Railroad quiet zones discussed by Queen Creek Town Council

A Union Pacific Maintenance of Way employee works on a ballast and tie restoration project. Union Pacific trains traverse 32,000 miles of mainline track across the western two-thirds of the country, delivering the goods Americans use daily. Inspecting track is an enormous undertaking — one the railroad takes seriously, according to up.com/media/media_kit. (Union Pacific)

The 12,000 Queen Creek residents who live close to the town’s four Union Pacific Railroad crossings are in a train-horn noise influence area, the Queen Creek Town Council was told recently.

Troy White

They live within 1,500 feet from the train tracks, which cross at Ocotillo, Ellsworth, Sossaman and Combs roads in Queen Creek, Troy White, public works director, said to the council March 20.

Locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds — and no more than 20 seconds — in advance of all public grade crossings. If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within a quarter-mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds, according to Federal Railroad Administration materials shown to the council.

“Here in Queen Creek it’s not very often that they’re going fast enough to exceed those general requirements there,” Mr. White said.

The federal rule is that the horn is sounded in a standardized pattern of two long, one short and one long blast. It is repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The maximum volume level for a train horn is 110 decibels and the minimum is 96 decibels.

“110 decibels is really the threshold for where you would start to feel pain with the noise, so that’s why they maxed it out at 110. So they don’t go above 110 and you are underneath that pain threshold to the human ear,” Mr. White said during the discussion item on quiet zones for railroad crossings.

The town doesn’t have quiet zones, which are an at-grade crossing area where the railroad has been directed by the Federal Railroad Administration to cease the routine sounding of the horns when approaching. Train horns would be used in emergency situations or to comply with federal regulations or railroad-operating rules, according to Mr. White’s presentation.

“Municipalities desiring to establish a quiet zone are required to mitigate any risk and this is where things get expensive and this is where things really take time and process,” he said.

A team of private third-party consultants, the railroad and Arizona Department of Transportation look at each crossing to determine what needs to be done to mitigate any risk of anybody getting hurt if the train is not blowing its horn, he said.

“A lot of people ask, ‘How long would a quiet zone be?’ It has to be a minimum of a half a mile but you can make it, here in Queen Creek, if we wanted to make it for each crossing, we could…. We could make the quiet zone start south of Combs and north of Germann so each one of the crossings are in the quiet zones…. So the train wouldn’t blow its horn the whole way through Queen Creek,” he said, adding that each crossing would have to be upgraded.

Estimated costs for additional safety features are $300,000-$500,000 for the Ocotillo and Combs road crossings and $750,000-$1.5 million for the Ellsworth and Sossaman road crossings, he said.

Residents near Pecos and Power roads outside of Queen Creek have complained about the train noise, Vice Mayor Robin Benning said.

“I have had folks — Sossaman Estates and in particular the little subdivision, that sort of pie-shaped piece at Germann and Sossaman — say that the sound really carries to them from that Gilbert crossing,” he said.

The Town of Gilbert would have to apply for that quiet zone, Mr. White said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or at twitter.com/rhdyer or facebook.com/RichardDyerJournalist

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment