This railroad crossing on Muirfield Road in Cumberland may soon be the only railroad crossing between Portland and Brunswick where trains routinely blow their horns. The Federal Railroad Administration is prepared to grant “quiet zone” status to the town’s other three crossings, but this one is technically on private property. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

The Cumberland Town Council voted at its most recent meeting to take the steps necessary to establish a railroad “quiet zone” in town, but federal officials have told the town that one crossing might not be included, since it’s technically on a private road.

If that ruling holds, said Town Manager Bill Shane, the Muirfield Road crossing near the Falmouth Country Club golf course will be the only crossing where trains can blow their horns along the entire distance between Portland and Brunswick, some 25 miles of rails.

“Private crossings, it sounds weird, but don’t have a lot of rights,” Shane said.

He and a representative of the home owners association that is responsible for Muirfield Road plan to meet with federal officials this week to see if there is a way to include the crossing in the quiet zone.

A quiet zone is a designation by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. Within such zones, trains are not allowed to routinely blow their horns at crossings.

Town officials, spurred by increased passenger rail traffic on the tracks, have been considering asking for a quiet zone for all four railroad crossings in town for nearly 10 years, Shane said.

Less than five years ago, he said, a second parallel track was added between Yarmouth and Falmouth, requiring the clearing of trees.

“That really eliminated a ton of the buffer that was up there before,” he said.

Since then, in response to requests from residents, Shane said, the council finally took up the issue officially, voting in June 2020 to apply for quiet zone status and fund upgrades required for eligibility for the town’s three public crossings, on Longwoods Road (Route 9), Tuttle Road and Greely Road. The work was put on hold due to the pandemic, but the council voted at its March 8 meeting to reestablish the funding, up to $170,000, to upgrade the crossings, according to documents available on the town’s website.

Shane said the upgrades will include concrete center line barriers, a requirement by the federal government for quiet zone status, and other upgrades such as drainage improvements.

But the work does not include the crossing on Muirfield Road, right before it becomes Birkdale Road. The land is officially owned by a local homeowner’s association called Falmouth on the Green, according to Tim Ferris, one of the association’s board members. The association is responsible for maintaining the road and the crossing. The town doesn’t even plow it in the winter, but Ferris said the road is commonly used without the restrictions some private road owners employ.

“We don’t enforce it per se,” Ferris said. “It’s not a gated community.”

Accessible to the public or not, federal railroad officials say the crossing’s private property status may keep it out of a quiet zone, even if authorities grant the zone for the town’s other three crossings.

“Because Muirfield Road is a private crossing located over a quarter mile from the first public crossing included in the Cumberland crossings, it is not allowed in the quiet zone,” Desiree French, a spokesperson for the Federal Railroad Administration, said this week.

Ferris, who with Shane will meet with federal railroad officials this week, said individual board members have said they support the association’s paying to upgrade the intersection if necessary, but the board has taken no formal vote on the subject yet.

“We also need to see what the budget needs to be before we make any decision,” he said.

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