By Jacob Mathias
A possible remedy for a common complaint by Wisconsin Rapids residents, loud train horns, is taking its first steps.
Consideration of applying for railroad crossing quiet zones, an issue that’s been brought before city leaders multiple times since 2009, was approved by the Wisconsin Rapids Common Council on September 15 following approval by the city’s Public Works Committee two weeks prior.
Two crossing areas in particular are up for quiet zone status including eight crossings on the city’s west side adjacent to the Riverview Expressway and six crossings parallel to Hwy. 54 and 73.
Ward 2 Alderperson Todd Ferkey said he hears the train horns five to seven times a day from his house which is near the rail crossings and sometimes up to five times in 15 minutes when they switch tracks by General Chemical.
“My main concern…is the nighttime,” said Ferkey. “A train comes through there at two in the morning, it’s quite alarming.”
According to Federal Railroad Administration guidelines, railroad crossing quiet zones are required to be 1/2 mile long, have flashing lights and gates at the crossing and have a risk level at or below the national average.
“If you stop blowing that horn, that safety is lost,” said City Engineer Joe Eichsteadt. “They look at what’s the safety beforehand with the horn. If you take the horn away, you have to compensate for the loss of the train horn.”
Eichsteadt said if the safety of the crossing does change due to loss of horn noise, other measures would have to be in place including extra gates or lane medians to keep vehicle traffic from trying to sneak around the gates. If the safety of the crossings are better than the national average, the quiet zone can be approved without additional safety measures added in.
The quiet zone safety is reviewed every three to five years to determine if additional safety measures are need because the safety average at crossings changes every year.
Eichsteadt said the cost of improving the safety of the crossings so they can be designated as quiet zones would be $700,000 for the west side as some of the intersections don’t have flashing lights or gates and could cost up to $150,000 to $200,000 per crossing. The east side quiet zone would cost about $600,000 to implement.
The railroad would install all gates and lights.
How the city would finance or implement supplemental safety measures at railroad crossings has not yet been discussed.
The next meeting of the Wisconsin Rapids Common Council is October 20 at 6 PM in the council chamber of City Hall.