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To some, the wail of a distant train horn can evoke the allure of travel to new locations. But that romance doesn’t exist for nearby property owners, whose nerves get rattled along with the windows. With U.S. freight traffic increasing, life along certain rail lines can be one of late-night wakeup calls and lowered property values. Fortunately, there is a solution that lowers the volume on train noise without compromising crossing safety — the quiet zone, a stretch of track along which trains do not routinely sound their horn at railroad crossings.
Although the concept of establishing a quiet zone is relatively simple, the implementation process is not. Extensive interaction is required between the communities desiring the quiet zone, the governmental agencies with jurisdiction over the railroad crossings, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the railroad companies who either own or have operating rights over the tracks being considered. Success is possible when these entities work together.
All railroad crossings have a statistical risk of a train-vehicle crash occurring. The level of risk is affected by a variety of factors such as the number of trains per day and their speed, the average daily traffic (ADT) of the intersecting roadway, and the type of railroad crossing safety equipment present. According to the FRA, the crash risk increases 66.8 percent if the horns are not sounded. To meet quiet zone requirements, transportation engineers must design and implement safety measures that reduce the risk to a level at or below the risk level with train horns.
Various U.S. communities were able to establish ad hoc quiet zones in the past. Unfortunately in some cases the number of railroad crossing crashes increased so dramatically that the FRA had to reinstate the use of train horns. In April 2005, the FRA enacted national uniform rules that enable communities to establish safe quiet zones. If the FRA approves a mitigation strategy, train engineers are directed to only sound their horns in the event of an emergency or imminent safety risk, such as someone walking along the tracks.
The City of Bryan began exploring the possibility of establishing railroad quiet zones in 2007. Previous efforts revealed that significant costs would be necessary to implement safety improvements in the form of additional crossing gates at all of the railroad crossings in Bryan. These improvements were price-tagged in the several million dollars range, an expense that posed significant challenges to the financial means of the city. In 2015, efforts were renewed considering alternatives which could be more cost effective yet still provide appropriate levels of safety.
The required Notice of Intent (NOI) to establish a quiet zone was issued for the Bryan Sub and the Navasota Sub. The status of the quiet zone efforts was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission at their workshop on April 6, 2017.
QZAC met to review the Groesbeck license plate study results. TxDOT agrees to provide $3.0 million to fund upgrades to existing railroad crossing signal equipment along the Bryan Sub as part of federally funded safety improvements programs. City of Bryan will still need to fund crossing equipment upgrades along the Navasota Sub at an estimated cost of $1.4 million. Latest cost estimate for implementing the downtown quiet zone is reviewed and discussed. If Groesbeck is closed, the project is estimated at about $4.0 million. If Groesbeck remains open, the project is estimated at about $5.7 million. Still pending is an official offer of financial incentive from UPRR to close Groesbeck. Also pending is a traffic model of the roadway network as it currently exists, how it might function should Groesbeck be closed, and how might certain mitigation strategies improve operations for key intersections.
Students from TAMU join City staff in collecting turning movement counts and license plate information for vehicles crossing at Groesbeck in order to determine existing travel patterns. This information is necessary for estimating where traffic will shift should Groesbeck be closed.
QZAC discussed the findings of the diagnostic inspection and updated cost estimates for the various safety improvements necessary to establish a railroad quiet zone. Deliberate discussion continued regarding whether or not to close Groesbeck Street between Finfeather Road and S. Main Street. According to the FRA, Groesbeck has the highest risk index of all the at-grade crossings in Bryan. At the same time Groesbeck is the second busiest crossing in Bryan at 7,800 vehicles per day.
Closing Groesbeck will cause traffic to shift to other intersections, creating a need for additional traffic signals or other intersection capacity improvements. For Groesbeck to remain open, traffic signals are necessary to improve safety by reducing the instances of vehicles sitting on the tracks while trains are approaching. Also required are four quadrant gate systems for each track, which have gates that cover both the approach and departure traffic lanes at the crossing. Additionally, Groesbeck will need to be reconstructed to provide for safer and more efficient operation of the signalized intersections. The existing railroad crossing safety equipment is antiquated and will have to be replaced in order to provide appropriate levels of redundancy and reliability for the quiet zone. The decision of whether or not to close Groesbeck will require additional traffic data and community discussion.
The City of Bryan facilitated the required diagnostic inspection of the railroad crossings proposed for inclusion in the railroad quiet zone. The inspection group consists of representatives from Union Pacific Railroad, FRA, Texas Department of Transportation, Bryan Fire Department, Bryan Police Department, various local representatives, and QZAC members. This effort is necessary to develop the required documents that must be submitted to the FRA in order to establish a railroad quiet zone.
A “wayside horn” was demonstrated at the W. Pease Street crossing. A wayside horn is a loudspeaker that is pointed directly at traffic approaching the crossing and makes the sound of a train horn. The wayside horn takes the place of the locomotive sounding its horn, resulting in a much smaller sound footprint.
QZAC presented to Council preliminary recommendations for implementing the Downtown Bryan Quiet Zone.
Bryan City Council directed the formation of the Quiet Zone Advisory Committee (QZAC).
For more information about a Downtown Bryan Railroad Quiet Zone, please contact the Development Services Department at (979) 209-5030.