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Railroad Quiet Zones

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Public Works & Natural Resources

The Problem

The BNSF Railroad corridor passes through our fair City and is a part of daily life as we know it. Those who live within a mile or so of these railroad lines experience as many as 9 trains per day and 8 trains per night. Currently, the Federal Railroad Administration requires all trains must sound their horns at all public railroad crossings. This significantly impacts quality of life for those within range of the horn.

Potential Solution

To have trains pass through without sounding their horns, safety modifications must be made to the BNSF railroad crossings. In 2016, a technical analysis studied each of the 17 area crossings (see study area map) to determine what modifications could meet Federal Railroad Administration safety requirements that fully compensate for the absence of the train horn, while reducing disruption of current uses. Once these modifications are in place, BNSF and the City of Longmont can create what is called a “Quiet Zone.”

Maps

""""< View a map illustrating Longmont's 17 crossings divided into 7 potential Quiet Zones

 

 

 

View a map illustrating the areas and levels of sound disturbance >

 

 

 

 

 


What is a Quiet Zone?

A Quiet Zone is a section of rail line that contains one or more consecutive public crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded.

To establish a quiet zone in the City of Longmont, a set of very specific safety requirements must be met. The 2016 study made specific modification recommendations for each of the 17 crossings that fully compensate for the absence of the train horn.

Any of these measures may be used to mitigate the silencing of locomotive horns at highway‐rail grade crossings. These options include:

  • Temporary Closure (used with a nighttime‐only quiet zone)
  • Four‐Quadrant Gate System
  • Gates with Raised Medians or Channelization Devices
  • Conversion to One‐Way Street with Gates across the roadway
  • Permanent Crossing Closure

For more details read the full 2016 technical study >

So, what’s next?

In February 2019, City staff hosted two public workshops and conducted an online survey that educated the public on Quiet Zones and gathered public feedback on how to implement Quiet Zones. This process engaged approximately 700 residents in Longmont. The feedback gathered from residents was presented to the City Council in April, 2019.

Highlights of the workshop and survey results indicate that respondents support street closures and would be in favor of the City issuing debt to fund the project. 6th Avenue had the most support for a potential street closure.

View the boards provided at the workshopView traffic volumes for Zone 5  |  View the public input results report

The City Council will determine, based upon the technical study and public feedback, how best to proceed in implementing Quiet Zones. They will consider,

  1. Budget – all of these modifications cost money and will likely need to be phased over time. It will take time to implement quiet zones at all crossings in Longmont, and no reduction in noise will be realized until a complete zone is completed. That means that if we start with the zone in the Historic Eastside Neighborhood (Zone 5), all of the crossings need to be addressed (3rd Avenue, 4th Avenue, 5th Avenue, 6th Avenue, and Longs Peak Avenue) before we start hearing fewer train horns. There are some zones that can be completed as standalone projects (21st Avenue, 17th Ave, Mountain View, etc.)
    Some factors that may affect the ability to complete quiet zones are:
    • Grants – staff has applied for and will continue to seek grant opportunities to fund quiet zones.
    • Bonds – this project would be paid for with the ¾ cent transportation sales tax. This is not a permanent tax and, therefore, we cannot currently issue bonds against this revenue stream.
    • Pay as you go – as discussed above, some zones could be completed as standalone crossing improvements while others require several. The time it takes to realize any noise reduction depends on which zone we start with.
  2. Public Feedback – While there has been a technical analysis, your City leaders recognize that changes to these crossings will impact the everyday lives of residents and businesses in the area. We will use your feedback to inform how best to implement this project.
  3. Prioritization – A big part of the public feedback process will be looking at which crossings should be completed first and what safety improvements will work best at each crossing. We will use your feedback to determine which improvements will create the greatest good for the greatest number of Longmont residents.

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Some key issues to keep in mind about quiet zones:

  • Trains are required to sound the whistle ¼ mile in advance of a crossing. This means that closely spaced crossings must either all be completed concurrently or phased with no expectation of a reduction in train whistle noise until all closely spaced crossings are completed.
  • Whistles may still sound in the event that the train engineer observes a hazard, such as a pedestrian in the path of a train or a vehicle in the path of a train.

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