LEBANON, Maine (AP) – The section of railroad track where two girls lost limbs on Wednesday is a popular draw for the area’s young people, a police chief said, and more than once, kids have had to push panicked friends out of the way to avoid being hit by trains.

“We’ve been trying to avoid this,” said Police Chief Mark McGowan of Milton, N.H., on the Lebanon border. “We are constantly trying to keep the kids off the track.”

Wednesday night, hours after a slow-moving freight train hit the two girls who had fallen asleep while sunbathing on the track, a neighbor called police to chase away two boys who were fishing from the same spot.

And McGowan says the issue came up at a meeting Tuesday evening at which police talked about summer enforcement patrols.

“On really warm days, kids like to jump off the trestle into the water,” he said.

But sometimes, it’s not easy.

“You can get stuck in the tracks,” he said, adding that several kids have panicked and had to be pushed off the tracks with trains coming.

Tammy Thompson, 40, who lives in Lebanon near the tracks, said the area’s popularity has been a concern for years.

“I’ve seen people bring babies here in strollers and put them on the tracks” while they go swimming, she said.

The two girls injured Wednesday still are hospitalized.

Destiny Phaneuf, 13, of Lebanon, lost her leg just below the knee and remained in critical condition Thursday afternoon at Maine Medical Center in Portland; Rachel Brown 14, also of Lebanon, lost a foot. Her condition has been upgraded to satisfactory.

Officials are puzzled about why the girls did not hear, or feel, the train coming. Police say there’s no indication they were impaired by alcohol or drugs, and they were not listening to music on headphones.

Thompson, said her whole house, about 100 yards away, was shaking after the train locked its brakes, including her computer screen.

“Even if I’m sleeping, I can hear the train whistle,” she said.

McGowan said the train that hit the girls usually travels north between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. every morning, and in the other direction in the afternoon. But, it’s not always on time and sometimes makes more than one trip. On Wednesday, it was on time; police got the emergency call at 10:37 a.m.

The girls, who are eighth-graders at Noble Middle School in Berwick, had skipped school Wednesday.

“They’re best friends, they could be sisters, they’re the same size,” Principal Dan Baker told WMUR-TV. “They’re a nice pair of kids. Certainly, this is a tragedy. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

Baker said after hearing about the accident, he used an automated system to call all parents and doubled the number of guidance counselors at the school Thursday.

AP-ES-05-29-08 1904EDT

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