FAIRFIELD — Railroad officials and environmental protesters who blocked local tracks for several hours Thursday evening gave conflicting accounts Friday on whether a train carrying fracked oil was expected to pass through town at the time of the protest.
One of about 30 protesters, who tried to block a Pan Am Railways train by erecting a makeshift wooden scaffold on the railroad tracks around 8 p.m., said the group tracked an inbound train since Thursday afternoon, but a railroad official said no train was scheduled to run along that part of the track Thursday evening.
The protesters, calling themselves Maine 350, erected a scaffold on the rail line near the Town Office, holding up signs and chanting against the practice of fracking. They dispersed around 10:30 p.m., following the arrests of six protesters.
Protesters believed a train, coming from North Dakota, heading to New Brunswick and bearing 70,000 barrels of fracked oil, was to pass through the town.
“Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing, a controversial process in which oil is removed from shale by high-pressure water and chemical injections. Fracking opponents claim the process causes significant damage to the environment and perpetuates depenence on fossil fuels.
A 350 Maine member told the group a train bearing oil had passed through Oakland, and how to identify it, according to Read Debow Brugger, 63, of Freedom, one of the protesters arrested on Thursday. Brugger said the train was seen at 3:35 p.m. as it passed under Interstate 95 near County Road.
But Pan Am Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano said there was no train scheduled to carry oil from Waterville to New Brunswick Thursday, and she does not know why protesters believed one was scheduled. She would not say if there was a train scheduled to carry it as far as Waterville Thursday, but did say the railroad carries crude oil.
Freight train schedules are not public because of safety regulations, she said.
She said protests like Thursday’s are also safety issue, both for employees and the protesters.
“Safety is always our concern. That’s why we’re so against trespassers,” she said.
She said the North Billerica, Mass.-based company plans to work with local police and the district attorney’s office to press charges against the six people who were arrested.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said Friday she had not reviewed the police reports, and would decide next week how to proceed, including the possibility of billing those arrested for the cost of the police response.
Brugger said the protest was more about promoting awareness about fracking than whether the group encountered a train at that intersection.
“To us, it was enough that it was in the Waterville rail yard,” he said.
Pan Am owns the track, which enters southern Maine in the Berwick area and follows the coast before going inland, through towns including Leeds, Winthrop and Belgrade, before it gets to Waterville. While the line has several dead-end spurs, it enters New Brunswick near Vanceboro.
Kaitlin Schroeder— 861-9252