Tuesday, May 21, 2013
FREEPORT – Shannon Garrity is looking forward to being able to stroll about 300 yards from her house on West Street and catch the Downeaster when it starts serving Freeport and Brunswick in November.
In this file photo, passengers board Amtrak's Downeaster train at the station in Exeter, N.H. As the Downeaster nears scheduled service in Freeport, some residents and businesses are concerned about the train's whistle.
What she's not looking forward to is the blast of the whistle as the train passes her home early in the morning and late at night.
She's one of several residents and business owners who are pressing town officials to establish a so-called quiet zone to keep the peace in and near Freeport Village.
"The railroad tracks are right at the edge of my property," Garrity said. "Right now, freight trains go by intermittently. It's important that they establish a quiet zone, because otherwise the Downeaster is going to disrupt the normal sleep patterns of anyone who lives near the tracks."
The Town Council will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the possibility of establishing a quiet zone.
Councilor Sara Gideon said town officials understand that the Downeaster's whistle or horn would pose a significant problem for some residents and business owners, especially where the tracks pass through the village.
The council is considering a proposal to make railroad crossing improvements at eight intersections before applying for quiet zone approval from the Federal Railroad Administration. The upgrades would cost as much as $120,000.
Crossings under review are at West, Bow, School and East streets in the village, and at Webster, Hunter, Upper Mast Landing and Fernald roads.
Federal law requires train engineers to sound their whistles before crossing roads, to ensure public safety. The Downeaster is expected to make at least three round trips each day, with the earliest runs before 4 a.m. and the final runs after 1 a.m. Freight trains now pass through Freeport about twice daily.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and Pan Am Railways are replacing 28 miles of track and making safety improvements at 30 crossings from Portland to Brunswick.
Towns may apply for quiet zones -- where train whistles may be blown only in emergencies -- after making additional safety improvements at railroad crossings.
Town officials in Falmouth and Cumberland also are establishing or considering quiet zones.
Wayne Duffett, a consulting engineer with TEC Associates in South Portland, has recommended added curbing and traffic island improvements known as "channelization" to prevent drivers from going around crossing gates. Channelization costs about $15,000 per crossing.
Joshua Cushing, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn on Park Street, supports having a quiet zone and plans to attend Tuesday's public hearing. The 99-room hotel is within shouting distance of three crossings, at Bow, School and East streets.
"We are very hopeful that the town will consider the long-term benefits of having a quiet zone," Cushing said. "Obviously, the train is passing very close by our hotel, and our customers' satisfaction is our main concern."
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: