CLINTON — What does it take to get Pan Am Railways to fix a crumbling, pot-hole-ridden railroad crossing in central Maine?

Town officials in Clinton have found one answer: split the cost with the company.

Repair work on the town’s Railroad Street crossing began Thursday and will resume this coming week, finishing up Wednesday The town is chipping in about $4,000 toward the railroad work, plus another $20,000 for repaving the road on both sides of the crossing.

Town Manager Aaron Chrostowsky said he and the Board of Selectmen decided to split the costs with Pam Am because fixing the crossing is in the public interest.

“Yes, we are chipping in taxpayer dollars, but there’s a public interest in maintaining the town’s right of way in fixing that crossing,” Chrostowsky said. “We’re spending money to help fix a bad crossing, which our residents are complaining about.”

Officials in Fairfield, however, are balking at contributing taxpayer dollars. Joshua Reny, Fairfield’s town manager, said Pan Am officials have offered to repair crossings if the town contributes money as well, but members of the Fairfield Town Council aren’t comfortable doing that.

Fairfield continues to rotate large orange signs at some crossings in poor condition that direct people to slow down and to call Pan Am’s 800-number with complaints.

“I think it’s the railroad’s obligation to repair its own crossings,” Reny said.

The different approaches of the two neighboring communities highlights the difficulty some communities have had in getting crossings repaired.

Pan Am spokeswoman Cynthia Scarano did not return calls seeking comment.

In Clinton, Chrostowsky views the arrangement as a partnership with Pan Am Railways to upgrade the railroad crossing, which is near Brown Memorial Library and Clinton Elementary School.

The town has hired R.C. and Sons Paving, of Lewiston, to replace an old culvert and repave a portion of Railroad Street on both sides of the railroad tracks. Pan Am Railways will replace rail, ties, ballast and installing rubber rail seal, which the town purchased, so it’s smoother crossing for vehicles.

Chrostowsky said the town is spending $3,018 for a rail rubber seal that Pan Am will install and is splitting the cost of creating a drainage ditch along the track, which will cost the town another $1,000. In addition, the town will spend $19,979 for repaving about 80 feet of town road on both sides of the track.

“It could have been done a lot cheaper on our part — we didn’t have to do 80 feet; we could have done 4 feet on either side,” Chrostowsky said. “But we looked at it as a better fix. We wanted to preserve this crossing for the long haul. Truthfully, we wanted it done right.”

Work began Thursday when R.C. and Sons Paving replaced a culvert. Railroad Street will be limited to one lane of traffic from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

On Monday, road work will resume from about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the road may be closed throughout the day.

Then, Railroad Street will be closed all day and night, starting 6 a.m. Tuesday and ending 6 p.m. Wednesday, as Pan Am upgrades the railroad track and crossing with new materials.

Residents of Railroad Street, Mill Road, Mutton Lane and Horseback Road have been mailed notices of the project because Railroad Street is their route to downtown Clinton and Route 100. Detour signs will be posted and a town firetruck will be stationed on the northern side of the tracks so that response time to calls is not impeded, Chrostowsky said.

Chrostowsky said the rubber seal will replace 40-year-old metal tracks at the sunken crossing, which will also be raised up.

“The letter of the law states that we shouldn’t be investing in a private interest and it’s the railroad’s responsibility, but they (Pan Am) made it very clear to us that this isn’t a high priority for them. So, we could have waited five, 10, 15 years before they even come to our crossing and find it worthwhile to fix,” he said.

Fairfield officials, however, have so far declined to accept Pan Am’s similar offer. Railroad company officials met with Reny and others this spring following the town’s decisions to post the signs with Pan Am’s 800-number, which several driver’s apparently called to lodge complaints about crossings in town. Fairfield officials said Pan Am had been unresponsive to town and citizen complaints about the crossings.

Pan Am Railways, based in North Billerica, Mass., operates more than 300 miles of track in Maine.

Fairfield was given two options: split the cost of repairing some of the worst crossings with Pan Am, or close some of the crossings in the hope that the town could be eligible to receive federal money in the future.

“I think the Town Council felt a little apprehensive on spending tax dollars on repairing a railroad crossing that is basically their (Pan Am’s) responsibility,” Reny said. “No action was taken because councilors didn’t feel comfortable with the options presented.”

Meantime, the town has decided to keep its railroad crossing signs up and recently moved them from Lawrence Avenue to Burrill Street, Reny said.

He said Fairfield officials will be watching Clinton’s project.

“It might be a good case study for us look at and gauge what the true costs might be,” Reny said. “Before Clinton decided to pursue this, all the costs were speculative. Once that’s done in Clinton, I might ask for a summary of how things went. We have three crossings that are really bad and Clinton is doing one, so that would triple the cost right there.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]


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