ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Downeast Scenic Railroad is gearing up for the start of an excursion rail service later this summer, and part of that process is reactivating a number of railroad grade crossings in Hancock and Ellsworth.
The crossings became active last Saturday. They have been exempt and inactive for decades after service along the former Maine Central Railroad Brewer-Calais line ended. The Maine Department of Transportation approved the status change after several public hearings in both communities, according to Gary Briggs, vice president of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust, which operates the railroad. Briggs also serves as the railroad’s Operation Lifesaver officer.
The now fully active crossings are at Wyman Road and Washington Junction Road in Hancock and Beals Avenue, Main Street, Lincoln Street, Park Street, Birch Street, Davis Street and the Ellsworth High School crossing in Ellsworth.
Although the railroad plans two trips a day on weekends, Briggs said motorists always should approach these crossings with caution. There will be equipment on the rail line at times other than the posted trips, he said.
“Anytime is train time,” he said. “Motorists should always be cautious when they approach these crossings. Always expect the train.”
Warnings have been painted on the roads and signs have been installed at all of the reactivated crossings, he said, so motorists should notice them as they approach.
In a prepared release, the railroad also noted that Maine law requires buses, occupied or otherwise, and vehicles carrying hazardous materials to stop at all nonexempt railroad crossings and observe the tracks in both directions to make sure they are clear before crossing. The railroad also warned motorcyclists and bicyclists to approach the railroad crossing at a 90-degree angle to the rails.
The trust has worked for four years to refurbish the rail lines and to acquire and restore equipment in preparation for the start of scenic excursions. It still is making last-minute improvements to the equipment in preparation for the start of the trips in July. The volunteer group plans to offer a 10-mile excursion from Ellsworth to Ellsworth Falls. The round trip is expected to take 90 minutes. The trips will begin at the rear of Cadillac Mountain Sports, which is the exclusive vendor for excursion tickets.
According to Briggs, there will be three passenger cars, one enclosed, one open with a canopy, and the caboose, all pulled by the trust’s newest locomotive, which arrived from North Conway, N.H., last month.
More information about the excursion, including fares, will be available on the organization’s website, www.downeastscenicrail.org.