Cumberland council not ready to silence train whistles

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CUMBERLAND — A unanimous Town Council on Monday essentially decided not to seek creation of no-whistle zones at railroad crossings.

Residents had asked the council to look into petitioning the Federal Railroad Administration to create the so-called quiet zones, which, with the exception of emergency situations, would not allow trains to use their horns as they approach and ride over the crossings, Town Manager Bill Shane told the council.

Cumberland has four railroad crossings – at Tuttle, Greely, Longwoods and Muirfield roads – in a 2.6-mile stretch of track. Upgrades to the rail line to facilitate Amtrak service from Portland to Brunswick have required those crossings to be dual-gated.

Thirteen trains run through Cumberland each day, blowing their whistles three to four times at the town’s crossings, Shane said. In a quiet zone, a train would not blow its whistle as it approached. Beyond the dual-gate system, a municipality would need to implement one of three additional safety measures to qualify for quiet zones.

One would be quad gates, which would add two additional gates and cost at least $150,000 at each crossing. Wayside horns – devices at the intersections that would create less noise than a whistle – would cost at least $100,000. Channelization, a sort of curbing in the center line of the road to prevent vehicles from going around the gated arms, would be the least-expensive option, about $40,000.

Shane told the council it had three options: fund channelization costs in the fiscal 2013 budget and send the Federal Railroad Administration a notice of intent to file for a quiet zone; determine noise impacts after the additional trains start running, and look again at the need for channelization and the potential request for a quiet zone, or do nothing – which is what councilors ultimately decided to do.

“There’s no time frame set on this decision,” Shane said. “If we wanted to wait and see what happened over the next 18 months and make a decision then, or we could look at five years from now … if we got more development around the tracks and we felt that there was more impact that needed to be mitigated, we could look (into that) at that time.”

“We can revisit this at any moment in the future,” Town Council Chairman Mike Perfetti said.

Councilor Steve Moriarty said passenger rail service will add six daily trains to the current 13. “That’s not that dramatic an increase in the total number of crossings per day, but what will be different will be the speed of the trains,” he said.

Moriarty noted that passenger trains could be traveling at least 60 mph, and freight trains could likely be moving faster, too.

“I think that before we decide that we want to do away with whistles, we all have to sort of feel, and in effect experience, trains traveling at that rate of speed through our town before we can really decide what’s best for our residents,” he said.

No one from the public spoke on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Falmouth Town Council on Monday expressed interest in proceeding with quiet-zone improvements for at least two of that town’s four railroad crossings. The Falmouth council will not vote on the issue until after a Nov. 28 public hearing.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.