Cumberland plans to install granite curbing, like this on Sligo Road in Yarmouth, to keep motorists from driving around gates at three railroad crossings. Contributed

CUMBERLAND — After a packed public hearing at Town Hall, the Town Council on Monday unanimously approved implementing quiet zones at three railroad crossings.

The meeting was the panel’s third on the issue since 2011. In the meantime, freight and passenger rail traffic has increased, prompting residents to ask the council to revisit the matter.

The town will allocate up to $170,000 in its fiscal year 2021 budget to install concrete barriers – about 8 inches tall and 3 feet wide – along the centerline of the road at both ends of the crossings. The curbs would prevent drivers from going around the crossing gates.

With the town’s action, trains wouldn’t have to sound horns at the crossings, although rail conductors could still do so at their discretion for safety reasons.

Sally Brown, whose longtime Yarmouth home sits near Cumberland’s Greely Road crossing, spoke passionately Monday about the need for the town to establish quiet zones at its railroad crossings. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Quiet zones are already in effect from Riverside Street in Portland north to Freeport. Cumberland is the only exception.

The town has four railroad crossings in a 2.7-mile stretch of track: Tuttle Road, Route 9 (Longwoods Road), Greely Road, and Muirfield Road near the Falmouth line.

Since Muirfield is a private crossing, public funds cannot be used there, Shane said, although because Route 9 to the north and Falmouth Crossing to the south would be quiet zones, Muirfield’s homeowners association can petition for the designation without needing a barrier, he said.

More than 250 properties sit within half a mile of Cumberland’s crossings and 130 are within 1,000 feet, according to Shane.

Building the barriers next year could take three weeks each. Permitting, and notifying the Federal Railway Administration, Pan Am Railways, and the Maine Department of Transportation, will consume the rest of this year, Shane said.

The barriers will be 100 feet long on each side along Greely and Longwoods roads, but only 65 feet on Tuttle Road to prevent Crossing Brook Road from being blocked off. The lengths conform with FRA regulations, according to Shane.

Monday’s hour-long public hearing drew many emotional comments from neighbors who live near the crossings, and Councilor Shirley Storey-King said a letter from residents supporting the quiet zones had 145 signatures.

Sally Brown, whose Yarmouth property is about 100 feet from the Greely Road crossing, said she has “heard so many times, ‘people need to know where they’re building when they build.’ We built 48 years ago … we never expected that kind of progress” in terms of increased rail traffic.

She said she has no problem with the trains, but “we just don’t want the horns,” adding that about 20 trains a day pass by as early as 3:30 a.m., which is “too much for anybody.”

Bill Perkins, who played a recording of the blaring of a train horn as it passed by his Longwoods Road home, said the quiet zone issue is one of social equity. The town’s Comprehensive Plan has a goal of creating a more “livable” community, he said, asking “if we truly embrace that goal, can we not agree that those of us along the rail deserve to be treated with equity by this council on this issue?”

While other residents can take enjoyment of their properties for granted – a quiet barbecue supper, or getting uninterrupted sleep at night – Perkins said residents near the crossings cannot.

“(It) seriously degrades the quality of life available to many citizens of Cumberland,” he said. “We expect that we will face this as a community and do what’s right, together.”

Following the council’s decision, Brown rose to the podium once again to express gratitude.

“Our living hell is about to end,” she said.

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