Tom Testa, left, listens as Nate Moulton, director of the rail program at the Maine Department of Transportation, speaks at a meeting at Ellsworth City Hall on Oct. 28. Listening at right are Keith Hansen and Ben Beverly, neighbors of the rail line that is owned by DOT and operated by the Downeast Scenic Railroad. Testa is president of the Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust, which is the parent organization of the Downeast Scenic Railroad. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

Neighbors voice concerns, complaints about rail line

ELLSWORTH — A group of concerned residents met with city, state and railroad officials last week to voice their concerns and frustrations with the rail line that runs through their neighborhood.

Part of the line that is used by the Downeast Scenic Railroad and owned by the Maine Department of Transportation passes through a residential area including Church, Davis, Fox, Lincoln, Park and Spring streets and Birch Avenue.

More than a dozen residents came to City Hall Oct. 28 to talk about issues including noise from the train, notification about spraying of herbicide along the rail line and deterioration of the rail bed itself.

While not unsympathetic, the representatives from the DOT and the railroad told the residents — who are part of the Ellsworth Rails Neighborhood Association, or ERNA — that they have to work within the parameters of federal laws that are not flexible.

Martha Nordstrom, an ERNA member, summed up the group’s concerns by telling officials that there is a “seeming lack of understanding that this is a neighborhood, first and foremost.”

Nordstrom and others said their previous efforts to talk with DOT and railroad officials, over the phone and by email, were often unsuccessful.

On the subject of herbicides, Moulton said the DOT contracts with an out-of-state company to do the annual spraying. He said the state posts a legal notice as required, but is not obligated to notify individual property owners.

City Manager David Cole, the former head of the DOT, asked if neighbors could have their email addresses added to a mailing list in order to get a heads-up about spraying. Moulton said that could be arranged. Cole said the city also would work with ERNA to keep residents informed.

Residents can ask that spray not be used by their property. If they do, however, they are then required to keep any part of their property that falls into the rail line’s right of way clear of plants.

Neighbors voiced concern about the degradation of the rail bed, which ERNA attributed to a lack of plant growth to keep the soil in place, and rails that seemed out of line.

Moulton said the tracks were inspected by a Federal Railroad Administration official who found “no issues” with the line. He said residents should let him know when problems arise.

The horns on the locomotives were discussed at length. Residents said the noise disrupts their lives, and called it “obnoxious,” but Moulton and Tom Testa — president of the Downeast Scenic Railroad’s parent organization — said the horn has to be loud.

Federal law requires it meet a certain decibel level, and to be blown a specific number of times at each crossing. In ERNA’s neighborhood, with frequent crossings, that can amount to a steady stream of horn blasts.

There are two locomotives, and residents said one of the horns is quieter. That horn is “tolerable,” they said, while the other is not.

Moulton and Testa said they would look to see if the louder horn could be quieted, but said it may be the quiet horn is too quiet and will have to be made louder.

Residents claimed the horn is not used at the Ellsworth High School crossing. Rail officials said if that is true, it is an error and that the horn should be used there, too.

Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American, and Hugh Bowden, the paper’s editorial page editor, are both members of ERNA and attended the Oct. 28 meeting.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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