CUMBERLAND — Cumberland and Falmouth town councilors began working Monday on a plan to create no-whistle zones at several railroad crossings before Amtrak’s Downeaster adds passenger service from Portland to Brunswick in 2012.

Town officials are talking about preserving existing quiet zones and seeking approval for new ones from the Federal Railroad Administration, which has strict criteria for approving such zones.

The safety upgrades required for each quiet zone – such as crossing gates, lights and median barriers – could be expensive. Costs would range from $13,000 to $200,000 per crossing and would be borne by each municipality, said Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s long-range planning director.

“These days, cost is a factor as well as safety,” said Bill Stiles, a longtime Cumberland councilor. “The towns need to work together to assess the need and figure out what it’s going to cost.”

A few officials from Freeport, which has several crossings and will have a Downeaster stop, also attended the evening meeting at Town Hall.

To accommodate the faster Downeaster, Amtrak and Pan Am Railways are upgrading 30 miles of track from Portland to Brunswick, as well as gates and signals at 36 crossings, according to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

The five-car passenger trains will travel 30 to 70 mph, depending on track conditions and population density, according to the rail authority. Freight trains currently run 10 to 20 mph in most areas, but can go as fast as 40 mph.

The number of trains also will increase. Three Downeaster round trips per day will pass through areas where most residents and motorists currently see four to eight freight trains per day, each with three locomotives and 50 cars.

The Downeaster will be housed and maintained in Brunswick, where the first train will head out at 4:30 a.m. and the last train will return at 3 a.m., so its impact will be nearly around the clock.

Train engineers must sound the whistle at least one-quarter mile or 20 seconds before a railroad crossing when traveling 60 mph, said Randall Dickinson, regional manager of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The whistle’s sound level must be 96 to 110 decibels, although some engineers “feather” or modulate their whistles as they approach residential areas, Dickinson said.

Crossings discussed Monday were Blackstrap, Falmouth, Field and Woodville roads in Falmouth; Muirfield Road on the Falmouth-Cumberland town line; and Longwoods, Tuttle and Greely roads in Cumberland.

The crossings at Blackstrap and Falmouth roads have existing quiet zones. The crossing at Muirfield Road, in the Falmouth on the Green subdivision, doesn’t require safety upgrades because it’s a private road, Dickinson said.

Private roads also aren’t covered by the same federal regulations that allow quiet zones at public roads, Dickinson said. He suggested that the towns work together to establish quiet zones at Woodville and Longwoods roads that would encompass Muirfield Road.

“It’s about quality of life,” said Rich Gill, a resident of Falmouth on the Green. “I moved near railroad tracks, so I understand what that means and I’m concerned about safety. But I think everyone understands better now what the process is and that it wouldn’t be such a challenge fiscally to have the quiet zone.”

Even if the towns create quiet zones, Dickinson warned that people probably will continue to enter the railroad right of way illegally to walk, hunt or ride ATVs. And engineers will continue to blow their whistles, warning them to get out of the way.

“You can’t fix stupid,” Dickinson said. “The locomotive engineer is going to start blowing his horn whether it’s a quiet zone or not.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]