NEWPORT, Maine — After nearly five years of asking, Newport Town Manager James Ricker said Pan Am Railways has agreed to help fix two railroad crossings in town.
“I’m excited that it’s happening,” Ricker said on Wednesday. “I think that Pan Am, at this point, has shown their willingness to work with us. We’re going to stay on this communication level and hopefully what’s happened in the past is in the past and we can simply move forward with this.”
In August, Ricker and several Newport residents expressed their displeasure about the conditions of railroad crossings on the Old Bangor Road and Spring Street.
“I think that crossing is a disgrace,” Vernon Holyoke said of the Old Bangor Road crossing at the time.
The crossing was so bad that the town placed an orange sign there directing motorists to call Pan Am — not the town office — to complain about it. Railroad crossings are privately owned by the rail company.
In response to complaints from the town, Ricker said Pan Am Railways dropped off a section of rail complete with ties intact several years ago, but never installed it. It sat alongside the tracks near the Old Bangor Road crossing until Wednesday.
Ricker reached out to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and the Federal Railroad Administration to help him work with Pan Am to get the crossings fixed.
About three weeks ago, Ricker said representatives from Collins’ office, the FRA and Pan Am sat in his office to talk about the crossings.
“The taxpayers of Newport owe some credit to Sen. Collins’ office for acting in the intermediary role,” Ricker said.
Collins commented on the importance of railways and the need for towns and rail companies to work together.
“When the Town of Newport contacted my office with safety concerns at certain crossings, we facilitated a meeting between the rail line owner, town officials, and the Federal Railroad Administration,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s important that all sides work together not only to keep freight moving, but also to help ensure the public’s safety. I applaud all involved for reaching an agreement to move forward.”
Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano said a spot in Pan Am’s construction schedule opened up to allow it to do work on the crossings.
“We’re doing a lot of crossings in that area. We had this window open for time left in the construction season where we could fit this in,” she said Wednesday. “We were able to sit down and work it out.”
Scarano said weather provides a short season to get work done on rails and crossings.
“We wanted to finish that Brunswick project going up to Freeport. Our workforce was out straight doing that,” she said. “We were able to free up some time to do these town projects.”
Other mid-Maine towns are also scheduled for crossing repairs soon, although she didn’t have the list handy, Scarano said. Work on Pan Am crossings in Maine is scheduled until the second week of November.
Newport crews and Pan Am Railways engineers were reconstructing the railbed on the western side of the Old Bangor Road on Wednesday. The road will remained closed until Thursday afternoon, when the crews will shift focus to the Spring Street crossing.
“We’re going to end up tearing up and paving at the same time,” Ricker said of Thursday’s work on Spring Street, which won’t be as extensive as the work on the Old Bangor Road crossing.
Pan Am and Newport public works will team up again in the spring to finish the crossing on Spring Street and to fix the east crossing on the Old Bangor Road.
The work on both crossings on Wednesday and Thursday will cost the town $10,000, said Ricker, while it will cost Pan Am about $35,000.
“When there’s no signal work involved, it’s about $35,000-$40,000,” said Scarano.