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MJ commissioners hear train whistle complaints
Sep 28, 2006 12:00 am
MT. JULIET — City squires here Monday discussed the effect of the "obnoxious and traumatizing" train whistle on residents who live near the rail road tracks and questioned why Music City Star officials have ignored a 2001 city resolution that established quiet zones along the railroad.
Commuter Rail Director W.T. Farguhar at Monday's Mt. Juliet City Commision meeting came under fire from residents who live in subdivisions near the Music City Star rail line, as well as concerned commissioners, who wondered how to rectify what they say is a seemingly never ending "traumatizing" whistle blowing by the train conductor at both private and pubic crossings near their homes.
Farguhar, squires and residents tried to balance quality of life issues with safety concerns in the heated discussion that focused on multiple complaints from home owners in the Mt. Vernon and Willoughby Station subdivisions of mind blowing horn toots that "awaken" young children and cause them at times to "hit the ground" waiting for what sounds like an "incoming attack."
District 3 commissioner Ed Hagerty said he's had numerous calls from residents complaining of the train whistle. He said while he doesn't diminish the need for safety, in 2001 the city commission passed a resolution asking for established quiet zones to protect nearby residents from the harsh sounds that happen dozens of times throughout the day and evening.
"The horn is obnoxious," Hagerty said. "The kids are traumatized and hitting the dirt. We thought we passed a quiet zone resolution and I guess it's been ignored."
District 1 commissioner Ray Justice reiterated Hagerty's concern for constituents and stated there's no way the blasts of the train whistle can be ignored.
"Our citizens don't deserve this, and it's not appreciated," he stated. "We are being traumatized by this and it falls on the back of the RTA and needs to be fixed as soon as possible."
Farguhar explained that two weeks ago, just about the time the Music City Star became operational, the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) decided for safety's sake the train that runs through Mt. Juliet 12 times a day has to sound a warning whistle approaching both private and public crossings. He stated Mt. Juliet has six public and 12 private crossings. Private crossings are categorized as crossings that do not have working arms and blinking lights. He said federal regulations establish a "locomotive sounding rule" whereby the train horn must sound 15 to 20 seconds before entering a crossing.
Commissioners were at odds with the recent federal law because in 2001 they nodded a commuter rail through Mt. Juliet under the stipulation "quiet zones" would be established to protect the quality of life of residents who live near the rail line.
Farguhar stated he and his small staff have spent the past months getting the rail on-line and have yet to explore "quiet zones." He stated certain criteria would have to be met at all local crossings to consider quiet zones, some stipulations being "basic safety features," median islands and overall cross arms.
"You have to lower the risk to the level of safety you have with horns to stop the horns," he stated. "It's a complex process that could take three to five years to determine quiet zone status. This is not inexpensive."
He said the first step to establishing "quiet zones" would be to task a cooperative study committee including RTA, FRA and city engineers to research a solution.
District 2 commissioner Glen Linthicum questioned just how loud the horn has to be.
"They need to be between 96 and 110 decibels," Farguhar answered. "And we just checked yesterday for you and our horns are at the lower end of that."
The city's attorney stated the resolution the city commission adopted in 2001 for "quiet zones" was not "binding" on the RTA.
"It was just a request," she explained. "It had no legal authority."
Justice indicated because the request was denied, all the money the city gave toward the Music City Star project should be given back.
"With all our in-kind donations, we've specifically asked RTA to think about this issue and we need to fix it, as soon as possible," Justice said.
Farguhar seemed emotional when he raised the issue of safety.
"We haven't ignored this issue of quality of life," he said. "I know it's (horn) is loud, but I wish it were loud enough to help us keep people from trying beating the train. We need to start to organize a diagnostic team to see the costs to establish a quiet zone here."
Prior to and during the discussion local residents appealed to the squires to understand how their lives are being disputed.
Mt. Vernon resident Stacey Hill said they had "no idea" how the constant horn blasts have interrupted their lives since the train became operational.
"We pay taxes," he said. "We love this city, but we have children traumatized by the constant sound."
Resident Pat Riley lives on Sidney Terrance near the line.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "When they lay on the horn it's right in my back yard and it's a deafening sound."
Hagerty called for a resolution to the problem but stopped short of agreeing with an affected resident who suggested people boycott riding the new train.
"I can hear it at my house five miles away," Hagerty said. "I can't imagine what it's like so close."
Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam lives in Willoughby Station. She said she's getting many calls and e-mails from residents complaining about the horns.
"Can there be a way to narrow the range of the whistle sound off the track," she asked. "But, I know they are sounding it to save lives. I don't want to go through a funeral of a teenager who tried to beat the train. Safety is first. I don't want to risk life for my convenience."
City Manager and RTA board member Rob Shearer said a meeting will be held today to begin researching a way to find a resolution. He said the first step would be an inventory of the nearby crossings. Farguhar said there are no funds to establish safety measures that could be implemented to possibly negate the need for train warning whistles.