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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Longmont, Colo., to spend $150,000 for quiet zone consultant

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City officials hear a lot of complaints from residents who hear too much noise from train horns, the Longmont Times-Call reports.  In fact, Longmont City Councilwoman Sarah Levison calls it "Sleepless in Ward 2." But the only way the city could put a hush on train horns through Longmont is by developing "quiet zones" at the 17 BNSF crossings in the city - a project that city officials have never fully studied.

That's why the Longmont City Council voted unanimously to spend $150,000 to hire a consultant to come up with conceptual designs and cost estimates for railroad crossing quiet zones in Longmont and review possible funding sources. The money, which will come from the city's street fund, will pay a consultant to work with the BNSF, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Public Utility Commission and the Colorado Department of Transportation on the complicated project.

In 2005, the FRA came up with new horn standards for train engineers when approaching street crossings, including sounding a horn for at least 15 seconds before entering a crossing. At the same time, the FRA came up with a way to get around its new horn requirements: "quiet zones" - a stretch of rail line at least half a mile long where trains would not have to sound their horns.

Developing quiet zones at the 17 BNSF crossings in Longmont could cost as much as $6 million, city engineer Nick Wolfrum said, so phasing them in is the best - and most efficient - option.

There is no easy way to estimate how much it would cost to make each crossing a quiet zone, Wolfrum said. Simple fixes may be possible at some crossings - such as spending $50,000 to build medians to keep drivers from cutting around the gates, while other crossings may cost as much as $500,000 to meet federal requirements for medians and crossing signals.

The crossings at Colo. Highway 66 and 21st, 17th and Mountain View avenues could be done individually, but the crossings from East Ninth Avenue to Terry Street would have to be grouped because they are so close together, Wolfrum said.

Crossings at Ken Pratt Boulevard, South Hover Street and 17th Avenue would be the least expensive because the city could install medians to prevent drivers from cutting across in front of an approaching train. But installing quiet zones at 21st, 17th and Mountain View avenues would muffle train horns for the most residents, Wolfrum said.

Councilman Brian Hansen suggested looking at how many residents each crossing would affect - and coming up with a cost per resident formula - rather than only counting the overall cost of making a crossing a quiet zone.

"It seems like we're trying to impact the most residents for the least amount of money possible," he said.

Mayor Roger Lange and Councilwoman Karen Benker both urged the city to move forward as quickly as possible.

"It's a serious problem. It's an obnoxious problem," Benker said.