Yarmouth to take another look at railroad quiet zones

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council will revisit the possibility of creating quiet zones for railroad crossings.

At an operations committee meeting Monday, councilors decided they would put the issue on their November workshop agenda. The council last November rejected the establishment of quiet zones, which would prohibit trains from using their horns as they approach crossings that have safety improvements.

The issue came back when Joleen Estabrook of 65 Leighton Road and her neighbors complained to councilors and Town Manager Nat Tupper about noise from the Amtrak Downeaster. The passenger train makes six trips a day, with its whistle blowing each time it passes Estabrook’s house near the Elm Street crossing. Yarmouth also has crossings at North Road and Sligo Road.

About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting, where Tupper made a presentation to councilors about ways to create a quiet zone. To be allowed to have a quiet zone, crossings need to fall under a certain safety rating.

Railroad crossings each receive a safety rating from the Federal Railroad Administration; crossings with scores below 12,000 are allowed to be in quiet zones. These scores can be achieved by putting in extra gates or horns at the crossings. Towns with multiple crossings get an average score for all crossings and all decisions must be based upon that average.

Yarmouth’s score with two gates and the use of train horns is 9,312. If the horns are not used, the score would jump to 15,533. The Elm Street crossing, without horns, would have a score of 16,906.

There are multiple ways Yarmouth can lower its score, although some are costly. Most expensive, at around $500,000, would be to install a quad gate system.

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 the gates.

Tupper last week said this could be a possible option, but that the barriers could be damaged by snowplows. Also, channelization would start 100 feet from the crossings and could impact traffic into and out of some driveways by not allowing left turns.

A third option would be a wayside horn for around $200,000. This is a stationary horn placed at the crossing, which sounds as a train approaches. Tupper said the noise wouldn’t affect as many residents, but that instead of a few short blasts, it would produce one longer blast.

Councilor Pat Thompson said that may not be the best solution.

“I’m not sure a wayside horn solves anything,” she said. “These people are here because of a noise issue.”

Tupper said option four would be to do nothing and keep things as they are. Option five would be to create a nighttime-only quiet zone. With a layover facility in Brunswick being discussed, he said, this may be useful because there will be a train going through Yarmouth, blowing its horn, at 2 a.m.

Last November, the council rejected quiet zones in part because of safety concerns. On Monday, Tupper discussed concerns about kids illegally playing on the Sligo Road trestle bridge. He said he fears they wouldn’t hear the train coming if it’s not allowed to use its whistle.

Members of the public asked what the town has done to educate kids about trespassing on railroad tracks. Some said more educational efforts need to be made. Tupper said the council will have to discuss that.

“Town Council needs to ask if we have done what we reasonably can to address the issue,” he said.

Councilors didn’t get into much discussion and they didn’t take public comment, since Monday’s meeting was only to decide whether the issue should be put on the agenda.

“The issue at this point in time is that we need more information to make a decision,” Chairman James MacLeod said.

Tupper said he will work on getting an engineer to come to the workshop to answer questions. He said he wants someone who can “understand and explain mathematics, but also understand road networks in Yarmouth.”

The workshop meeting will be held Nov. 6.

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

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.