When it comes to fast-moving trains, impatience can be deadly for motorists.

Now that passenger rail service has been extended north of Portland, along rail lines through residential neighborhoods, the city’s public works crews are installing barriers between lanes at some city railroad crossings, starting with the Riverside Street railroad crossing near Auburn Street. The dividers are designed to prevent motorists from driving around the railroad gates when they are down.

“Unfortunately in this day and age, people do not have the patience to wait two minutes, three minutes, maybe even five minutes for a train, and they try as best they can to go around the gates or go through the lights,” said Fred Hirsch of Operation Lifesaver Maine, a group that advocates for rail safety. “Unfortunately, this is a major reason why nearly 300 people were killed last year at railroad … crossings.”

Motorists have already been contending with delays from the occasional slow-moving freight train, but as both freight and passenger rail traffic increases, the delays are likely to become more significant in Portland, Hirsch said.

Other improvements are planned for other city railroad crossings, but are on hold so they can be incorporated into planned intersection redesigns, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

The Riverside crossing was first on the list in part because the trains travel fastest there — up to 50 mph — compared with other city intersections, she said.

Portland is a quiet zone, meaning trains are prohibited from blowing their horns as they approach crossings. As a result, the city had to take other steps to improve safety.

The city warned that trains move faster than they appear, are much quieter than in years past, and that many people have been killed when they ignore safety signals, Clegg said.

The Riverside improvements will be done by Friday, Clegg said. The work was delayed a couple of days by Hurricane Sandy.

The city budgeted $150,000 this year for the crossing upgrades, with $22,000 for the Riverside Street barrier.

The city has already re-striped and added new signs and warning systems at city railroad crossings. Other lane dividers are scheduled to be installed next spring once the intersection designs are complete.

Hirsch said the devices have been installed in many other communities nationally with good results.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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