Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By CRAIG CROSBY Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA - All dispatchers had to say were two words: "truck" and "trestle."
Four truck accidents during the last nine months are seen at the train trestle on Water Street in Augusta. The accidents happened Nov. 14, 2011, bottom right; Jan. 11, 2012, bottom left; Feb. 14, 2012, top left; and July 19, 2012, top right.
Staff file photos by Joe Phelan and Andy Molloy
Augusta police Sgt. Christopher Massey knew right where he was heading, and he knew he would be there for a while.
Despite numerous signs warning drivers of the low clearance, the train trestle on Water Street has taken its own toll on a number of big trucks that have tried to pass underneath. Each accident can entail thousands of dollars in expense and hours of disrupted traffic. No serious injuries have been reported in any recent cases.
So notorious is the bridge that it has a nickname.
"We call it the Can Opener," City Engineer Lionel Cayer said.
State law requires signs to warn drivers whenever an underpass clearance is less than 14 feet, 6 inches. Clearance under the Water Street train trestle is 12 feet, 10 inches.
Massey said police were called to the area 16 times from July 20, 2011, to July 20, 2012, to redirect traffic for drivers who noticed the bridge at the last minute and needed help backing up.
Trains have not crossed the trestle for years, which leads some to wonder why it is not removed to prevent the accidents from happening in the first place. However, the trestle is protected by state law, said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, which owns and maintains it.
"It is something that we have to maintain, as we do with all rail lines," Talbot said. "We do that with the expectation that the lines will be used in the future."
Regardless of how many scowls they must endure from inconvenienced motorists, the truck drivers who still can back up are the lucky ones. At least four trucks have hit the bridge during the last year, resulting in damages and big traffic delays.
The most recent occurred July 19 when a partially loaded box truck hit the trestle with such force that it dislodged the box, trapping the truck underneath. One lane of Water Street was closed for about four hours.
"It takes a lot of resources from the Police Department that are already scarce," Cayer said.
A badly damaged truck is just the beginning of the heartache for the driver. Police always issue the driver a summons charging him or her with exceeding the bridge height limit. The fine for the offense $310, but that may pale in comparison to the fee from the tow truck company, which Massey said could be about $10,000, depending on how tightly wedged the truck is.
"This last one, they actually had to cut the landing gear off the truck so they could get it out," Massey said.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at: