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Middleborough

Middleborough officials not on board with Cape Flyer train

State officials worked hard this week to quell fears in Middleborough that a resurrected Boston-to-Cape Cod passenger train is an accident waiting to happen when it runs for the first time in 25 years on Friday.

But it was a hard argument to swallow for those whose homes and driveways abut the at-grade crossings at Miller and Spruce streets, where the Cape Flyer will pass at speeds close to 60 miles per hour on summer weekends.

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Never mind that the track is largely unfenced, town officials said, and runs directly behind the Rock Village Church and a day care center playground full of children.

“We have a lot of concerns,’’ selectmen chairman Stephen J. McKinnon said during a question-and-answer session at Monday’s selectmen’s meeting. Town officials have also expressed frustration at having learned details about the rail plan not from the state but from the news media.

At the meeting, senior track engineer Brian Moroney of Jacobs Engineering, who was hired to make line improvements and was representing the state Department of Transportation, said that a year’s worth of work had been completed in four months to get the train route ready for launch. That included replacing 44,000 railroad ties, clearing branches, posting new signs, and repainting markings at grade crossings, he said.

Tracey Kauffman, the MBTA’s deputy director of safety, assurance, and control, assured officials that a risk assessment on the route is in the works but is not yet done. She said safety enhancements would meet regulatory standards only, and fliers are being sent to the town’s 3,500 schoolchildren and parents and to newspapers, supermarkets, the library, and other public places warning people to stay off the tracks.

Brian Giovanoni, a member of the town’s School Committee, characterized the MBTA plan as “a rush job” and said he was astonished safety efforts were incomplete with a train ready to roll on Friday.

Miller Street resident Sherrie Swindle, who called herself a “five-generation townie,” was more blunt.

“If I had to grade you on community outreach, I’d have to give you an F,’’ she said. “This was a surprise attack. You have made no effort to talk to us. We live there. And when you move on we will still be there.”

Swindle’s neighbor Dave Cavanaugh said the line work behind his home has caused total disruption, especially for his wife, who works nights.

“There are machines running up and down the track creating dust,’’ he said. “And they have totally raped the vegetation along the way.”

In April, MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey held a news conference at South Station to announce that trains will run from May 24 through Sept. 2 between Boston and Hyannis to boost tourism and cut down on pollution from cars. It’s the first time such a service has been offered in two decades and will run in conjunction with the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. Currently, the track is only used by slow-moving freight trains.

Starting Friday, one train on the Middleborough and Lakeville line will leave South Station at 5:12 p.m. for Hyannis, about a 2½-hour trip. It will leave Hyannis at 8:30 p.m., arriving at South Station at 10:45 p.m.

On Saturdays and Sundays, the train will leave South Station at 8 a.m. and return from Hyannis at 6:30 p.m. In between, the train will makes stops in Braintree, the Middleborough/Lakeville station, and Buzzards Bay.

Town Manager Charles Cristello pointed out that recent improvements to the Old Colony rail line and every other state rail project for the past 20 years have included fencing by residential properties.

“Is there something different here?” he asked Kauffman and Moroney. “You built a level of safety into those communities that you aren’t even proposing here.”

Selectman Allin Frawley said he supports the Cape rail service but wants trains slowed to 30 miles per hour for the sake of residential neighborhoods and anyone walking the tracks, which many people use to get to town fishing holes.

Kauffman replied that trespassing is against the law and dangerous. “People should know that they shouldn’t do that,” she said.

Moroney said there is little difference between now and when passenger trains ran through town in the 1980s.

McKinnon disagreed: “Take a look at a zoning map of those areas,’’ he said. “The area has blossomed.”

After the meeting, selectmen signed a letter raising their concerns to Governor Deval Patrick, Davey, MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, and the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. They brought up the fence issue and also questioned the lack of median barriers at crossings to prevent motorists from driving around the railroad gates.

“We do not understand why Middleborough and towns to our south are not afforded the same safety measures that are routinely provided to other communities,’’ the selectmen wrote. “We look forward to your reply.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@ live.com.
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