City continues to pursue quiet zone designation
“When I heard the train go by the first time I loved it,” said Karen Yirak, who moved into a new Harborside Avenue house with her husband John last year.
”When they cross Bell Road and Hughes it’s like one long blast, and in the middle of the night it’s almost impossible to sleep.”
Relief may be at hand. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a rule on the use of locomotive horns at highway-rail grade crossing that allows communities to establish half-mile long quiet zones through residential neighborhoods as long as certain safety conditions are met.
The rule was issued in June, 2005, and specifies that trains traveling at 45 m.p.h. or below are required to sound their horns for 15 seconds before the lead locomotive enters the crossing. Trains traveling faster than 45 m.p.h. have always been required to blow their horns. According to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) website, “the operator should continue blowing the whistle [horn] until the lead locomotive passes through the crossing.”
However, by equipping the crossing with flashing lights and gates, power out indicators and constant warning time in the track circuitry, operators would be allowed to move through a crossing without sounding their horns at all. The rule absolves the engineer of liability should a train-vehicle collision occur in an established quiet zone with all safety measures intact and working.
The FRA rates crossings by factors such as the amount of vehicle and train traffic, accident history, types of vehicles, speed that the trains travel and so on. If an intersection rates too high then additional measures must be taken, such as four quadrant gates, median dividers to prevent people from driving around the gates and wayside horns that sound like trains but are focused toward on-coming traffic, reducing their noise in the surrounding area by 98 percent.
Representatives of BNSF, the FRA, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the city of Blaine met Monday afternoon to talk about establishing Blaine’s three crossings as quiet zones, or at least putting in quieter horns. “The primary consideration is safety,” said Chris Adams, grade crossing and trespass prevention manager for the FRA. When she first looked at the Marine Drive crossing she said “This is perfect for a wayside horn.”
At $75,000 apiece the devices aren’t cheap. “It would run into six figures to equip all the intersections here,” said John Shurson, BNSF’s assistant director of public projects, “and the engineer, of course, has the prerogative to blow his horn as long as he likes if he sees danger ahead.”
Both Yiraks worked for the Federal Aviation Industry as air traffic controllers and know a bit about working through the system. John Yirak has been working with city officials to establish the quiet zones for the Bell Road and Hughes Avenue crossings and helped bring about Tuesday’s meeting. “We knew there was a train here when we bought the house, John Yirak said, “[but the horns] are an unnecessary intrusion and unreasonably disruptive to our neighborhood’s peace and quiet. The [new] ruling may provide a solution.”
BNSF will be implementing the horn rule on December 15.