— Town councilors voted Tuesday to designate the town a quiet zone, the first step toward stopping high-decibel whistle blasts from passing Downeaster trains.
The vote, taken shortly after 10 p.m., was 5-1 with one councilor absent.
“We know that once you stop blowing the horns, the risk index goes up,” said Councilor Kristina Egan, the lone dissenter. “We should not increase the level of danger to our citizens.”
Federal regulations require a 60-day comment period before the quiet zone can take effect. During that time, councilors plan to determine which intersections will require more safety equipment.
Most agreed that the Bow Street junction in downtown Freeport — the busiest and therefore most dangerous intersection — will likely require a four-way safety gate.
Trains have been running between Portland and Brunswick since Nov. 1, and their whistle blasts have annoyed some residents who live close to the tracks. Freeport has eight crossings, the most of any town on the line.
Under federal regulations, train whistles sound at every crossing except in areas designated as quiet zones. To qualify for quiet zone status, crossings are evaluated with a complex formula that factors in train and vehicular traffic at each crossing.
Each four-way gate, which blocks all lanes of traffic in both directions leading up to the tracks and is considered the safest, costs an estimated $50,000.
Other options include channelization, in which plastic barriers are placed on the center line to prevent vehicles from crossing into oncoming traffic. They are cheaper, but require more frequent maintenance.
Councilors will be free to mix and match safety measures, with each combination influencing the final costs.
One plan, proposed by Councilor Melanie Sachs, would install the four-way gate at Bow Street and add channelization to three other intersections, at a cost of about $95,000.
Other councilors sought four-way gates at downtown intersections, but those proposals would add significant costs.
Some funding could come from the state, said council Chair Jim Hendricks. He suggested that councilors “shoot for the sky” if they ask for state assistance.
Councilors will revisit the issue at a meeting scheduled for March 19.
Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: