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Railroad Crossings

In today’s transportation world, railroads are becoming increasingly popular for both passengers and goods. Mainers have witnessed the recent introduction of Amtrak service to Portland and more Maine destinations are planned for the future. If your community has a railroad crossing on any of your local roads, you should be aware of who is responsible for railroad maintenance. A properly maintained railroad crossing can help prevent accidents from occurring and save lives.

When a railroad crosses a municipally maintained road, three different parties become responsible for maintenance: the Railroad Company, the State of Maine, and the Municipality.

  • The Railroad Company is responsible for maintenance of the area within 18 inches of each outside rail, regardless if the rail is located in an urban compact area or not. The Railroad is also responsible for railroad signals and/or crossbuck signs. In some cases, the State of Maine actually owns the rail while others are owned by a railroad company. To find out who owns the track in your community, contact Maine DOT’s Natham Moulton at 624-3560.
  • Maine’s Department of Transportation, through the Traffic Engineering Division, maintains the advanced warning signage. Maintenance of signs may include removal of obstructions, such as trees or branches. To address this issue, the Legislature created a law in 1989 that states the DOT may order the town to remove obstructions, brush, weeds, and trees for a distance of up to 300 feet either side of a crossing. Towns may recover 50% of this expense from the State, as explained in 23 MRSA Section(s) 7223 and 7224. MDOT’s Natham Moulton sends out clearing requests to municipalities every two years. This is based upon reports by the Railroad company or DOT crossing reviews. Within the Railroad Right of Way, the Railroad is responsible.
  • Municipalities are responsible for maintaining advanced pavement markings and striping. Pavement markings should follow the standards established in the latest edition of the MUTCD. (Currently, the MUTCD states, “Pavement markings shall not be required at highway-rail grade crossings where the posted or statutory highway speed is less than 40 mph, or in urban areas, if an engineering study indicates that other installed devices provide suitable warning and control.” Sect. 8B16 June 2001.) If towns have not maintained these markings before, they may want to contact a neighboring town about sharing the cost to purchase marking stencils. Towns are also responsible for road maintenance beyond the 18 inches from each outside rail.

Proper maintenance is a year round responsibility for railroad crossings. Municipalities should include railroad crossings on their annual road striping maintenance plan, along with crosswalks or centerline work. Towns need to be prepared to clear trees and brush when necessary at various crossings, as well. If problems occur with the track itself or the area within the tracks, contact the Railroad company immediately. Working together with your railroad company and DOT will help provide safer crossings.

Train speed is an issue in some communities. This is particularly true regarding poor visibility crossings, downtown areas, and school zones. In order for trains to be effective and competitive, train services need to operate at optimum speeds. The MDOT currently has the authority to set rail speed limits at railroad crossings. Outside of crossings, the Railroad Company can run as fast as the track conditions allow.

If a community becomes concerned over speed, it can contact the MDOT to discuss the issue. Crossing improvements, such as installing new signals or crossbucks, could help alleviate safety concerns and allow trains to move at optimum speed. Since rail use is an interstate commerce issue, there has been discussion whether federal law will override Maine’s speed setting authority.

The DOT manages a Grade Crossing Safety Improvement Program. In this program, funds are spent on signal installation/upgrades for improvements to at-grade crossings. Funding for this program is made available every two years. There are about 620 active grade crossings in Maine, so competition is pretty fierce (Approx. 18 projects get funded every two years). If you would like more information on this, please contact Nathan Moulton at 624-3560.

This page last updated on 10/7/13