Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tooting Tuesday

Today was a day to consider tooting. (No, not that kind of tooting.) The kind trains do as they creep or race past roadway intersections. Our city and two neighboring cities (well, neighboring for out here - they are within 45 miles of here) are sponsoring an engineering "Quiet Zone" study to see if we can kill the train horns at our intersections.

For those who are not familiar with the mishmash of federal, state, and local regulations on train whistling, consider that here in Colorado any train - street intersection is regulated by or involves all these govenmental and regulatory bodies:

  • RSA - Railroad Safety Administration (federal)
  • County Governement (local)
  • Local (City) Government (local)
  • PUC - Public Utilities Commission (state)
  • CDOT - Colorado Department Of Transportation (state)
  • Railroads - Union Pacific and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe here
What brings it all to a head here is that there are 20-35 coal trains a day through town. We have five crossings here in our little town. The RSA requires that each train approaching a crossing have a long-long-short-long whistle pattern before/at intersection at 96-110 dBA. At those levels, the whistle can be heard miles from the intersection. As you might guess, the populace is not real happy about the noise pollution. Especially since the number of trains may double in the next year or two as the alternative clean air routes force more trains out here to rural areas and the consumption of coal continues to increase. A few years ago, the annoyance factor was considerably less since the old law was 85-90 dBA and the number of trains was less than 7.

So if we can install the equipment and controls to reduce the risk of a vehicle-train collision to below the national average, we can implement a so called "Quiet Zone" where the trains are no longer mandated to toot all the time. Tonight was a preliminary public meeting and presentation by the engineering firm doing the study, mainly to introduce us to what the acceptable technologies are to reach the required risk levels.

The real issue is cost. It could be as cheap as $300,000 per intersection to as much as $2,000,000 per intersection. Needless to say, with 5 intersections, our annual budget of $18,000,000 won't cover those kind of additional costs. So, it is time to see what the exact cost will be and then see what we can exchange with the railroads to get the project done. The next few months will tell what the chances are.

There has been one meeting with all the concerned parties from the list above and there is another one scheduled for the 18th to get the final numbers settled for required signalling. Then we can see if the railroads are really serious about talking turkey. After all, they can simply tell us where to go if they so desire. There seems to be something the city controls that they want for a project of their own, so we'll see what kind of horse trading we can do.

So what did you waste your day doing? It had to have been a bit less dry than mine. (If not, you have my sympathies.) 

P.S. I did issue a proclamation for Go Green Week here today. That was exciting if only to talk to the high schoolers behind the effort. The older I get, the younger they look. They were amazed to find out that clear back in the early 1970's when I was in high school here, I was co-chairperson of the very first Earth Day celebration. Yet another perfectly worthless claim to fame. (I'm not sure whether they were amazed that I was involved in Earth Day or that anyone could be so old as to have attended high school that long ago.)


  1. Dan,
    Before "Chocolatier" I worked quite a few years for a marine engineering firm and our #1 customer was the U.S. government so I wish you well on the railroad project and hope you update us on how this turns out.
    I started a Marine Boot Camp yesterday to jump start me back into working out..it was tough but since I get to come home and it's only 3 days a week so my husband says "piece of cake."

  2. Note To Self: Never run for mayor. You may not be able to stay awake during the meetings.


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