KENNEBUNK (AP) – The main highway that connects Kennebunkport with the Maine Turnpike was closed Tuesday after a bridge buckled over an area where railroad tracks used by Amtrak’s Downeaster were being overhauled.

In addition to creating traffic headaches, the problem threatened to slow track repairs as workers scrambled to get the overhaul completed in time for the Downeaster to resume service on Sunday.

No one was working on the railroad bed early Tuesday when asphalt on the Route 35 overpass buckled.

The suspected cause was a freight train that passed below on track that had been moved for the rail bed repair, said Patricia Douglas of the Northern New England Rail Authority.

“We are just focused on making sure the Downeaster can resume service on Sunday,” Douglas said. “As many resources as possible are being dedicated right now to make that happen.”

Rail officials were taking advantage of a weeklong shutdown of Downeaster service during the Democratic National Convention in Boston to repair the 1,400-foot track section in Kennebunk.

Trains had been forced to slow to 25 mph on that stretch of track, due to a weak clay foundation. Workers are removing the old fill and replacing it with a new mix of sand and cement.

The bridge repairs will make the job more difficult and time-consuming, but Douglas said the crew was working to keep a tight schedule that will be necessary for completion of the project.

It will be a few days before vehicle traffic is allowed on the bridge, said Greg Nadeau of the Maine Department of Transportation. More workers will be sent to the site if necessary, he added.

The $900,000 track repairs are part of an ongoing effort to shave time off the trip between Portland and Boston. The Kennebunk project will reduce by 5 minutes the trip that currently takes 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Another 5 minutes will be shaved off the round trip when additional schedule changes are adopted on Nov. 1 and the trip will be reduced to 21/2 hours by the fall of 2005, rail officials say.

AP-ES-07-27-04 1638EDT



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