Council seeks measure to silence train hornsThe year was 1957 and then Superior City Councilman Corcoran wanted the city’s ordinance prohibiting train whistles at certain intersections to change, according to minutes from May 7, 1957. The long ago Council member wanted horns blown by diesel locomotives added to the local law prohibiting train whistles.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
The year was 1957 and then Superior City Councilman Corcoran wanted the city’s ordinance prohibiting train whistles at certain intersections to change, according to minutes from May 7, 1957. The long ago Council member wanted horns blown by diesel locomotives added to the local law prohibiting train whistles.
The Council is still wrestling with the issue. Now, however, federal regulations are clear about when and where train horns are used, and silencing them is a costly proposition.
The estimated price tag for supplemental safety measures needed to silence train horns at 62 grade crossings in the city not in quiet zones would exceed $19 million.
“We’ve been talking about crossings and dealing with crossings for quite a while now,” said Assistant Public Works Director Todd Janigo.
While the Council and some of its committees have been exploring the problem, few solutions have surfaced.
After all, the railroads are required to follow regulations developed by the Federal Railroad Administration and implemented in 2005, and money has not been available to make necessary safety improvements at highway-train crossings that would allow city officials to silence train horns.
While the city has 18 designated quiet zones, including the North Eighth Street corridor, the recent revocation of a quiet zone at the North 28th Street rail yard is proving maddening for residents living in the area of the rail yard.
“I came to Superior because I believe it’s a beautiful area,” said George Chergosky who lives a block from the discontinued quiet zone. “I believe the City Council does a wonderful job of managing this town. But for something like this to slip off the plate. It seems like it’s been put back on the plate, but it has to be dealt with for the quality of life for the people in Billings Park, my tenants, the people in the assisted living home,” Lighthouse of Superior.
He said the train horns blaring through the night would discourage development because of the impact noise has on the quality of life.
Councilor Mick MacKenzie agrees. Living a half-mile from the rail yard, he’s invited officials to stay in his home to experience the impact train horns have on the neighborhood.
“What we’re looking for is some kind of (direction) and be able to go through that process,” Janigo said. “I don’t know that we would be able to do it in five years.”
The cost for adding gates and lights, and circuitry that allows the trains to communication with the safety features, can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 per crossing, according to Janigo.
In June, the city’s application for an extension of a quiet zone at North 28th Street was denied. The crossing is not dangerous enough to qualify for safety funding, which would allow the city grant opportunities to make safety improvements, despite the quite zone being terminated after a car-train accident in 2009 or 2010, Janigo said. That accident raised the risk index for the crossing, which requires the city to implement safety improvements to retain or restore the quiet zone.
The North 28th crossing, estimated at $460,000 according to a now expired proposal, would have cost about $1.2 million if the city didn’t receive a waiver for a constant warning system, Janigo said.
“If there’s a money tree that you know of so we can make these improvements, let me know,” he said.
“I think this boils down simply to ‘is this a priority,’” said Finance Director Jean Vito. She said the Council needs to consider how safety improvements at railroad crossings fit in with other city projects. Issuing debt to pay for it is another option, but it would affect the city tax levy, Vito said.
It’s work done by the railroads, but paid for by the city.
Federal regulations don’t allow city crews to design or construct the improvements, Janigo said.
Councilor Jack Sweeney said train horns wouldn’t be a priority for him because of the limitless nature of noise — if it’s not trains, it could be trucks. He said truck noise is the issue he hears about most representing a district along East Second Street.
Just live with it?
“Some of the things the railroad has done are out of control,” said Councilor Dan Olson. “On the other hand, we’re at their beck and call as how to make things better for us.”
It’s a citywide problem, but the cost of making improvements is prohibitive, Olson said.
“I just want to say I sat here 8½ years ago and did the same thing — cried about the noise — and 8½ years later, it’s still noisy,” said Councilor Esther Dalbec who represents North End. The issue erupted there years ago when the FRA denied an extension of a quiet zone on the waterfront corridor.
“They told us to live with it, and we have been living with it,” Dalbec said.
“Anybody who’s affected by this would tell you this is a priority for them,” MacKenzie said. “… I left my house tonight (Tuesday), and I think they were trying to play the song ‘Smoke on the Water’ or something like that with the train horns. It wasn’t fun to listen to. The priority is we need to do something about it.”
The Council directed city staff to establish a list of priorities based on train volume at various crossings citywide.
Councilor Bob Finsland said the priority list should consider traffic volume and residents affected in addition to train volume, because lightly populated areas may have a high train volume but would only affect the quality of life for a few.