The Ottumwa Courier

April 24, 2013

Quiet zone discussion gains traction

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Every day, a train horn sounds more than 1,000 times in downtown Ottumwa.

SRF Consulting, of Minneapolis, showed a group of Ottumwans options when it comes to the possibility of converting seven railroad crossings downtown into "quiet zones" Tuesday night.

A quiet zone is defined as "a section of a rail line at least one-half mile in length that contains one or more consecutive public highway-rail grade crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded," according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The "not routinely sounded" is critical, said SRF consultant Andy Mielke.

"It doesn't mean you'll never hear another train horn in town," he said. "It just means the routine sounding will cease."

While the quiet zones discussion has floated through the city for the last 20-25 years, said Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation president and CEO Brad Little, most decided that it was too expensive.

SRF Consulting, with whom ORLF has established a contract, worked with Burlington and Fairfield in implementing their quiet zones.

"It's a lot more than not having trains blow whistles coming through town," Little said. "It's about enhancing the safety of the crossings, the quality of life, bringing more businesses and residents downtown."

Mielke showed a map of the seven rail crossings up for consideration in Ottumwa: Clay Street, McLean Street, Kitterman Avenue, Market Street, Green Street, Vine Street and Iowa Avenue.

On the BNSF line, an average of 43 trains pass through town each day, each going approximately 40 mph. At each crossing, a train is required to sound its horn four times. With seven crossings in downtown Ottumwa, that totals 1,204 horns per day, each sounding at 110 decibels.

In order to qualify to become a quiet zone, the risk level of the crossings without horns must be below the national risk level and the risk level of the crossing when the horn sounds. Right now, most of Ottumwa's crossings meet all the minimum requirements.

Options to implement a quiet zone include four- or three-quadrant vehicle gates, medians or channelization devices, street closures, one-way streets or wayside horns.

"Generally speaking ... the quiet zone process takes about two years," Mielke said.

Little noted that Tuesday's session was simply to consider options and more discussions need to be held before any concrete decisions can be made.

"Crossing closures increase quiet zone feasibility," Mielke said. "If you look at Clay, McLean and Kitterman, do there need to be all three? If you closed one, it could save the cost of making the improvements."

Mielke said while federal and state funding don't exist for the costs associated with quiet zones, the city should consider economic development and Community Development Block Grant funds.

"It needs to be cost effective in order to be implementable," he said.