Solutions to silence trains still not on the right track
Neighbors say agencies won’t hear their pleas
Click here to watch the video
Six years after they started pushing for changes, Kensington and Silver Spring residents have yet to find relief from ‘‘deafening” horn blasts from trains passing through their neighborhoods.
Joe Rosenberg, a Kensington resident who lives less than a mile from the CSX railroad tracks at Forest Glen Road and Linden Lane in Silver Spring, has been behind the effort to silence the horns since he moved into his house on La Duke Drive seven years ago.
‘‘When the windows are open, it’s deafening,” Rosenberg said.
CSX Corp., which owns the railroad, and Federal Railroad Administration officials say they would be willing to comply with alternatives, which would include implementing quiet zones or installing wayside horns directly at the crossing.
However, officials at the State Highway Administration, which is responsible for all state railroad crossings, are not sold on the alternatives, citing safety, maintenance and liability issues.
‘‘The safety [of the community] has to be paramount,” SHA spokesman Chuck Gischlar said Tuesday. ‘‘We don’t want to take a chance. The train blowing its whistle is proven and effective.”
Under federal law, trains are required to sound their horns when approaching street-level crossings. In Montgomery County, rail lines pass through residential neighborhoods, and over the weekend, a 17-year-old Gaithersburg teen was struck and killed by a freight train as he and two friends were crossing the tracks.
However, noise controls are permitted, including quiet zones and lower-decibel wayside horns at crossings.
Quiet zones feature safety measures that replace the horns, including automatic gates and flashers, constant warning devices, signs and pavement markings. Wayside horns aim a softer blast directly at oncoming traffic rather than throughout the neighborhood.
In a study released in 2006, the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation found that either a quiet zone or wayside horns could be implemented at the Forest Glen Road-Linden Lane crossing under Federal Railroad Administration guidelines.
Wayside horns would cost about $64,000, while full compliance with the quiet zone requirements could cost more than $500,000, the study said.
More than 50 trains a day travel through the crossing, the study said, and 11,000 cars cross the tracks daily.
CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan and FRA spokesman Warren Flatau both said as long as state and local jurisdictions agree with a wayside horn or quiet zone, CSX and FRA would comply.
CSX also said in a March 15 letter to SHA that it would allow a wayside horn to be installed with conditions. The letter, sent to Tom Hicks, SHA’s traffic and safety director, said the conditions included using the main horn during an emergency, conducting an engineering study for a wayside horn and agreeing on installation plans.
But Gischlar of the SHA said Tuesday that while the state once considered funding and installing wayside horns, the agency is reluctant to do so now.
Gischlar said there are also maintenance issues with the railroad that would have to be worked out with CSX, including replacing the gates at the crossing. There is also concern about liability for accidents at the crossing if and when wayside horns were installed, he said.
Catherine Bocskor, president of the Forest Glen Station Homeowners Association, said the county study convinced her that there are safe alternatives to the train horn.
‘‘I don’t think there will be any lack of safety measures at all because the federal, state, county, and local governments are going to make sure their citizens are safe while ensuring that the noise levels are tolerable,” she said.
Rosenberg said if the alternatives were not safe, the FRA would not have approved them.
‘‘I think it’s typical,” he said Tuesday. ‘‘Both CSX and SHA want me and anyone who wants the solution to go away. They just don’t want to deal with it.”
Rosenberg said he would begin advocating for the quiet zone.
‘‘That’s me,” he said. ‘‘I will not give up if I’m in the right, and I believe I’m in the right.”