Freeport to explore 'quiet zones' for downtown railroad crossings

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FREEPORT — With Amtrak Downeaster train service expected to begin in less than a year, the Town Council will consider establishing “quiet zones” at four downtown-area crossings.

Sande Updegraph, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., Tuesday provided the council with information on how to request quiet zones and a proposal to have Tec Associates, a civil engineering firm in South Portland, work on the town’s quiet zone application.

Tec Associates specializes in railroad engineering and the regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration, Updegraph said, and helped Falmouth and Cumberland review costs associated with quiet zones.

In Freeport, the trains will cross West Street, Bow Street, School Street and East Street and will be required to sound whistles at these crossings. The passenger train is expected to travel between 30 and 50 mph (between 25 and 40 mph for freight trains; signals have not been installed yet, so the track speed is currently rated at 25 miles per hour through the entire area).

The cost for the consultants to help Freeport apply for quiet zone status is estimated between $3,000 and $4,000. The money would come from a Traffic and Parking reserve fund, which currently has about $270,000. 

“(Tec Associates) think the application for Freeport is very simple, based on a very good safety record and the fact that the train will not be going very fast through Freeport,” Updegraph said. In addition, she said it “appears” Freeport would probably not incur costs for additional safety measures because the town has extremely good safety records at the existing grade crossings.

“Considerations for how you want to proceed with this are public safety – all railroad people will tell you its not a good idea to have quiet zones – that train’s whistle blowing does indeed prevent accidents,” she said. “The other side of that coin is consideration for people that live in the neighborhood, and that is the quality of life issue.”

Councilor Kristina Egan, who most recently worked as the director of the South Coast Rail Project, a passenger rail extension program for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said she has reservations about quiet zones. 

She said the tracks have not been used very much, people walk on them, sometimes with headphones on, and children use them to get to school. She also said she would prefer to see a professional assessment of whether Freeport would have to pay for the rail upgrades that are required for the FRA to give the town a waiver for quiet zones.

“I’ve never heard of a community already being safe enough, just because we haven’t had any accidents at grade crossings before,” she said.

The council referred the quiet zone discussion to the Ordinance Committee – Councilors Sara Gideon, Jim Cassida and Kate Arno – which will meet Thursday, Jan. 12, at 9 a.m. in council chambers.

In other business, councilors unanimously approved amendments to the street lighting criteria policy. The Traffic and Parking Committee can now initiate a request for the removal of street lights. Members of the committee can also make recommendations to the Town Council for the addition or removal of street lights.

Previously, only the Town Council or a resident could  initiate the placement or removal of a street light, and only the police chief could make a recommendation to the council.

Gary Profenno, chairman of the Traffic and Parking Committee, said the street lighting criteria policy has been in place for years, but due to an ongoing street lighting study, needed some minor updating.

“The only update we propose to change is to make it a little easier on the Town Council when people are requesting new or the removal of street lights is to have (the) Traffic and Parking (Committee) actually review those first, so we can send a recommendation to you rather than holding a long meeting on discussing a single light,” he said. “We are looking at town-wide lighting and there’s a lot of lighting that no one can seem to figure out why it existed, and by removing some of them it would actually reduce light pollution.”

The council also voted unanimously to adopt amendments to its rules of order and procedures to be more up to date and in line with the Town Charter.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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