By Kate Yoon
Capital News Service
BALTIMORE – Some of the freight train horns that annoy Locust Point residents will soon be silenced when the city creates a 24-hour “quiet zone” – with flashing lights and automatic gates – on Andre Street, city transportation officials say.
Mary Colleen Buettner, of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, estimated the project will cost the city $400,000. “We’re moving into the engineering and design stage,” Buettner said.
The Federal Railroad Administration must approve the final plan. But Terry Hickey, the president of the Locust Point Civic Association president, said, “all systems are a go.”
Residents of Locust Point, where the population is steadily growing, have been pressing for a quiet zone for about a year, Hickey said. Some residents, usually newer ones, have complained about the loud, unpredictable horns that can sound at any time of the day.
An active CSX railroad system runs through Locust Point, a peninsula neighborhood in South Baltimore, home to several port industries and Fort McHenry. Freight moves through, to businesses such as Domino Sugar, day and night.
“While quiet zones do not directly affect rail operations, CSX believes train horns are an effective way of helping prevent collisions at highway-rail grade crossings,” Robert Sullivan, a CSX spokesman said.
CSX will not contribute to the cost of the quiet zone, he added.
For safety reasons, CSX must comply with the 2005 federal Train Horn Rule, which requires trains to blow whistles for 15 to 20 seconds in a set pattern of short and long bursts as they approach an intersection. Whistles must be at least 96 decibels and up to 110 decibels, which is about as loud as a jackhammer 50 feet away, or a power saw at 3 feet.
“The noise was getting to (residents) so much it’s affecting daily life,” Buettner said.
Some residents who aren’t bothered by the sound think the concern about train horns is silly, Hickey said. It seems that the longer residents live in Locust Point, the easier it is to tune out industrial noise.
“At first, yes, the whistles kind of bothered me a little bit,” said Melissa Warriner, 26, who has lived in Locust Point for 2 ½ years. “But it’s funny how it kind of just melds into your culture and I don’t even realize it’s going on anymore. I sleep right through them in the middle of the night.”
The city will create one quiet zone, on Andre Street, though freight tracks also cross streets in three other places in Locust Point: at Hull
Street, at the Under Armour complex and at Key Highway.
All four crossings were considered for a quiet zone, but Buettner said the city would get “the most for our money” at Andre Street because the zone there would reduce some noise and reduce safety problems that aren’t an issue at other crossings. Train engineers will still sound the horn at quiet zones in emergencies.
The CSX tracks loop around the entire neighborhood, and trains are still required to blow whistles at each point. Although they are not quiet zones, the three other crossings already have lights and gates. But Andre Street “has no real protection at all,” Buettner said. “Right now, it’s not a main way, but it’s becoming more utilized.”
Most train noise comes from the Andre Street crossing because of the TRANSFLO terminal located there, where bulk products are transferred from rail to trucks. Andre Street has “a lot more tracks,” and that is where trains start and stop, Buettner said.
“Do I think people will wake up the morning after it’s done and say, ‘Wait, I still hear train sounds’? Yeah,” Hickey said. “But … one good step at a time.”
Hickey said most complaints are about Andre Street because the horns “carry a whole lot farther” from the wide open area than from other crossings. Hull Street is closer to houses, but that makes it “denser” so “sound doesn’t flow into the (rest of the) neighborhood as well,” he said.
Getting approval for a quiet zone involves the local, state and federal governments, which makes it a very slow process, Hickey said.
According to FRA regulations, quiet zones are at least half a mile long and consist of at least a flashing light and automatic gates. The FRA conducts an eligibility study to determine if a quiet zone in that location would be a safe enough alternative to whistles.
CSX says it maintains more than 830 public and private grade crossings in Maryland. According to a July report from the Federal Railroad Administration, CSX has 42 quiet zones throughout the country, four of which are in Maryland: one in Hagerstown and Montgomery County, and two in Cumberland.