Freeport council debates 'quiet zones' in anticipation of Downeaster
FREEPORT — Residents filled the town council chambers Tuesday night to show their support for the adoption of "quiet zones" at town railroad crossing in anticipation of the increased train traffic beginning with the Downeaster later this fall.
The town is proposing to install eight of these zones, which would eliminate routine use of whistles for trains traveling through the town, except in emergency situations.
Train operators are currently required by federal law to use their whistle at every intersection at varied distances and lengths depending on the speed of the train.
The council debated different methods of channelization, a traffic separation device designed to prevent drivers from skirting around railroad crossing arms. The two most popular methods with the council were building islands or placing walls of plastic tubes between traffic lanes.
Railway consulting engineer, Wayne Duffet, of TEC Associates in South Portland, said the town already meets the federal threshold for establishing quiet zones, but for safety, he recommended installing channelization at all railroad crossings in town. The estimated cost for each of the eight installations would be about $15,000, he said.
In addition to the about twice weekly freight trains — often rolling through at night, sounding their whistle — the Downeaster will bring an estimated three trains through town every day on their way from Boston to Brunswick starting in November.
The schedule of the Downeaster will not be released by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority until next month.
Even if the council voted to establish quiet zones and build channelization devices within the next month, construction realistically couldn't begin until spring, Town Manager Dale Olmstead said.
Council Chairman Jim Cassida and Councilwoman Kate Arno said they would like to experience the Downeaster without quiet zones before deciding one way or another on the issue.
The council will hold a number of meetings in the coming months before they make a decision on quiet zones, Cassida said.
The council unanimously adopted an organic pest management plan for all town-owned properties to limit the exposure of potentially hazardous chemicals to soil, surface and ground water, as well as people and animals.
The plan was born out of a resident's concern about pesticides being used at the library, Cassida said.
According to the plan, the future use of pesticides will only be allowed in emergency situations when organic pest management is not effective.
The town council also officially appointed Peter Joseph, Jr., of Lincoln, N.H., as the new town manager with a unanimous vote to sign his contract.
He first day will be Sept. 17.