City hosts demonstration of lower-decibel train horns
Residents excited but funding, installation not imminent
Monday, June 21, 2010
Seven in Need
Someday, city officials — and probably plenty of residents — hope to transform the entire city into a train horn quiet zone.
In some areas, that will involve putting in special crossing gates with the help of a local improvement district, or LID, where neighbors agree to pay for the costs. In other spots, the road may be rerouted or closed. In still others, more simple improvements, like high median dividers, may be enough to silence the blasts.
Here’s a breakdown of the intersections that need work:
• Hill Street: As part of city’s planned projects to improve access to the waterfront, the tracks here will be realigned and crossing improvements, including noise-reducing wayside horns, may be used, if surrounding businesses choose to pay for them.
• Eighth Street: The street is set to be closed at the tracks with waterfront improvements. Traffic will be rerouted underneath the railroad berm on Seventh Street, and no horn will be needed.
• 11th Street: The crossing is being upgraded; wayside horns were tested here Friday. Surrounding businesses would have to pay to have them installed with the gates.
• Beach Drive: Median improvements have been done; final paperwork is expected to go to the Federal Railroad Administration soon.
• Chelsea Avenue/Topper Drive: Wayside horns are being tested at this private crossing; it is still under study.
• Southeast 144th Avenue: The city is in negotiations with the railroad administration here. The city contends it is a private crossing and no safety modifications need to be done, while the federal agency says that some work must be done.
• Southeast 139th, 147th and 164th avenues: Residents there are looking at officially forming a local transportation improvement district to spread the $1.2 million cost of three four-arm crossing guards across 469 households. The project is on hold until the city figures out what may have to be done at the crossing on 144th. The Vancouver City Council will have the final say on forming the district.
As engineers prepared to test a new warning horn for oncoming trains, most of the 20-plus neighbors standing by the train tracks near Chelsea Avenue and Topper Drive in Southeast Vancouver put their fingers in their ears.
But one-by-one, they lowered their hands. This horn was a toot compared to the blast of the freight trains they’re accustomed to.
Then, something happened that’s darn near impossible when a BNSF is coming down the line — they began talking to each other, while the horn was still going off.
“You can have a conversation,” remarked Mary Jane Smith, who lives in nearby Topper Landing. “It sounds like being in our house, we’re not even going to hear it.”
City traffic engineers and neighbors gathered at three train crossings across the city Friday to test wayside horns, a relatively new technology that focuses the noise down the streets to warn oncoming cars and pedestrians, rather than the wide-ranging reverberation of an engineer’s blast.
Train whistles, which generally ring in at just under 110 decibels, have a range of about 31 acres, said Robert Albritton, cochairman and chief executive officer of Quiet Zone Technologies, the Texas company that manufactures the wayside horns. His horns, at 92 decibels of focused sound, have a range of less than an acre, he said.
The sound is similar to that of an actual train horn, and Albritton said that studies have shown the wayside horns are as safe or safer than train horns. The device is activated as trains approach the crossing, and blows in a pattern for a maximum of 30 seconds, about how long trains currently signal for, he said.
The city has a long-term goal of quieting all train horns in the city limits, and is studying ways to make improvements to eight crossings from downtown to Southeast 164th, said Matt Ransom, Vancouver’s transportation planning manager. In some places, the Federal Railroad Administration has given the OK to installing 6-inch high medians that keep cars from driving around gates. In others, roads may be closed or rerouted. In Southeast Vancouver, neighbors are discussing forming a local improvement district, or LID, to cover the $1.2 million cost of installing three four-armed gates.
At three intersections, Hill, 11th Street and Chelsea Avenue, the wayside horns may be the best option, Ransom said. They cost about $100,000 for one horn on each side of a crossing, Albritton said.
“The city’s not going to pay for it,” Ransom told the Chelsea Avenue neighbors before the test, alluding to Vancouver’s ongoing budget crisis. “There’s no money to implement this, but if through feedback and discussion with the railroad company, we determine it’s a viable option, we’ll convey that to you.”
Neighbors would be expected to form their own local improvement district, which requires a majority of neighbors to say they’ll pay and final approval by the Vancouver City Council. Ransom was quick to say that Friday’s activities were just a preliminary test; it’ll likely be a while before it could happen.
But after the tests, it was clear those who have long lived along the tracks were anxious to get their hands on a wayside horn.
“It’ll probably be faster to just write checks than form a LID,” one man remarked.
“We want one,” neighborhood resident George Grill said. “I couldn’t even hear the horn down the street.”
S.L. Yu, who lives on Southeast 75th Avenue, said the noise of the whistle blasts varies from operator to operator, and he’s all for the much quieter warning horn.
“We’ve got a joke that one operator must have a divorced wife that lives in the neighborhood, he blows so loud at 2 a.m.,” he said, laughing. “I think it’s a lot less noise.”
Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or email@example.com.