A costly solution-starting around $75,000-to ensure that a very small segment of town residents can have a restful sleep-was presented at Steilacoom Town Council’s Jan. 16 meeting.
The “information only” presentation by Automated Horn System of Texas, is the latest option available to a perennial town problem-noise created by freight trains that travel along Puget Sound. Cost to the town for the study was $7,500.
Before the meeting, small groups of citizens met at the Union Avenue/ferry terminal train-crossing site and at Sunnyside Beach crossing, for a demonstration of a device known as a “Wayside Horn”. Approximately 25 residents attended the Union Avenue/ferry terminal test site. A group of 20, according to Steilacoom Mayor Ron Lucas, were at the Sunnyside site.
The “wayside horn” explained Robert Albritton, national sales manager for Radio Controls Limited, is a stationary horn system, activated by the railroad-highway grade crossing warning system. “The AHS is mounted at the crossing, rather than on the locomotive to deliver a longer, louder, more consistent audible warning to motorists and pedestrians, while eliminating noise pollution in neighborhoods for more than one-half mile along the rail corridor,” according to the AHS brochure distributed at the meeting.
“AHS is designed to sound like a train horn.” The on-site demonstration of the audible signal-a digital recording of an actual locomotive horn-was 92 decibles, according to Albritton.
“It sounds like a toy train horn, a very weak toy train horn,” commented one listener who attended the Union Avenue dock demonstration.
The normal train horn blows at 96 decibles; sometimes 114 decibles. Added to the horn sound, is the natural amplification provided by Puget Sound.
Prior to Mr. Albritton’s presentation, Mayor Lucas explained to his listeners, approximately 50 citizens, that the town began investigating its options in anticipation of increased train traffic along the water route. He said that upward of 100 trains per day were expected to eventually be traveling through Steilacoom, meaning added noise from passing trains. While freight traffic is expected to increase, because of increasing Port of Tacoma business-eventually the Amtrak Passenger line will be moved further inland to a route through Lakewood.
To date one AHS has been installed at one other location in Washington state: at Ruston. AHS, established in 1995, has, to date, installed around 70 systems around the country, according to Albritton. Mayor Lucas noted that other Puget Sound-area communities such as Sumner and Edmonds also were investigating this option.
During the power point presentation, which included formulas showing how the company calculated noise, traffic, and train speed data, Albritton said that the sound from the automated horn was confined to a smaller area than that produced by existing train engine-mounted horns.
Cost to install the wayside horn-a device that’s activated by an approaching train, was $75,000. Additional costs, ranging from as much as $300,00 and higher, were related to installation of safer crossing gate systems, such as installing a “four-quadrant” gate system at the ferry terminal.
The AHS system could not be used at the Sunnyside crossing, Albritton emphasized. Because that crossing is a pedestrian-only crossing, trains must still blow their horns.
Even if a “wayside horn” were installed at the terminal crossing, Albritton explained, if the activation sensor failed, or if track conditions (such as fog) warranted it, an engineer is required to sound the train’s horn.
Of particular concern to residents living closer to the water who are most impacted by the sounds, were annoying habits of some engineers such as those that allegedly toot their horns to the recognizable tune of “how dry I am.”
Many long-time residents, acclimated to train sounds, are dismayed about the reaction of fellow residents who oppose the sounds. One homeowner, whose new residence is adjacent to the track, has no complaint, since extra-thick windows were installed in that “cutting edge” structure.
While a solution to the “sound” pollution is anywhere from 15-18 months in the future, Mayor Lucas said, the town is evaluating options.
Before a decision is made, the mayor assured his listeners, public meetings will be held.
Note: Trains began traveling through Steilacoom in 1914.
For more information about RCL view the website at www.railroadcontrols.com