CT: Windsor officials to look into 'quiet zones' at rail town's crossing

Windsor officials have started looking into reducing noise at seven Amtrak-owned railroad crossings by establishing a continuous "quiet zone" from Meadow Road through Hayden Station Road.

Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.

Jan. 1--WINDSOR -- Town officials have started looking into reducing noise at seven Amtrak-owned railroad crossings by establishing a continuous "quiet zone" from Meadow Road through Hayden Station Road, in which trains would not routinely sound their horns before crossing streets. 

Over the past several months, residents have repeatedly expressed frustration over the recurrent horn blasts from passing trains, which have become more frequent since the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line opened in the spring.

Residents have detailed their difficulty sleeping and the interruptions to their daily lives from the passing trains.

The complaints prompted town officials to hold a community meeting Dec. 19 at Town Hall, where Town Manager Peter Souza and representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration and state Department of Transportation explained the requirements to qualify for a quiet zone designation.

Lou Frangella of the FRA said at the meeting that quiet zones can be created only if the town can show that the lack of train horns wouldn't pose a significant threat to public safety.

This can be done through other safety measures, such as temporary or permanent road closures, four-quadrant gates, one-way streets equipped with gates that fully block the street, or gates with medians or "channelization devices," also known as traffic separators, Frangella said.

Souza said there have already been safety upgrades in the southern half of town, from Meadow Road to Central Street, but not to the north, from Pierson Lane to Hayden Station Road, due to the lack of state and federal funding.

The next step, he said, would be to analyze each crossing, by studying daily vehicle and pedestrian traffic, peak travel times for trains, and the average number of trains per day.

Souza said he plans to report to the Town Council in January on the cost of hiring a consultant to determine what improvements the town would need to make to qualify for a quiet zone designation.

The analysis, which Souza described as more art than science, could take five or six months and might entail figuring out whether safety features are needed on the three northern railroad crossings in town. Another issue in the analysis may be the high cost of installing unified circuitry to warn of approaching trains.

Afterward, Souza said, town officials would need to consult with Amtrak before making any improvements to the crossings. Although the town would pay the costs, Souza said, the consultation could be difficult due to Amtrak's reputation as a hard agency to work with.

An alternative to the quiet zone designation is wayside horns, an automated horn system designed to direct the warning signal to the immediate area around the railroad crossing.

Towns in New Haven County, including Meriden and Wallingford, have installed wayside horns with varied degrees of success, though Souza said DOT is still testing and fine-tuning them.

The wayside horns would probably cost less than the upgrades needed to obtain a quiet zone designation. But Souza feels the quiet zone designation is a better option for Windsor based on residents' preferences.

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