FREEPORT — The Town Council made the first move toward silencing train horns Tuesday night, voting to designate the town a quiet zone.
But residents who have decried the horns won’t get any relief for at least another three months.
Despite the 5-1 vote, councilors hesitated to move forward with specific safety measures before they get more precise information about the costs.
Generally, councilors agreed to installing quad gates – the safest, albeit most expensive option, estimated between $50,000-$100,000 for a single crossing – at Bow Street, which has the highest traffic count of all crossings in town.
Councilor Scott Gleeson was in favor of the quad gates at Bow Street, but like other councilors, hesitated to commit to specific safety measures until more reliable cost estimates are available.
“We need to get real, hard numbers and make a decision,” Gleeson said, noting that in addition to the quad gates, he would like to install more visible signs around the tracks. “It’s time to move forward. I don’t think we’re ever going to find a perfect solution.”
Before the train horns can be silenced and any specific cost can be determined, the town has to give the Federal Railroad Administration a 60-day comment period to address any safety concerns about crossings in Freeport.
In other towns with quiet zones, including Portland, Falmouth and Brunswick, Town Manager Peter Joseph said the regulators provided no comment.
Then, if no problems arise, the town must file a notice and wait another 21 days before the quiet zone is established.
Currently, the town has lights, gates and bells at all the crossings and meets the requirements to be designated a quiet zone without any supplemental safety measures.
Councilor Melanie Sachs said she would like to install the quad gates at Bow Street, and channelization – separation of traffic lanes on both sides of the tracks using a tall plastic cones – at the three next highest risk crossings.
The only dissenting voice, Councilor Kristina Egan, said although the majority of the public seems to favor a quiet zone, she remains concerned about the impact on safety if the train horns are silenced.
“It is incontrovertible that when you put in a quiet zone the risk goes up. We should not increase the danger to our citizens,” Egan said, also citing safety concerns for bicyclists and pedestrians with channelization. “None of these options are good choices.”
But, if the council is moving forward with quiet zones, she said, she supports the quad gates.
Although freight trains have traveled through town for years, the Amtrak Downeaster, which began service to Freeport Nov. 1, 2012, now makes two round trips a day between Boston and Brunswick. The train horns now blast an additional eight times a day at each of the town’s six crossings, irritating neighbors, who say the horns are ruining their sleeping patterns and could drive down their property values.
Residents who spoke at the meeting Tuesday night were generally concerned about the cost.
“This project has been problematic and is growing increasingly costly for the town,” said Marie Gunning, advocating a public forum to evaluate costs. “What we don’t want to do is pit neighbor against neighbor. From a process perspective, you folks have a chance to show leadership that hasn’t been shown in this town.”
Chairman Jim Hendricks said the council will seek funding from the state to offset the costs of the proposed safety measures, but that estimates will be elusive until after the 60-day comment period.
The council plans to revisit the topic on March 19.