The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 30, 2012

City to look at silencing trains

Councilman Gassman wants city to investigate creating quiet zones

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Clinton officials are considering a measure that would allow the city to be exempt from the sound of train horns travelling along the Canadian Pacific lines.  

Federal law requires trains to sound their horns. However a city can create a “quiet zone” if it implements a number of safety requirements and follows a set of standards.    

The City Services Committee briefly discussed the item on Wednesday at the request of councilman Paul Gassman, Ward 4. Gassman said he would like to see the quiet zone rules in effect overnight and specifically in the area between Seventh Avenue South to 10th Avenue North.  

“I thought it would make it more peaceful for everybody,” Gassman said. “I think everyone in the city would appreciate less noise in the evening and morning.”

The Federal Railroad Association does allow zones to be established to cover a full 24-hour period or only overnight from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., but the process isn’t as simple as ask and you shall receive.  

“It’s not something you just walk in and fill out an application and then you are granted one,” City Attorney Jeff Farwell said.

As evidenced by other cities that have implemented train quiet zones, nine of them in Iowa, the project can be time consuming and expensive. 

According to an Associated Press article, the city of Burlington completed the project in 2010, nearly five years after officials initially started investigating it. To complete it, the city hired a consulting firm to design and implement the quiet zone plan for $80,000.

The quiet zone plan involved installing medians at six grade crossings and realigning one street. Two other grade crossings were also closed as a result of the quiet zone. In total, creating the quiet zone cost the city roughly $425,000, the article stated.  

Two years after implementing the quiet zones, Burlington Mayor Jim Davidson said they have allowed for downtown redevelopment including turning a former factory into an apartment building that he believes wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

“I can’t brag on it enough. It is absolutely wonderful,” Davidson, who was on the city council at the beginning of the planning process, said. “From our perspective, it’s been great.  It’s been really good for our downtown and people’s peace and tranquility.”  

Farwell cited 19 grade crossings along the Canadian Pacific line running from McKinley Street to Third Avenue South that would potentially need attention if the city pursued quiet zones.

A new quiet zone must be at least one-half mile in length and have at least one public highway-rail grade crossing, according to the FRA. Every public grade crossing in a new quiet zone must be equipped with the standard or conventional flashing light and automatic warning gates, at minimum.  

Of the 19 in Clinton, some would require minimal work, while others would require a tremendous amount to meet federal standards.   

“Some are very basic crossings, some have signals. I’m sure all of them require some sort of modification, it depends on how much,” Farwell said.

Additional safety engineering improvements might include medians to prevent drivers from going around the lowered gates, converting a one-way into a two-way street or closure of the crossing. Just as indistinct as the needs of Clinton’s grade crossings are the costs of the improvements.  

Morrison Police Chief Brian Melton said the quiet zone along the Union Pacific line in Morrison carries both positives and negatives. While it has had a positive impact on comfort, it has not done much in the way of safety, he said.

“It’s not a very safe combination with no speed limits or horns,” Melton said.

Since the quiet zones have been implemented, one pedestrian has been struck and killed by a train. Another was nearly hit, he said.

“Would the horns have made a difference? I don’t know, but they make people more aware,” Melton said.

Davidson said the trains running through Burlington have a speed limit and so far no deficiencies in safety have been noticed.

Canadian Pacific Trains running through Clinton also have to adhere to a 20 mile per hour speed limit.