FALMOUTH — The town is expected to take steps to expand its no-whistle zone before the Amtrak Downeaster extends passenger train service from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick next year.

The Town Council heard Monday night from several residents who live near railroad crossings at Blackstrap, Falmouth, Field and Woodville roads and support an expanded no-whistle zone.

The council will vote Dec. 12 on a proposal to spend as much as $137,000 to make safety improvements at the four crossings so that train engineers would blow the whistle only in emergencies.

“We’re used to the trains,” said George Burns, a longtime Falmouth Road resident. “We’ve never gotten used to the whistles.”

To accommodate the Downeaster, which will run faster than freight trains, Amtrak and Pan Am Railways have upgraded 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 town must make additional safety improvements to preserve no-whistle zones at Blackstrap and Falmouth roads and add quiet zones at Field and Woodville roads.

The improvements would include the addition of raised road medians, each 60 to 100 feet long, to channel motor vehicle traffic as it approaches the crossings. The crossings already have gates.

Money for the crossing upgrades would come from the town’s undesignated fund, said Town Manager Nathan Poore. The road work would be done next spring and summer.

Officials in neighboring Cumberland are considering similar safety improvements at several railroad crossings.

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

The number of trains will increase when passenger service starts. The Downeaster will make three round trips per day; most residents and motorists now see four to eight freight trains per day, each with three locomotives and 50 cars.

Without a quiet zone, an engineer must sound the train whistle at least one-quarter mile or 20 seconds before a railroad crossing when traveling 60 mph, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: kbouchard@pressherald.com