You may notice that more and more towns in Maine with trains traveling through them are having railroad crossings 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 extended to Brunswick), a lot of area residents didn't like the sudden increase of train horns. The train horns are required by the Federal Railroad Administration to sound at all railroad crossings, in order to warn drivers that a train is approaching.

Towns have the option to create quiet zones, where trains do not blow their horns at crossings. However, they do ring a bell. It's quieter, but still gets attention.

Google Maps
Google Maps

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 and 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.

Google Maps
Google Maps

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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