Friday, December 01, 2000

New horns at rail crossings might reduce noise problems




By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GLENDALE — With the sound of a train horn blasting through this northwest Hamilton County suburb, noontime traffic came to a near standstill Thursday as drivers hesitated to cross the village's main railroad intersection.

        But there was no train. Instead, local, state and federal officials along with several residents tested a digital device Glendale could use as a cure for train noise.

        With horns becoming louder to counteract soundproofed cars, and railroad traffic rising in the Tristate and nationwide, Glendale is one of many communities struggling with horns — exempted from noise pollution standards because of the safety implications.

        “I'm very impressed,” said Susan Kirkland, manager for rail safety for the Ohio Railroad Development Commission, which oversees 6,500 crossings throughout the state. “Just judging by traffic, you can see it does what it's designed to do.”

        Middletown also has been fight ing for several years to quiet trains. Louisville's six-year battle ended Sept. 12, when the city became the first federally approved “quiet zone” by closing several crossings and improving safety at others.

        “Most communities with trains are in this situation,” said state Sen. Scott Nein, R-Middletown, who has sponsored a bill trying to ease the installation of quiet zones. “As long as we've got the gates and flashing lights and everything down and operating, why do we need the honking of those dadgum horns?”

        Glendale resident Nicholas MacConnell, who helped organize Thursday's demonstration, said as many as 50 trains come through a day starting as early as 4 a.m. Glendale has three crossings along a half-mile stretch, and by Ohio law, each train has to blast its horn four times before entering a crossing.

        If the village can find a way to pay for the new devices and new gates, it would become Ohio's first community to use alternative wayside horns.

        “We're looking for any alternative we can find,” said Mr. MacConnell, a software designer who lives several hundred feet from a crossing. “We want it to be quieter but we want it to be safer, too.”

        The device tested Thursday is triggered by an approaching train, emitting a sound that reaches 100 decibels — nearly as loud as a jackhammer — in the target area.

        But because the sound is targeted at the intersection, the horn falls off to less than 60 decibels several yards away, according to readings taken by Mr. MacConnell.

        Real train horns stay at 100-110 decibels as far as 1,000 feet away in all directions.

        According to Glendale Mayor Thomas Todd, the horns would cost as much as $40,000 per crossing. New crossing gates that entirely block the intersection to cars cost as much as $250,000.

        Federal or state money may be available, Ms. Strickland said. Mr. MacConnell said the town may also go to CSX, which owns the trains and tracks.

        CSX spokesman Gary Wollenhaupt said the railroad would consider helping pay for changes.

        Middletown also has investigated alternative horns, said city law director Leslie Landin.

        “We're definitely aware of this option, but it may not work for us, because of cost,” Mr. Landin said.
       “But if Glendale puts them in, we'll definitely keep an eye on them to see how they work.”

       



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