Yarmouth appoints panel to study railroad quiet zones

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council has appointed a citizen’s committee to research how trains could pass quietly through town in a way that would be safe and cost effective.

Councilors on Nov. 20 approved formation of the Quiet Zone Citizens Advisory Task Force to gather information on ways to create quiet zones, which would keep trains from using their horns at railroad crossings with improved safety features.

The task force will have seven members, although one more person still needs to be found. So far the group includes Joleen Estabrook, Jane Gildart, Richard Plourde, Matt Holden, Deborah Walthen Finn, and Steve Horowitz.

Councilor Rob Waeldner will act as a non-voting council liaison to the committee. He said his job will be to “work with the task force and answer questions, and possibly get resources from the town offices.”

Having a committee doesn’t necessarily mean every councilor is in favor of quiet zones. Councilors said they just want to know all the facts regarding cost and safety so they can each make informed decisions.

Estabrook, who lives between the Elm Street and North Road crossings, brought the issue of quiet zones back to councilors earlier this fall and said she is very happy a committee has been formed. 

“I’m excited that we have the opportunity to do some comprehensive research to present to (the Town Council),” Estabrook said.

She said the committee is made up of  “people who are invested in doing the work,” and that they will be objective in conducting their research.

“I’m optimistic. We all have a lot of work to do, but I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Estabrook said.

The council laid out six different things it would like included in the task force’s report. It must have information on the noise impact on residents who live near railroad crossing, applicable federal law, safety at railroad crossings, safety along the tracks and in places where people trespass, education and enforcement of railroad safety, and the cost of establishing and maintaining quiet zones.

The most expensive quiet zone option, at around $500,000, would be to install a quad-gate system that blocks traffic in both directions.

A less expensive option would be to use channelization, for around $250,000. This involves putting plastic barriers along the medians of the streets leading up to the crossings. The barriers would prevent vehicles from crossing into the oncoming lane to go around dual gates.

Councilors decided they want the group to submit a written report no later than March 5, 2015. Councilors said the committee can just present the facts, or it can make a recommendation about a course of action to take.

Town Manager Nat Tupper said there a couple of reasons for the March deadline.

“One, you don’t want to drag this forever, and it’s kind of the latest we could go,” he said.

Councilors need to hear the report in March so if they do approve the establishment of quiet zones, there would be enough time for it to be worked into the budget or sent to referendum.

Tupper said the zones could be worked into the budget if a low-cost option is approved. Work on the budget typically begins at the end of February or beginning of March, and is finalized at the beginning of May. Town Meeting approves the budget in June.

If a more expensive option for creating quiet zones is accepted, it would have to go to a special referendum in June.

Waeldner said he’s not yet sure when the task force will hold meetings, since it can’t finalize the schedule until a seventh committee member is found. He said the work will require a lot of time and effort so that all the information can be gathered.

“Overall we just want to make sure all aspects of the issue are covered,” Waeldner said. “That’s the role of the task force, to provide information so the Town Council can make an informed decision.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.