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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2005

Communities may climb aboard for train 'quiet zones'

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Communities nationwide tired of hearing the wail of horns from passing trains will soon have the option of seeking federal authority to establish "quiet zones" in which locomotives would no longer need to blow their horns for street crossings.

To get Federal Railroad Administration permission for such local horn bans, however, communities will have to have safety systems in place to keep motorists from driving around the gates or demonstrate that the risk of motorists doing so in the designated area is low.

The new restrictions go into effect June 24. The potential expense of meeting the new rules is a major reason John Alexander, Perrysburg's city administrator, said city officials will probably tread carefully before deciding whether to pursue "quiet zone" status. Numerous trains blow their horns while rolling by a dozen crossings in the city every day.

"It is an initiative we have identified. It is a topic of interest," Mr. Alexander said yesterday. "We are reviewing the options. But it has the potential to be a very expensive implementation."

The new rules are so tough that officials estimate communities potentially could spend as much as $100,000 or more redesigning or reconstructing each crossing to stop motorists from driving in front of oncoming trains.

John Davoli, the mayor of Fostoria, said he, too, was worried about high costs, but said that if all his city had to do was add median dividers along streets whose railroad crossings already have flashing lights and warning gates, it could be manageable.

"Of course, the city's going to pursue it [quiet zones] to the fullest extent we can," Mr. Davoli said.

He noted that the 100-plus trains that crisscross Fostoria on a typical day are a particular noise nuisance in spring and summer when residents like to have their windows open.

Federal Railroad Administration rules require that railroad train horns be capable of producing a warning sound of 96 decibels at 100 feet in the forward direction of the train.

Many train horns create warning blasts of between 105 and 110 decibels - sound levels found in the front row of rock concerts or while operating a jackhammer.

The new federal regulations establish six different types of "quiet zones" that will apply nationwide. According to written analysis accompanying the rules, establishing national standards means railroad companies and their employees will know exactly what they should or shouldn't do wherever they are, rather than have to keep track of various local laws.

"Communities will have significant flexibility to establish or maintain quiet zones for the benefit of their residents while keeping highway-rail grade crossings safe for motorists," Robert D. Jamison, the railroad administration's acting administrator, said in a statement.

Along with Fostoria, Springfield and Worthington have been at the forefront of planning for "quiet zones" once they are allowed, Mr. Nicholson said. Mr. Davoli said his city has been waiting on the FRA to issue the final rule - an event that was scheduled for last Dec. 18 but was twice postponed to hold more hearings.

At the very least, all crossings in a "quiet zone" will have to be equipped with flashing lights and warning gates. Administratively, the simplest way for a community to create such a zone is to add either a second pair of gates or a median divider that would keep motorists approaching crossings from driving into the oncoming lane to get around a lowered gate in the proper lane.

Alternatively, communities could try to demonstrate, by providing accident and violation statistics to the federal agency, that one or more crossings poses a below-average safety risk and thus can be made horn-free without additional protection.

Furthermore, the regulations provide the option of making particular "quiet zones" nighttime-only, with trains required to blow their horns only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Besides Fostoria and Perrysburg, leading "quiet zone" candidates in the area include Findlay, Tiffin, Defiance, Toledo, Bryan, Millbury, Fremont, and Bellevue. A residential neighborhood in Monroe also has a string of railroad crossings, but officials there hope a proposed rail-line consolidation project will eliminate the track in question.

Mr. Davoli said median dividers might be the best option for Fostoria because "they're much more inexpensive" than so-called "four-quadrant" gates and could be installed by city workers.

In Perrysburg, numerous crossings will need to be upgraded to full lights/gates arrays or closed altogether before any "quiet zones" can be considered.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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