Niantic residents awake

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published September 20. 2013 4:00AM
Railroad violates its own policy, fails to notify East Lyme of plans for overnight construction

East Lyme - Residents who live by the railroad tracks near Crescent Beach have been burning the midnight oil lately.

"No one is sleeping," said Ron Staskelunas, who lives on Terrace Avenue. "There are families, a lot of families with kids in the neighborhood, and nobody is getting rest, and we are just kind of up in arms and upset about it."

Amtrak has been replacing defective concrete railroad ties - the concrete that goes beneath the rails - along the 457-mile Northeast corridor for a couple of years now, Cliff Cole, spokesman for Amtrak, said.

The railroad did not notify East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica or Niantic residents in advance of the noisy night work on Track 1 and apologized Thursday for the oversight.

"We should have notified the residents," Cole said. "We apologize for not making the advanced notification in this case."

The work will continue on the Niantic side of the Amtrak Niantic River Bridge through Tuesday night. No work will take place on Sunday night.

Concrete tie replacement on Track 1 is expected to begin on the Waterford side of the bridge next week but should take place only during the day, according to Amtrak.

The whole process will be repeated for Track 2. Work on the Niantic side will begin sometime between Oct. 25 and Oct. 28. There will be about four nights of work near the Crescent Beach area.

Work will progress east to Shaw's Cove in New London and should be completed by Nov. 25, according to an email from William Hollister, principal officer of Amtrak Government Affairs.

Staskelunas said the noise was echoing from block to block in the neighborhood Wednesday night. The machinery, the engines, the unloading of concrete ties, the backup alarms from trucks, and horns that sounded every time a train approached, all conspired to keep the neighborhood up all night, he said. The construction crew also used lights that lit up the place like Fenway Park, Staskelunas said.

"No one ever warned us, told us, gave us a heads-up. No one told us when they would work so we could all find another place to sleep for the night," he said. "Why can't they supply us with rooms?"

Cole said that during longer-term projects, if residents come forward, Amtrak does on occasion put neighbors up in hotel rooms for the night.

"But for projects that last a week or two, while I am not diminishing anyone's comfort level, that is not something we usually get into," Cole said.

Jessica Fitzgerald, another Terrance Avenue resident, said she doesn't understand why Amtrak has to do the work at night.

She said she couldn't reduce the construction noises - not by closing her windows or running the fan, air-conditioning or heat.

"It's so loud," she said. "Just the crushing of the cement shakes your house."

Nighttime work is preferable because that's when fewer trains are running, Cole said.

Formica said he has received complaints from 10 different people in recent days. He said he emailed state Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, for help, as well as Amtrak to find out why residents weren't notified. Formica also asked for a security guard at the work site because of complaints of foul language and littering. Amtrak has agreed to place a guard at the site, Cole said.

He also said Amtrak staff recently had notified Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward about the upcoming construction in his town. Amtrak's policy is to notify the first selectman of a town far enough in advance so that he or she may notify the residents, he said.

j.somers@theday.com

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