San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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July 7th, 2010
San Marcos still studying railroad quiet zones

by SCOTT THOMAS

San Marcos could see more silent nights in its future if a plan to make the city a quiet zone for trains gets underway. The problem is after two years and $30,000 city officials still aren’t sure on where to start.

In quiet zones, trains must minimize sounding their horns provided that local governments have implemented certain safety measures. If a city or region is not a quiet zone, then, by federal law, a train must sound its horn 15 to 20 seconds before entering all public grade crossings.

The safety improvement includes arms extending across all lanes on both sides of the track and constant flashing of warning lights.

The plan to turn San Marcos into a quiet zone started two years ago, when the city appropriated $700,000 to upgrade the “most needed” crossings. The plan was to make the entire city a quiet zone by upgrading crossing in phases.

“I remember getting a map and charting out which crossings we most needed,” Mayor Susan Narvaiz said.

David Healey, director of the Capital Improvements Department, said after meeting with a company that had upgraded crossings for other cities he realized the best plan would be to do all the crossings at one once.

“This is something we need to do with the entire city,” Healey said.

Healey said, to get to this point, the department has spent $30,000 of the $700,000 appropriated for the project. However, it will cost significantly more to make the whole city a designated quiet zone. Healey said he would have a final cost estimate to the council within the week.

It will cost more to upgrade some crossings than others. Furthermore, it will take long stretches of upgraded crossing to qualify as a quiet zone. There are 33 crossings within the city, most of which are on public roads. Once the improvements to the crossings have been made trains will have to limit sounding their horns to emergencies, such as if someone is walking along the tracks.

City council member John Thomaides said the long period it has taken for crossings to be upgraded in phases has been a source of frustration.

“It doesn’t seem like rocket science to me to do this,” he said.

Thomaides also said he “thinks it would be great” to have citywide crossing upgrades, but that it currently seems to be out of reach.

Narvaiz said it could take time to save up for the costs of upgrading the railroad crossings.

“Obviously we thought it was a priority when we implemented $700,000,” she said. “We don’t want to wait four years to find out it’ll take $4 million.”

City council member Kim Porterfield said a simple Internet search shows that cities across the state have already started becoming quiet zones.

“We need to get on board with this,” she said.

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4 thoughts on “San Marcos still studying railroad quiet zones

  1. Start with the crossings that are closest to people’s homes. There are neighborhoods with homes that are right next to the tracks. Give those people some relief.

  2. Honestly, why do we have so little trouble figuring out how to give our money away to out of town developers, but something like this, which everyone seems to support, drags out for years and years?

    And, as for the added cost, all that money we gave away is starting to look pretty nice. I know, I know, we didn’t give it away, we rebated it. Spare me.

  3. Good information here (remove spaces):

    http: // www. fra.dot.gov/downloads/Safety/train_horn_rule/FAQ4.pdf

    It looks like a quiet zone only needs to be 1/2 mile long and wayside horns can be substututed for train horns, as an interim step.

    So, you can have some improved crossings and wayside horns at other crossings. Wayside horns are directional, sounding from the tracks, toward the road. They are less obtrusive and probably fine for remote intersections, as well as those in commercial sections of town.

    It shouldn’t be too difficult to make a significant difference for $700k.

  4. I was on the Texas State golf course last Friday morning when northbound trains passed by. The train horns blew constantly – way more than needed to warn motorists at the intersections. I am half deaf and the horn volume still hurt my ears.

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