Newport, railroad spar over crossings

Posted Sept. 02, 2010, at 8:36 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Town officials’ frustration with three rough railroad crossings in town reached the boiling point this week, though selectmen opted against putting up permanent “rough crossing” signs as a matter of principle.

Town Manager James Ricker said he has made repeated calls, dating back to July 23, to an official with Pan Am Railways, which now owns the tracks in the Newport area formerly owned by Guilford rail. The official told Ricker on Aug. 18 that the railroad’s engineering department needed to inspect the crossings before any de-cisions could be made about repairs. Ricker told selectmen Wednesday that he’d heard nothing more since that communication.

“The crossings are dangerous to motorists,” Ricker said Thursday to the Bangor Daily News. “If you don’t come to almost a complete stop at three of them in town, you’re going to do some serious damage to the front end of your car.”

At issue are crossings on Spring Street, Old Bangor Road and Eastville Road, said Ricker. He and Public Works Director Larry Merrithew told selectmen that six permanent signs warning motorists of the rough crossings could be installed for about $387. Despite the low cost, selectmen rejected the idea on the principle that it’s not the town’s responsibility.

“I’m not in favor of that,” said Chairman Thomas Breitweg. “It’s just giving the railroad an excuse not to do anything.”

“I agree,” said Selectman Doug Franklin.

Ricker said numerous cardboard “BUMP” signs have been installed but that they usually are stolen as soon as they’re put out. Maine law makes municipalities liable for damage to vehicles that is caused by potholes and rough municipal roads, but it doesn’t cover railroad crossings, said Ricker.

Ricker said that despite what he called a “lack of response” from the railroad, he’s optimistic that the problem will be fixed eventually.

Cyndi Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, said Thursday that the company has no record of Ricker’s complaints, but that the town of Newport would be “contacted very soon” to alleviate the situation.

“We’re always happy to work with the towns,” she said, noting that the railroad recently fixed a rough crossing on Palmer Road in Newport. “Our local person who handles the crossings in that area will call the town and take care of this situation.”

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