After accident, Yarmouth looks again at quiet zones

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YARMOUTH — The town’s eligibility to create quiet zones must be reevaluated following the Feb. 23 accident between a train and a car at the North Road crossing.

The Quiet Zone Committee on March 5 presented its recommendations to the Town Council on how to create zones in Yarmouth, but more work now needs to be done. Since a report was already planned, the committee still made its presentation, but will update it next month.

“(The accident) does require that we revisit some of our work because the federal regulations all are based on meeting certain safety numbers,” committee member Joleen Estabrook said in her presentation to the council.

Estabrook, who lives on Leighton Road between the North Road and Elm Street crossings, in October sparked debate about establishing quiet zones in Yarmouth. The driver of the car in the February accident was her nephew’s wife, Katharine Estabrook, who has been charged with failing to stop properly at a railroad crossing device.

Town Manager Nat Tupper said the accident skewed results of the committee’s study because previously there had been no accidents at that crossing. He said the jump from zero to one was a major increase and has thrown off its safety rating.

Estabrook said because of the accident, the Federal Railroad Administration needs to reevaluate the town’s quiet zone eligibility.

“The fact that we have had an accident occur at one of our crossings means that that incident needs to be incorporated into the agency’s Quiet Zone Risk Index calculator to determine if we still meet the requirements for a quiet zone,” Estabrook said.

Railroad crossings each receive a safety rating from the FRA; crossings with scores below 12,000 are allowed to be in quiet zones. Yarmouth’s score with two gates and the use of train horns is 9,312. If the horns are not used, the score would jump to 15,533.

Lower scores can be achieved by installing extra gates or using horns at the crossings. Towns with multiple crossings received a score averaged for all crossings, and all decisions must be based upon that average.

Estabrook said the committee isn’t worried that Yarmouth will no longer be able to establish quiet zones.

“We have reason to feel optimistic that we won’t have a problem with our numbers because we had a fairly good cushion,” she said.

Estabrook told councilors that for the town to create the zones, it doesn’t even need to install “supplemental safety measures” at the Elm Street crossing. For safety reasons, though, the committee recommended all three crossings be modified.

The committee’s report recommended installing channelization at the crossings. They suggested putting “vertical edge granite curbing” along the medians of the streets starting at 100 feet leading up to the crossings. The barriers would prevent vehicles from crossing into the oncoming lane to go around dual gates.

At the Sligo Road crossing, the southbound approach would only have channelization for 60 feet as to not interfere with a driveway.

The committee decided not to recommend putting delineators on the granite curbing because of concerns that they would be destroyed or require high maintenance costs.

The committee also recommended widening all the roads leading up to the crossings.

Because of the unique situation at the Elm Street crossing, in which Depot Road runs parallel to the tracks, the committee recommended adding additional safety features there. They include a 1,200-foot-long chain-link fence or barrier to separate Depot Road from the train tracks, at an additional cost of $23,000.

The total cost of modifying all three crossings, as estimated by town engineer Steve Johnson, would be $275,000. If Town Council chose to only modify the North Road and Sligo Road crossings, the cost would be $161,000. 

Estabrook said the committee hopes to hear back from the FRA soon and Tupper said the committee will most likely address the council again in April. He said he doesn’t think the February accident or the reevaluation will change coucilors’ stances on quiet zones.

“I doubt it will affect any outcome with the council’s decision,” Tupper said. “The council is definitely headed in the direction of saying yes.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I’m a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I’m from a small town in NH no one’s ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.