Title: Quiet Trains Initiative Update
Quiet Trains Information and Update

We now have about 300 people on the QT email distribution list.  As usually happens with an issue like this, once you start looking at it, people come along who know a lot and share that knowledge with you, and you gradually figure it out for yourself.  This has certainly been the case for me over the last couple of weeks.  My main sources of information have been Ed Malloy and John Revolinski.  For this QT initiative to be successful, we all have to have a better understanding of why we have train noise, what can be done to eliminate it, and how City of Fairfield politics play into the equation.  Here are the basics as I have learned thus far:

1.      Why do the trains honk so much as they pass through town?  The short answer is that they are required to do so by Federal statute.  I was told that each train is required to give 3 long blasts and 3 short ones for EACH crossing.  Fairfield has 9 in all, from D St. on the east to 23rd on the west end of town.  So by law each engineer needs to honk 54 times as they pass through town.  If you want to delve into the statute, go to http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1318.

2.      What are the potential solutions?  First, I would like to say that I am not interested in spending either time or money on a partial solution.  An example of a partial solution would be a quiet zone of at least ¸ mi. where the City has either closed crossings permanently or implemented an SSM (Federal bureaucrat speak for an approved ãsupplemental safety measureä).  The SSM most often discussed is the installation of a barrier or median that runs 100â on either side of a crossing that prevents motorists from changing lanes and driving through the crossing.  This solution is not inexpensive, and requires that each street be converted to one way for 100â, and all alleys within that 100â have to be closed.  There is little enough support on our City Council for addressing train noise, and the ensuing complaints about this solution would make success improbable.   The other solution is to close certain crossings within the City.  Those that have been discussed in this context are 8th St. (which may be closed sometime soon), 3rd St., and Main St.  The 3rd. St. crossing is problematic due to the presence of Ideal Concrete.  However, they may move once the bypass is completed.  But closing some or all of these crossings would be a political battle of some proportion, and would only allow the trains to not sound their horns at the closed crossings.  I donât believe this would deliver the overall improvement in quality of life that we want for our fair city.

3.      Is there a better solution?  Fortunately, I believe that the answer may be YES.  The name for this SSM is ãwayside hornsä.  Wayside horns are mounted at each crossing along with the existing crossing infrastructure.  They sound automatically as a train approaches and alert motorists, along with the usual crossing guard and lights.  They also are designed to alert the train engineers if they are not functioning normally, so they can think honk like they do now.  If you are intrigued, I suggest you read http://www.railroadcontrols.com/ahs/Evaluation_of_an_Automated_Horn_Warning_System_at_Three_Highway-Railroad_Grade_Crossings_in_Ames_Iowa.pdf.  This is a report done by the Iowa Dept. of Transportation and the City of Ames about 3 crossings that had wayside horns installed in 1999.  I find some very important pieces of information in this report.  First, meditators in Fairfield are not the only ones who are bothered by train noise.  Second, the residents around these 3 crossings in Ames were VERY pleased with the results.  Finally, and perhaps most important, the 26 railroad engineers surveyed (Union Pacific passes through Ames) felt the wayside horns were as safe or safer than the traditional practice of sounding train mounted horns.  I plan to visit Ames to see these horns in action as soon as possible, and get information on the cost of the systems.

4.      What is the current state of local politics on this issue?  Some years ago, when asked by local residents to consider closing some crossings that would lead to a partial quiet zone in town, the Safety Committee of the City Council (CC) considered the issue, got some community input, and then passed a resolution saying that they not only rejected the idea, but would NEVER consider it again!  There have been some changes in the CC since this time, but my best guess is that today the vote would still be 5-2 or at best 4-3 against taking any action.  We are fortunate nonetheless to have the support of Mayor Ed Malloy and CC member John Revolinski.

5.      Would a lot of political pressure and activism help the cause?  Right now I believe that the answer is no.  Given the makeup and attitudes of the CC, I think if we assaulted them with emails, calls, and letters, they would only dig in their heels.  This would also put the matter into the public light, and cause the opposition to gear up efforts to block a city wide quiet zone.  However, once the economics and issues related to a comprehensive solution are determined, we will need to work to build consensus within the community.  In short, picking a fight will just cause a fight, and make things worse.

6.      What is the bottom line?  As usual, its money.  Once we determine the cost of a wayside horn system for all 9 crossings, and the potential revenue from the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad (BNSF) for closing a few of our crossings, we can consider how best to educate the entire community and how to either raise the required amount of money or make the case for the City covering the cost or part thereof.   

I hope this information will be useful to you.  I have found it quite enlightening, and am optimistic that there could be a real solution in the not totally distant future.  Some of the emails I have received have offered financial support.  My wife Martha and I are willing to contribute personally to the cost of a real solution, and I believe many others would do the same.  I believe this would enhance the value of our home near the tracks by making the area much quieter and more ãlivableä.  Add this to our new Civic Center, and I think we could have a real impact on the railroad corridor and the neighborhoods that are most affected by train noise.

Once we have a good estimate of the cost of the wayside horn solution I will let everyone know and then we can consider how to proceed.  By the way, given the demands of my job, I have a very limited ability to answer emails, especially during the week.  That is why my main effort is to share the information that has been given to me.  When the time is right, either weâll meet or set up some sort of forum so we can discuss how to proceed.  

Thanks for your interest and support.

Regards, Bill Blackmore
QT Initiative


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