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Monroe looks to hush train horns using quiet zone regulations

MONROE — The city is working to silence train horns at crossings by establishing what’s known as a quiet zone, which would largely stop the familiar suburban sound.
Typically, 20 to 23 trains cross the city’s five intersections daily. “A quarter mile in advance they start blowing and the sequence is 2 long, 1 short, (then a) long blast that continues until the train occupies the crossing,” said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas.
Tallied up, approximately 460 whistle blows blast from trains traveling through Monroe each day.
City Council members said during a Feb. 27 meeting that the noise has disrupted everything from court proceedings to the rest of hospital patients.
If the city can prove it can keep train intersections safe through other supplemental safety measures that replace the horns, it could qualify for a train noise reduction zone. Proof is based on a good score on a mathematical safety scoring model.
There are several ways to mitigate safety hazards. Early estimates suggest the least expensive option could
cost $65,000 initially and $5,000 for annual maintenance thereafter. The city would also consider liability insurance which, if available, would cost extra.
The cheapest option would require installing mountable medians with reflective traffic control devices at three of the city’s five railroad crossings.
The city’s current preferred option would include those medians and traffic control devices at all five intersections for an estimated $100,000, said city Public Works Director Brad Feilberg.
However, more comprehensive options, such as one plan involving four-quadrant gates that block the entire road when trains cross and associated hardware might run as much as $3.5 million.
Earning the quiet designation is a multi-step process that might be completed in the next several months should the city prioritize, approve and determine how to fund the project.
That process would include a 60-day comment period for stakeholder agencies including the Federal Railroad Administration, state Department of Transportation
(WSDOT) and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.
The city would also solicit input from local residents and businesses who might have to contend with some traffic revisions, such as left hand turn restrictions, to meet safety standards.
BNSF would participate in the process and go through a safety checklist that considered train speed, track curvature, terrain, number of trains and train cars, elevation and other factors, Melonas said.
While the city has authority over four of the intersections, it would need to coordinate with WSDOT regarding equipment installation at Lewis (203) and U.S. 2.
All those plans are contingent upon funding. The city has not yet identified a funding mechanism for the project, but real
estate excise taxes were mentioned as one option at the Feb. 27 meeting.
Several quiet zones already exist in Washington including in the cities of Mukilteo, Vancouver, Washougal, Connell, Stevenson, Spokane Valley and White Salmon.
The quiet zone would not affect the speed of trains passing through town, which is currently restricted to 45 miles per hour. Amtrak and BNSF freight trains both use the BNSF-owned tracks parallel to U.S. 2.
The City Council expressed consensus to move forward with the quiet zone on a conceptual level, so residents can expect a public input period in the coming months.

 

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