Some relief for the ears at the tracks in Edmonds

Trackside horns expected to be in place by end of year
By Brian Soergel | Nov 22, 2017

If you live just about anywhere in Edmonds – but especially downtown – you know two sounds are a fact of life: the blasts of the ferry and train horns.

One can be a closely held source of pride – there’s the ferry, we’re a ferry town.

One is nothing but irritating – the train is passing through again! – about 40-60 times a day, generated by Sounder commuter, Amtrak and freight/BNSF trains – sending hands to ears, waking up babies and possibly stirring up the dead.

There will soon be a modicum of relief from the second sound.

City councilmembers last week approved plans to install a trackside warning system at the Dayton and Main street crossings, which will reduce the footprint of the sound.

While it won’t muffle the noise near the crossings, the hope is to prevent it from dissipating.

“The noise spreads out over a wide area,” Public Works Director Phil Williams told the Beacon in April 2016, “and it goes all throughout downtown, and it’s quite noticeable.”

Yes, it is.

They are often called “wayside horns,” and will hopefull help reduce noise levels throughout the downtown Edmonds area. Quiet Zone Technologies, a Texas firm that has experience with wayside horn systems and has worked with BNSF, was hired in July 2015 to complete the design phase, and the plans were recently completed through ongoing conversations with BNSF over the last two years.

A trackside horn would provide directional signaling at the crossings, and could be used alone or in addition to a train’s horn. Williams said the horns would provide sufficient warning of an oncoming train to anyone near the crossings.

Currently, a train engineer will blow the train’s horn in accordance with the Federal Railroad Administration’s guidelines – two long blasts and one short blast followed by one long blast at 92 decibels as it approaches the crossings, Williams said. The sequence must be completed within 17 seconds.

Sensors along the rail line also provide data on how fast the train is moving, and signal the cross arms to move up or down.

Since the majority of the system will be within BNSF right-of-way, the city still needs to secure easements. In addition to most of the work completed by the contractor, BNSF will need to install certain items, such as advanced detection at both crossings.

Following the horns’ installation, the city of Edmonds will own, operate and maintain the system at its expense.

The project’s cost is $379,500. Construction could be completed by the end of the year.

“Yes, that’s the intention,” said Councilmember Neil Tibbott, chairman of the city’s Parks, Planning and Public Works Committee, which studied the trackside horns project. “The full installation is always contingent on the railroad, as well as other factors like weather. I’m not comfortable saying that it will be done in six weeks, but I’m confident that 2018 will be the year.”

The city’s sign-off on the quieter horns is good news for Kirk Greiner, a member of the Edmonds Quiet Zone Committee, formed after the city entered into a contract with Railroad Controls Limited for a quiet zone evaluation in 2008.

But the recession put a halt to those plans.

As the city's financial condition improved, a group of citizens was formed to push the mayor and the City Council to move forward with the creation of a quiet zone.

Numerous ways of eliminating the train whistles were proposed, from a train trench to the trackside horns.

“The mayor formed a committee, of which I was a member, to make a recommendation to him on which method to pursue,” Griner said. “I strongly supported a quiet zone because I had moved from a home I built on Sunset Way, 2.1 miles from the crossing, into a condo at 110 Main Street, 300 feet from the railroad crossing at Main Street.”

Greiner said the train whistles were so loud in his condo that conversation ceased when the train blew its mandatory four-whistle blasts as it approached and crossed Main Street.

“We won't have to give our overnight guests ear plugs anymore, and will be able to talk to each other without train horn interruption,” he said.

“I'm also so happy for the many people and many businesses in the harbor area that will benefit, especially the Best Western Harbor Inn and our senior center. Congratulations to our mayor, City Council and especially Phil Williams and his staff, who made it happen.”

Another person pleased with the trackside horns is Peter R. Laylin.

He wrote a letter to the editor in the Edmonds Beacon three years ago pursuing the idea of establishing a "quiet zone" in Edmonds. He was subsequently named chairman of the Train Horn Noise Advisory Committee, which Griner also was a member of.

“Several of us made presentations to the City Council and contacted council members and Public Works for support,” Laylin recalled this week. “We also circulated petitions, gaining over 200 signatures in support of a quiet zone.

“For a number of reasons, the full quiet zone did not seem feasible, and we therefore modified our goal to push for the installation of wayside horns at the Dayton and Main street crossings.

“The council and the mayor supported that project, and approved the budgeting of $300,000 for the installation. The process has been extremely slow, but we have been assured that the end is in sight. Once the horns are installed, the noise levels suffered by the businesses and residences near the two intersections will be substantially reduced.”

 

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