Proponents say Downeaster won't add to noise pollution in Freeport

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FREEPORT — Passenger rail advocates last week assured residents who live near the railroad tracks that noise won’t be a problem when the Amtrak Downeaster starts regular service.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, and Paul Pottle of the Maine Department of Transportation, told a public meeting on Thursday, Oct. 21, that noise from the train would not be overwhelming. 

The Downeaster is expected to begin service between Portland and Brunswick, with a stop in Freeport, in 2012.

Quinn told residents that including whistles and crossing-gate bells, the train is “not really loud at all,” and there would be no “huge vibration.”

She said trains are required to blow a whistle when they approach the platform and at each crossing gate, but the town could file a request to be considered a quiet zone. That would eliminate the platform whistle, she said.

Becoming a quiet zone is not recommended due to safety concerns, Quinn said, and the application has to be approved by the Federal Railway Administration.

“Safety is very important,” Quinn said. “But, it’s a community decision and a community process (to become a quiet zone.)”

Quinn said the project to extend the rail line was made possible by a $35 million federal grant. To upgrade the 30 miles of track between Portland and Brunswick will cost about $38 million and the Maine DOT agreed to fund the balance, Quinn said.

Quinn told the nearly 30 residents at the meeting that they could expect road closures throughout next spring and summer as signals, road crossings, culverts and drainage systems are replaced and upgraded.

Pottle, the project manager for platform construction in Brunswick and Freeport, said the 400-foot platform at the bottom of Depot Street by the Hose Tower or Visitor Information Center will have a covered section and will be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said construction of the platform is expected to begin in September 2011, after Brunswick’s platform has been completed.

Cll construction – road crossings, platform, and rail upgrades – is expected to be complete by the fall of 2012.

Quinn said the cost of a ticket from Portland to Brunswick is expected to be about $8 to $10, and a one-way trip from Brunswick to Boston could cost about $30. She also said the expansion of the service from Portland to Brunswick would increase ridership by about 36,500 passengers per year.

Sande Updegraph, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., said she was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

“I was particularly happy to see the residents who lived along the railroad tracks come out, since they are directly impacted,” she said. 

Updegraph said there will be other meetings in the spring to let the public know when platform construction will begin.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net

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