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Downeaster to Brunswick: Economic Boon Comes with Downside
04/26/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Rail service from Portland to Brunswick on Amtrak's Downeaster is now nearly six months old. For one stop on that route, the retail destination of Freeport, this has been something of a boon, bringing even more visitors to the town, without any increase in automobile traffic. But there's a downside. Tom Porter reports.

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Downeaster to Brunswick: Economic Boon Comes with
Originally Aired: 4/26/2013 5:30 PM


A railroad crossing in Freeport, where residents are expressing concern about noise from the Downeaster train.

"The noise issue is a specific concern for people here who live in the village area," says Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph. Joseph says there are now a handful of rail crossings in the center of town, at which the trains are required to sound their horns.

"The people who live right along the tracks have been having a lot of trouble with the noise," he says. "And we've gotten a lot of complaints, and the town councilors have got a lot complaints, from residents in that district."

Tom Porter: "Isn't that part of the deal, though, when you have a train come through, you get positive things - economic benefits - but they have to sound their horn?"

Peter Joseph: "That's one of the things that's been said by people who don't live on the tracks."

Joseph says up to 150 local residents have turned up at council meetings recently to complain. But it's not just the town's permanent residents who are affected, it's the businesses as well.

"The train from the Downeaster, it's going by about six times a day, and obviously every time it goes by we hear it throughout the entire hotel," says Josh Cushing, the manager of Freeport's Hilton Garden Inn. "We're sitting between two street crossings, Bow Street and School Street, so each time it crosses, obviously, it's blowing its horn and they're required to do so."

Cushing says many guests actually like the sound of a train going by, but some don't. Especially when the early Brunswick train passes through at 6:30 on Saturday morning. The hotel has spent $1,500 on individually-packaged sleep kits, available for any guest who may be troubled by noise.

"The kits include some earplugs, sort of commercial grade if you will; room and pillow spray - it's a lavender scent - to help guests relax, as well as a little sleep mask," Cushing says.

But more than sleep masks and earplugs, some residents of Freeport are hoping that the town be designated as a quiet zone - meaning the train would not need to sound its horn at each crossing. Town Manager Peter Joseph says the train operator - in this case Pan Am Railways - will first have to be convinced that no train whistle is needed.

"The problem here is there are measures that the town may have to undertake to bring the safety level up to where it was with a train whistle," Joseph says.

That could could mean installing hefty barriers at each crossing, to replace the smaller ones currently in place, at a cost of up to $800,000 each. The town would also have to submit up-to-date daily traffic data for each of the crossings, which should be completed by June.

After that, Joseph says the town should be able to make a final decision on what it needs to do - and what it can afford to do - to become a quiet zone.

Meanwhile not everyone living alongside the tracks is bothered by the train noise. "So far I haven't had a problem with it - it's just a few blasts, doesn't cause too much trouble," says Andrew Davis, who moved to the area a couple of months ago with his wife and two young children.

Davis says his 4-year old daughter actually looks forward to the train - "runs to watch it every time it goes by," he says.

And just two doors down is Catherine Cunningham, who has lived there for 34 years. "It doesn't bother us at all," she says. "It might if it starts running during the night."

Which might happen in the not-too-distant future, following the recent approval of a $12 million train layover facility in Brunswick.

Photos by Tom Porter.


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