January 15, 2013

Fairfield, Pan Am eyes closing railroad crossings, using federal money to fix others

Town Council voted in December to favors closing the Elm Street crossing; Burrill Street and Willow Street crossings other possible closures

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- The state is preparing cost estimates for the possible closure of one or two of six railroad crossings on town-owned roads.

click image to enlarge

A motorist drives over a rough railroad crossing on Elm Street in Fairfield on Monday. The Town Council is considering closing the crossing, and possibly another, to qualify for grant money which could be used to repair other crossings in town.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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The federal government's railroad safety program provides grant funding to close railroad crossings, which are associated with accidents and deaths.

The town, the state and Pan Am Railways are working together to decide how to best take advantage of the program and to see what other railroad projects could be undertaken in Fairfield.

A top priority for the town is to fix the roads approaching the tracks at crossings that will remain open. Residents have complained frequently about the poor pavement quality near the crossings, according to Town Manager Josh Reny.

The estimated cost to repave one crossing is between $30,000 and $50,000.

From a state perspective, upgrading the signal safety systems that coordinate rail and vehicle traffic at the crossings is a top priority, according to Nate Moulton, director of the Maine Department of Transportation Rail Program.

Reny said Pan Am also has indicated interest in rebuilding a 1-mile stretch of rail from the railroad bridge at the southern end of town to a crossing at U.S. Route 201.

The amount of federal money available will depend on whether the town decides to close one crossing or two.

The state is preparing the costs of different project scenarios for the town to choose from.

"I'm working with the railroad right now on getting the estimates together," Moulton said.

Moulton said he hopes to have estimates from Pan Am by Jan. 31.

The process of getting cost estimates, begun in December, has been slowed because of the addition of signal system upgrades to the mix, he said. Pan Am's signal department is gathering figures on the costs of those upgrades, he said.

Despite the differing priorities, Moulton expressed confidence that the entities will find a plan that works for everyone.

"We'll build a couple of scenarios based on funding and timing and see what we want to go forward with as a group and pitch that to the public," Moulton said.

If a deal can be struck in time, the work can be bid out and completed this summer.

Reny said Pan Am is willing to repair all the crossings on its own, but the timetable would be slower and repairs would be done only to the 18 inches of pavement on each side of the tracks.

Which crossing or crossings will be closed, if any, is undecided.

The Town Council passed a nonbinding resolution in December that said it favors closing the Elm Street crossing.

The crossings at Burrill Street and Willow Street have been discussed for a possible second closure. The other in-town crossings are on Summit Street, Lawrence Avenue and Western Avenue.

Reny said the town would hold at least one public hearing on the issue.

Because the scope of the work has not been defined fully and estimates are still pending, Moulton said he didn't know whether federal funding would cover the entire cost of the upgrades. Any expenses not covered would have to be negotiated between the town and Pan Am, he said.

Working with Pan Am to improve the crossings is one of 23 items on a list of goals created by the council in 2012. The council, which seated three new members this month, is scheduled to review the list of goals tonight.

Reny said he is also working with the state to discuss repairs to concrete bridge abutments and a retaining wall along the railroad as part of a larger effort to improve the town's infrastructure.

A crossing on U.S. Route 201, a state-owned road, was repaired in early November as a collaborative project between the state transportation department and Pan Am.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com

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