FALMOUTH — Construction may soon begin at the town’s four railroad crossings in an effort to preserve train whistle quiet zones in residential neighborhoods.

The Town Council decided Monday night to move ahead with a proposal to make improvements to the crossings on Field and Woodville roads that would be required to achieve a “quiet zone” from the Federal Railroad Authority.

The action comes in advance of the extension of Amtrak Downeaster service from Portland to Brunswick.

Improvements to the town’s two other crossings, on Falmouth and Blackstrap roads, are not necessary to achieve the quiet zone rating, but the intersections may be improved, anyway.

“I don’t think that’s right, to not do anything to the Falmouth and Blackstrap (crossings),” Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

Poore said not doing so would give the impression the town cares about safety only at some crossings.

Before the council makes an official decision on whether to spend money on the crossings, there will be a public hearing on Nov. 28.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has been making improvements to crossings along the Downeaster route, but the improvements are not enough to qualify for quiet zones. To do that, towns must make additional changes at their own expense.

A quiet zone is a federally defined area where locomotive engineers do not blow their horns when going through crossings. The engineers are still allowed to use the horns if they see an obstruction on the train tracks or in the roadway.

Once the Downeaster begins service – expected in the fall of 2012 – it will run as many as six trains per day at around 60 mph through Falmouth and Cumberland, significantly faster than the freight trains that use the tracks now.

Poore said Monday that the FRA indicated it was “quite satisfied” with Falmouth’s proposed improvements to the intersections.

Falmouth and Cumberland officials got together last month to discuss the changes that would be necessary to preserve a quiet zone that currently exists in Falmouth, and extend it up to Cumberland.

The cheapest solution is to create channelization structures at the crossings so drivers could not cross into the other lane and go around the safety gates.

The structures in Falmouth are estimated to cost between $70,000 and $127,000 to install at the two intersections. The improvements would include a raised median with plastic barriers.

Poore said Monday night that the raised median is more expensive, but would last longer than just installing the plastic barriers.

He suggested the council add the improvements as a supplemental budget that would be covered by the undesignated fund balance.

Councilors expressed interest in seeing what safety measures could be added to the remaining two intersections.

“I’d like to see the safest thing … for the least amount of money,” Councilor Bonny Rodden said.

The Cumberland Council also discussed the issue Monday and voted not to make crossing improvements before the impact of actual additional train traffic is evaluated. 

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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