A DOWNEASTER ENGINE sits at Brunswick Station in this 2014 file photo. The Brunswick Town Council is looking at ways to mitigate noise from the train following numerous complaints from residents.

A DOWNEASTER ENGINE sits at Brunswick Station in this 2014 file photo. The Brunswick Town Council is looking at ways to mitigate noise from the train following numerous complaints from residents.


Following months of complaints about unreasonable noise from railway crossings and the layover facility during all hours of the night, the Brunswick Town Council on Tuesday conducted a workshop with rail officials and agencies to identify measures to reduce disturbance to the public.

Questions surrounding the sounding of train horns, the establishment of quiet zones and operations at the layover facility dominated the discussion.

Town Councilor Jane Millett said the council has been fielding questions from the community about train noise at crossings and the layover facility, as well as fumes emanating from idling trains, since May.

“We’ve had people threaten to move out of town because of noise — not because people don’t like the train, but when you can’t sleep at night and your kids are waking up at night and breathing fumes, that’s a real problem,” Millett said. “I am encouraged there has been some responsiveness to what has been said. I’m looking forward to results and working on what we can to mitigate noise and pollution of the train going forward.”

Quiet zone solution?

The town has hired engineering consulting firm Gorrill Palmer to report on the cost of establishing seven quiet zones in town from Maine Street to the Freeport town line where use of a horn would be restricted.

How and when an operator sounds a horn is regulated by the Federal Railway Administration.

The FRA’s Norma Jean Griffiths said horns are regulated to sound at between 96-100 decibels. They must sound at designated areas before arriving at a crossing or the station, and are not supposed to exceed 20 seconds.

Griffiths noted quiet zones are not silent zones, and that engineers must still sound horns if there is a safety concern.

Quiet zones also must have additional safety measures, Griffiths said, such as gates, temporary or permanent closures and signs.

The town attempted to establish a quiet zone at Union and Stanwood streets in 2012. The zone lasted for two days because Pan Am Railways — which operates a freight line — objected to the data used in creating the designation.

The town would be financially responsible for creating quiet zones and, if there was an accident, Griffiths said, it is unclear who would be responsible, as it has never been litigated.

There are 17 quiet zones in Maine.

Griffiths said establishing the zones can cost anywhere from $30,000 to in the millions.

Safety concerns

Councilor Sarah Brayman called for more direct contact to inform the public about why certain rules are imposed regarding train horns, and when and where they are sounded. She said there is confusion about that, specifically mentioning certain nights when several complaints were lodged. One night in question, Sept. 21, the horn sounded for a long duration because of a malfunction.

Cyndi Scarano, of Pan Am Railway, explained there are many reasons the horn is sounded for safety, and the regularity of using the horn cannot be predicted. Reasons to use the horn can be anything from an animal or trespasser on the tracks, she said, or people nearby. Anytime there is a safety concern, Scarano said, the horn will be sounded.

Scarano noted a train engineer can be personally liable in the event of an accident, and one of the first things investigated is whether the horn was sounded adequately.

William Hollister, of Amtrak, said engineers always err on the side of safety and follow strict regulations to which they are trained to adhere.

“I don’t want to be negative, and I want to work with the community, but I can’t stress enough how safe we have to be,” he said. “I have been to fatalities and major accidents, so please keep that in mind.”

When Amtrak was asked what has been done in other towns to reduce noise, several changes at the layover facility were mentioned, including using the radio instead of the horn to communicate, and using only a bell, and not the horn when leaving the station.

Amtrak facility supervisor James DellaPietro said noise and activity at the facility will be investigated and addressed. He cautioned the complaints about the idling of trains will be difficult to respond to, because mechanical issues create the need for idling at times.

No public comment was allowed at the meeting in an effort to keep it brief, but the public was encouraged to send questions to Town Manager John Eldridge to be compiled and submitted to railway officials to answer.

Millett said she opposed the restriction of public comment — saying written correspondence doesn’t convey the feelings of the community — and said that the public should be allowed to offer comment about the workshop at the town council’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 20.

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