Ever Wonder What The Traffic Islands at Some Maine Railroad Crossings Are For?
You may notice more and more towns in Maine that have trains travel through them are having railroad crossing modified to include a median or curb between the lanes on either side of the crossing. They may seem out of place, but there's a reason they are there.
When the Amtrak Downeaster began service from Portland to Boston and later extending to Brunswick, a lot of residents of the towns that the rail line runs through didn't like the sudden increase of train horns. The train horns are required to sound at all railroad crossings by the Federal Railroad Administration to warn drivers that a train is approaching.
Towns do have the option to create quiet zones, where trains do not blow their horns at crossings. Portland established quiet zones several years ago and you'll see signs alerting drivers that they won't hear a train horn at the crossing they are approaching.
The quiet zones don't come cheap and each crossing in the zone has to be rated for its level of safety. If it doesn't meet the level of safety required by the FRA, then the horn must be sounded.
To increase the safety of the crossings, the town must pay for upgrading them. That can include adding quad-gates, two sets of gates on each side of the crossing that come down and block the entire road, preventing anyone from driving around them.
The cheaper option is to install medians or curbs between the lanes on each side of the road.
While this doesn't completely prevent anyone from driving around the gate, the threat of damage to their car will hopefully keep them where they belong. Word of advice? Don't ever try to run around the gates or beat a train to a crossing. The risk is not worth it.
The town of Cumberland is currently in the process of upgrading three crossings to allow no train horns. Tuttle Road, Greely Road and Main Street are having curbs installed at their respective crossings. They're a little easier to cross over though and go through the gates and they'll need some reflective posts on them so the plows don't have trouble with them, but they should do the trick. The legendary Bill Green posted a picture of the ones on Tuttle Road.
So the next time you're at a crossing and see these islands and curbs, you'll know why they're there.
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