While there hasn’t been much noise about eliminating train whistles at Spokane Valley crossings lately, the issue is one that city staffers have continued to investigate.
At last week’s study session, Spokane Valley interim Deputy City Manager Roger Crum walked the council through various options on quelling locomotive horns. While there are a range of options – and prices – it was pointed out that all are expensive and none are likely to be welcomed by the railroad companies with open arms.
In the end, the council made no moves to pursue the necessary steps to create “quiet zones” at this time. There is no money in the 2012 budget to do any such work anyway, Crum said, and grant dollars are virtually nonexistent.
The issue came up last year after several residents living near the Union Pacific tracks in the areas of Vista and Park road complained of loud train whistles at night. Worse, they said, some engineers were prone to “lay on their horns” longer than necessary.
Currently, only one quiet zone exists in Spokane Valley, located at University Road’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe crossing just south of Trent Avenue.
Crum said he “has sympathy” for those who have to endure the whistles, as there are as many as 10 trains a day using the U.P tracks while there are closer to 50 on the BNSF main line.
“These whistles are very loud,” Crum said. “The sound carries for quite a bit.”
Crum – a former city administrator for the city of Spokane, who joined Spokane Valley over the summer – said he “started from scratch” when looking at this issue. He advised that whatever action the city decides to take, no matter what happens the railroad companies must be cooperative with the process.
“They must be onboard,” Crum said.
At that point, the city must be also ready to open its checkbook. It’s no less than $50,000, Crum said, to begin the permitting process. And even then, they do it reluctantly.
Still, Crum said “you can’t even talk about quiet zones without having gates and lights in place” at the crossings in question. From there, they usual approach is to install a “four-quadrant gate system” or a two-quadrant system with a 60-foot median to prevent cars from driving around the gates.
From there, the cost of the upgrades depends on the crossing. If there is no gate in place – like the U.P. crossing at Park Road – it would cost an estimated $200,000 for the two-quadrant gate system. Only problem is, there is no room to put the needed median. A four-quadrant system would not work either.
The same problem exists at Vista, he said.
Quiet zones would be easier to put in place at the BNSF crossings, Crum said, and “wayside horns” – which are stationary devices that emit whistles in the direction of traffic – are also options.
None of this, however, addresses another issue that residents have mentioned: Trains blocking crossings and impeding traffic.
“It’s only half the problem,” he said.
Council Member Arne Woodard had his own solution.
“I make a motion that we close all the roads that cross over railroad tracks,” he said. “Just kidding.”