December 19, 2012

Freeport residents lobby for Downeaster 'quiet zone'

But the town council wants to clarify costs – in money and safety – to mute the Amtrak train.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FREEPORT – Overwhelmingly, Freeport residents expressed support Tuesday for a quiet zone to silence the daily passing of Downeaster trains.

click image to enlarge

The Downeaster train passes through Bow Street on Wednesday, November 28, 2012.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

But town councilors, reluctant to incur costs and liability without more study, punted the issue to a meeting Jan. 8.

"I stand in my driveway and cry," said Shannon Garrity, who lives steps from the tracks on West Street. "(Residents) are collateral damage and it's unfair."

The train whistles wake children and disturb hotel guests as the Downeaster goes through Freeport's village.

The passenger trains started making runs to Freeport on Nov. 1.

At Tuesday's meeting, residents' frustration peaked after 10 p.m., as people in the audience called out for a decision by the council.

Most councilors eventually said they favor a quiet zone, but they resisted moving forward on the designation.

With its current safety measures at the rail crossings, the town qualifies for quiet zone status from the Federal Rail Authority, meaning the train whistles would not be required.

But if the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority adds to its current schedule of two daily round trips to Freeport and Brunswick, the complex formula that determines the safety of each crossing could require the horns to return.

Currently, gates, bells and lights warn motorists and pedestrians at each of the eight crossings. The safety measures were paid for by the rail authority.

To increase the safety quotient at each crossing, Freeport could implement "channelization," in which road lanes are separated with plastic barriers on each side of the eight rail crossings. That would cost more than $100,000.

A more expensive choice would place extra lowering safety gates at the crossings, at a cost close to $1 million.

Council Chair James Hendricks, who was in favor of the quiet zones, sought a firm plan of action from councilors who appeared reluctant to take a position.

Vice Chair Kristina Egan said the quiet zone would make crossings less safe.

"We're really looking at livability versus safety," said Egan, and responsibility for any future accidents would fall on the town if it established a quiet zone.

"We don't have great options going forward, in my opinion," Egan said.

Councilor Kate Arno said, "I don't think we're ready to say tonight that this is a done deal."

Councilor Melanie Sachs requested a clear chart of options and costs for safety measures by the next meeting. Councilor Richard DeGrandpre asked for better data.

Meanwhile, residents grew frustrated at the inaction. Kelly Fitz-Randolph of East Street said action is needed. "Let's deal with where we are now."

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

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