would leave the station

Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
It’s standard procedure for a train approaching a railroad crossing to sound its whistle to alert the people who might be happening by. Too bad Pan Am Railways didn’t give similar consideration to the Northampton residents who recently found themselves surprised by a noisy, smelly and obnoxiously lit new neighbor.

As part of a push to prepare tracks between Springfield and the Vermont border for new high speed rail service, a crew of 100 workers hit town the week after Independence Day. The project — clearing obstacles, ripping up old tracks and laying new ones to provide the smooth ride needed for passenger service — enjoys broad support, including among the residents of North and Market streets.

But those residents weren’t so pleased to wake up one day — or more precisely, in the middle of one night — to find 25 railroad cars parked on the tracks running through their neighborhood. And the boxy cars were not alone; they were accompanied by the large generators needed to run air conditioners, lights, television sets and other features of what amounted to a camp for the workers.

Compounding the aggravation, the neighbors had zero advance notice of the intrusion, which was scheduled to last three weeks.

“This is noise pollution at its best,” said Brigitte Parot, who lives at 50 North St. and is one of those who found the encampment in her backyard. “It’s really thoughtless. Do they not realize people live here?”

When Gazette reporter Chad Cain called Pan Am to pose that question, spokeswoman Cynthia Scarano said that worker camps are a standard feature of such projects. “They almost bring a village with them,” she said. “It’s like moving their office.”

While the work crews come to the camp for meals and snacks, Scarano said, they spend their nights at a home base in Holyoke. “They don’t sleep there,” she assured.

Hmmm. Tell that to the neighbors who reported lights blaring, generators fuming and noise emanating from the encampment through what quickly became very long summer nights. And the ruckus arrived during a stretch of hot weather that left some with no choice but to leave the windows of their once-quiet homes open.

“The cars have been running 24/7,” said Jennifer Dieringer, who lives with her husband and 5-year-old son right next to the tracks. “We’ve been spending as little time at home as possible.”

Nobody has criticized the workers themselves, who by all accounts are working hard to do their part in the $83 million Knowledge Corridor project that could eventually bring commuter lines to Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield. Two workers who spoke to Cain said that while some workers sleep in hotels, others sleep in the cars after a workday that begins at 6 a.m. and stretches until midnight.

Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan R. O’Donnell said the neighborhood he represents deserved a little more notice — and lot more respect.

“The workers are doing a hard job and they are entitled to accommodations, but residents are required to get information,” he said. “People are very upset about this and rightfully so. They have a reasonable expectation of peace and quiet during construction projects during late hours.”

Late last week, O’Donnell said that he and other officials have been scrambling to get the railroad company or state transportation officials to do something to soften the impact. Less nighttime activity, relocating to a less residential stretch of track or erecting some kind of sound barriers could have helped. But two weeks into what is supposed to be a three-week operation, he said, residents are reporting nothing but continued frustration.

“Pan Am doesn’t seem to know if its workers are living there,” O’Donnell said. “It also doesn’t seem to care that Northampton residents are also living there.”

At this point, probably the best the neighborhood can hope for is that the workers will wrap up their work soon and their cars will rumble off to another location.

If the Northampton neighbors line the tracks to cheer their departure, perhaps their voices will carry like a warning whistle to the next unsuspecting community down the line.