City officials plan a public awareness campaign to alert the public that passenger trains will begin rolling north to Freeport and Brunswick in less than a month, and the expansion of rail service means more risks of collisions with trains at more than a dozen crossings in the city.
Streets where the passenger trains will cross include Allen Avenue, Ashmont Street, Brighton Avenue, Congress Street, Coyle Street, Forest Avenue, Lincoln Street, Prospect Street, Read Street, Revere Street, Riverside Street, Saunders Street, Walton Street and Woodfords Street. The Amtrak Downeaster will start traveling north from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick on Nov. 1. "We're making some investments in order to improve the safety of those intersections. We're going to be installing medians as you're approaching those intersections so people won't be able to change lanes and drive around the gates," said City Councilor David Marshall, chair of the city's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee. "There will be a general public awareness campaign around it. We're going to need to work with our police department for enforcement to keep people off that property," Marshall said. The expanded service calls for two round trips a day from Brunswick to Boston, and one more round trip to position the train. The public can expect Amtrak trains at Portland crossings six times a day, three northbound and three southbound, explained Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. "The railroad is private property and it's not a place for people to walk or recreate. As train traffic increases, it's important for people to realize that they need to treat the train track like they would any highway and not use it," Quinn said. "Where there's some additional concerns is where there's pedestrians who walk along the railroad tracks, children who play on the railroad tracks, people who walk their dogs, people who ride ATVs," Quinn noted. The rail authority has participated with Operation Lifesaver, local law enforcement, public safety officials and others to prepare for the launch. Marshall said the city plans an educational campaign "to make people aware that the Amtrak trains will be quieter and faster than the freight trains so it's really important for people to stay off the tracks whether they hear a train or not." Sometimes, people will hang out on the railroad tracks, which is both dangerous and a crime, said Vernon Malloch, assistant police chief. The frequency and speed of trains will change on Nov. 1, but Malloch said police already respond to the PanAm Railway corridor, where freight trains already operate. "We always enforce the rail crossings, and those tracks are active tracks," Malloch said. "We'll continue with our efforts, it's not new to us that the railroad tracks do periodically become pedestrian avenues, and that's in violation, the railroad tracks are private property and they're posted as such," he said. A person guilty of walking on the rail corridor can be found guilty of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor arrest or summons, Malloch noted. Meanwhile, pedestrians and motorists need to be alert at crossings, he said. "The increased traffic and the increased speed that we're anticipating with these trains, we do urge people to be cautious at the crossings, and to obey the lights and the barricades," Malloch said. There are approximately 160,000 miles of track operated in the United States. From January to July of this year, Amtrak experienced 1,029 accidents, and 70 were fatal, according to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis. Seventy-four people died from these accidents, and 61 trespassing incidents away from crossings resulted in the deaths of 47 trespassers on train tracks, the office reported. The total deaths nationwide for all rail transport was 433 fatalities in the seven-month period.