EDITORIAL: Find safe ways to quiet trains in Rotterdam, elsewhere

Traffic crosses a railroad crossing on Route 50 in Glenville Thursday, December 3, 2015.
Traffic crosses a railroad crossing on Route 50 in Glenville Thursday, December 3, 2015.

The same horn blast from a passing train that protects pedestrians and motorists from being struck is the same one that ruins people’s nights and freaks out babies and pets.

Yet railroad tracks are often in place well before the streets and neighborhoods built around them, giving residents little justification to complain: If you don’t want to hear train horns, don’t move near train tracks.

But with the suburbs expanding more into rural areas and cities like Schenectady experiencing rebirth with new apartments and housing along traditional industrial routes, the conflict between railways and their neighbors is only going to grow.

Under federal regulation, locomotive engineers must, with some exceptions, sound train horns for 15-20 seconds in advance of all public grade railroad crossings at a sound level between 96 and 110 decibels. That’s the same level of noise made in close proximity to a power lawn mower, motorcycle, farm tractor, jackhammer or garbage truck.

Can you imagine trying to sleep through that every night?

Fortunately, federal railway officials are sensitive to the issue and have developed practices that communities can adopt to reduce disturbances, especially at night.

To help local communities mitigate the effects of railroad noise, state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has written a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation seeking its help on behalf of residents of Rotterdam and other communities where train noise at night is a growing problem.

Under federal law, local governments and public agencies are entitled under certain conditions to establish so-called “quiet zones” to effectively silence horns at grade crossings.

Working with state and railway officials, communities determine what kinds of safety engineering improvements are needed to reduce the risk of silencing the horns, with criteria based on local highway traffic volume, train traffic volume, accident history and physical characteristics of the crossing.

Safety improvements at crossings needed to reduce the risk of a collision could include installing gate systems and flashing lights, with concrete medians to prevent drivers from avoiding the gates, and closing streets or reducing lanes. Other allowable measures might include placing horns at railroad crossings instead of having trains sounding the horns, and installing other lights and signage.

There are ways to ensure railway safety while also improving the quality of life for residents who live near railroad tracks.

Local officials who want solutions for their residents need to contact their elected representatives in the state Legislature and Congress, and officials at the federal DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration, and ask for help.

For more information on rail safety and quiet zones, visit: https://railroads.dot.gov/.

News: Late night train horn solution sought amid complaints in Rotterdam, Montgomery County

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One Comment

Bill Wemple

Most countries in the world build their transport systems so cars and trains rarely meet so horns and signaling devices are not needed. Put trains slightly or completely below grade and raise highways over them.

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