Councilor seeks to quiet North EndThe sound is jarring in the middle of the night. Conductors moving trains along the Third Street corridor in the middle of the night blast their horns. By day, it’s prompted complaints from startled motorists on the Blatnik Bridge, which crosses over the corridor.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
The sound is jarring in the middle of the night.
Conductors moving trains along the Third Street corridor in the middle of the night blast their horns. By day, it’s prompted complaints from startled motorists on the Blatnik Bridge, which crosses over the corridor.
At night: “Those train horns just about knock you right out of bed,” said Superior City Councilor Bob Browne. “There’s no way you can sleep through that. There’s just no way unless you’re dead drunk or dead.”
Browne is working with the city’s Public Works Committee in an effort to silence those trains along the northernmost corridor in the city between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The area affects are between Oakes Avenue and Main Street, Browne said.
The rail line actually runs behind Perkins on East Second Street with several crossings between Main Street and E Avenue.
With the number of children living in the housing projects — children who need their sleep for school the next day, Browne said he knows the train horns are waking them up too.
Although children have a higher waking threshold they are equally or more reactive to night noise than adults and require greater amounts of sleep, according to the World Health Organization, which studied night noise in Europe; it found elderly people, pregnant women, those in ill health and shift workers also at greater risk of experiencing negative impacts from night noise.
In 2008, the city lost a waiver that made the corridor a quiet zone, three years after the Federal Railroad Administration implemented new rules concerning the use of train horns at intersections where train and vehicle traffic cross. Those rules require lights and cross arms, and still give railroads discretion about sounding the horns when an engineer deems a dangerous situation.
The goal of the train horn rule was to improve motorist safety at highway-rail crossings, after the FRA observed a significant increase in train-vehicle accidents in Florida that coincided with a statewide whistle ban. The FRA issued an emergency order requiring trains to sound horns, and accidents at the affected crossings returned to pre-ban levels. In the mid-1990s, Congress ordered the FRA to establish regulations requiring horns or whistles at all highway-rail crossings, but special consideration was granted to communities with long-standing quiet zones.
Browne isn’t seeking a rule that would ban train horns entirely, but he is seeking a prohibition against blowing the horns during hours when traffic along the corridor is minimal and most people are sleeping.
Browne said it doesn’t make sense for the trains to be blasting their horns at 3, 4 or 5 a.m. when few cars would be approaching the intersection.
“You don’t just listen to it once,” Browne said. “They blow their horn at Main Street. They blow at the shipyard, Grand Avenue, at every street.”
Public Works Director Jeff Goetzman estimated 13 highway-rail crossings along the Third Street corridor.
Then once they drag the train down the corridor, they come back again, Browne said.
“That’s all you listen to all night long,” Browne said. “There’s no way you can sleep through that. The people down there just need some relief from that.”
While some engineers blow the horn four times, as required by the FRA, others make one wonder if the engineer “fell asleep on the horn,” Browne said.
“They’ve just got to quiet that neighborhood down,” Browne said.
The 2005 FRA safety rule established a decibel range for the horns as well — a minimum of 96 and maximum of 110 decibels.
Even at 1,000 feet from the rail crossing — about two-tenths of a mile — the decibel level of a train horn is still 60 decibels, according to the FRA.
An extensive noise study conducted by the city of Pinole, Calif., in 2010 would dispute that claim. The California city recorded train horn decibel levels at 60 from an average 2,900 feet — more than half a mile — from the tracks, the low end of the decibel range of an average alarm clock.
The World Health Organization found insufficient evidence of biological effects from night noise below 40 decibels, but adverse effects are observed above that level. According to the organization, there is strong evidence night noise causes increases in heart rate, arousal, changes in sleep stage, awakening and use of medicine.
“They do have a safety obligation,” said Council Vice President Mick MacKenzie, chairman of the Public Works Committee, who retired from the railroad.
But he agreed the issue is problematic for Superior where train horns have become a common complaint since the FRA safety rules went into effect in June 2005.
“I really think there are engineers that have to work midnight so they’re laying on these horns,” said MacKenzie, who lives west of the rail corridor between Butler and Elmira avenues in Billings Park.
It’s not just an issue facing North End, where residents are sandwiched between two rail corridors — Eighth and Third streets.
Councilor Dan Olson, who represents South Superior, said it’s a rule he’d like to see citywide. After all, late night train horns are problematic in his district as well, despite established quiet zones.
The committee took no action because trains fall under the jurisdiction of the FRA, which limits local influence over silencing train horns. Still, committee members said they want to explore their options.
To meet the requirements for a quiet zone now, it would require lights and gates to be installed at an estimated cost of $250,000 for each of the 13 crossings along the corridor, Goetzman said. He said North End should quiet somewhat as cross arms are added at the intersections of Grand and Catlin avenues along the Eighth Street corridor — a project currently underway.