Maine railway drops plan to charge residents more for crossings on private roads

Posted Aug. 15, 2012, at 6:56 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 16, 2012, at 7:42 a.m.

BELGRADE, Maine — After a meeting with concerned residents, Pan Am Railways has agreed to withdraw its push for a fee hike against property owners on private roads that have railroad crossings.

Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, said more than a dozen people showed up at North Belgrade Community Center on Tuesday evening to meet with Pan Am executives.

“I thought the meeting was pretty good,” said Keschl on Wednesday. “The residents had a chance to air their concerns. There were some people who were excited, but they were all legitimate concerns.”

Dick Bickford, who lives on Kayak Lane, a private road, said Monday he received a 20-page letter from Pan Am in February informing him that fees for maintenance of the road’s railroad crossing were going to be increased and that property owners would need to secure liability insurance. The total cost could be near $1,200 per person per year, said Bickford.

During the meeting, Pan Am agreed to stop the fees until a bill is brought before the Legislature, according to Keschl.

“Pan Am promised to issue a letter on how they’re going to proceed and to rescind the letter of previous agreements,” said Keschl.

Keschl said Pan Am would be looking to amend a law regarding recreational activities near private crossings. Title 14 the Maine Revised Statutes already limits the liability of a railroad company if someone is injured while on railroad property while engaging in recreational or harvesting activities. The amendment would broaden the railroad’s liability protection by including injuries or damage suffered by homeowners who live on the private roads.

“Say I’m driving an ATV and get struck by a train due to [my] negligence. The railroad has no liability,” said Keschl. “If we can take care of that language that protects [the railroad] from those [other] kinds of acts that aren’t their responsibility, then we move forward with other issues.”

Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano, who attended the meeting, didn’t immediately return a call from the Bangor Daily News seeking comment on Wednesday.

Keschl said Pan Am apologized to residents for how they were notified of the rate hike. Bickford said Monday that the letter had to be notarized and witnessed by two people and be returned to the railroad in 30 days.

Some of the concerns residents had might not be able to be addressed by the Legislature, said Keschl, because the authority of the Federal Railroad Administration preempts that of the state.

If he’s re-elected, Keschl said he will bring the issue before the Legislature. The next session begins in January.

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