Sunday, March 9, 2014
By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Morning Sentinel
A legislative vote with consequences for anyone who crosses railroad tracks on the way to private land has been pushed back to the next legislative session.
State legislators say the bill, L.D. 154, represents a rare chance for the state to negotiate with railroad companies on behalf of residents.
One issue at stake is whether the state will limit the fees that railroad companies charge to people for crossing agreements. No fee structure for crossing agreements is in place now, and Pan Am Railways raised the ire of property owners last year when it tried to increase annual fees dramatically for property owners in Belgrade.
In at least one case, the railroad proposed an increase from $130 to $1,470.
Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, said the issue is too complex for the Legislature's Judiciary Committee to recommend a solution this session.
"It's a really big issue, and you can't deal with it in a small, quick manner," Crockett said. "You're talking about liability for every foot of rail line in the state of Maine. You might have a lot of unintended consequences. That's the goal, to get it right."
The committee tasked Crockett with forming a study group of stakeholders to resolve the issue, which Belgrade property owners first raised in February 2012.
In addition to announcing the fee increases, the letters from Pan Am also told property owners they would have to begin carrying millions of dollars in insurance coverage for crossing accidents.
Belgrade was the first community to receive the letters, but Pan Am's plan was to continue the process in every community in the state, according to Cynthia Scarano, Pan Am vice president.
After the issue went public in August, Scarano said the railroad would await the outcome of the legislative process before moving forward with attempts to increase fees or impose insurance requirements.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at: