An opportunity for public comment about a proposed railroad quiet zone along the railroad tracks in Steilacoom drew a large crowd of residents to the community’s Town Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 4. Most of those commenting urged the council to approve the installation.
Those in favor of retaining the existing train horn system were in the minority at the evening gathering.
Mayor Ron Lucas presented an overview of the process that prompted council efforts to consider establishing a quiet zone.
A decision on the subject could be made at the Council’s Sept. 18 meeting, the mayor said.
This past January, following a demonstration of an automated horn system, aka the quiet zone option, a representative from Railroad Controls Limited of Texas presented more information to the council.
According to the RCL handout, installation of the automated horn system can reduce noise “by up to 98 percent. AHS is designed to sound like a train horn. The tone modules in the AHS were digitally recorded from an actual locomotive horn. Upon receipt of the signal from the railroad’s track circuit warning system AHS mimics the train horn warning by cycling through the standard railroad whistle pattern until the train reaches the crossing.
“Once the train has entered the crossing, AHS stops sounding its horn. A confirmation signal notifieds the locomotive engineer that the AHS is functioning properly-”
If approved by council, the company would install these low-impact train horns at the Sunnyside Beach and Union Avenue crossing sites.
Details about the cost of installation and how the town would pay for the quiet zone system are to be presented at the next meeting. The mayor indicated that, as the 2008 budget was being prepared, there might be funds in the general budget available to pay for such an installation. Pierce County Councilmember Dick Muri said that the county might be able to provide some funds to assist with the project.
Those in support of the AHS said they “wouldn’t mind being taxed” to support the quiet zone installation.
The total cost for the system is yet to be determined. Besides installation of the devices, the town will be responsible for maintenance and repair. How much that would be is not known at this time.
Several of those pleading for quiet zone approval got sidetracked onto non-related topics. One citizen emphatically asked for relief from the unpleasant aroma of diesel fuel. Another griped about the increasing weight of the double-stacked rail cars whose lumbering passage along the waterfront tracks sets off vibrations that rattle the walls and knocks pictures crooked. Several cited health concerns related to the almost constant sound of passing trains. One citizen excitedly claimed to have been told to expect between “600-800 trains” daily along the track.
Councilmember Bruce Judson pointed out that even if quiet zone horns were installed it would not eliminate those weight or smell problems. Councilmember Marion Smith raised several concerns, many focusing on the ultimate cost to the town for the system.
Citizens determined to have their view points influence the council’s decision dismissed the comments of an Old Town, Tacoma resident. He alleged that when the much-desired quiet zone was installed in his community 14 months ago, that RCL’s presentation was misleading. There are three horns instead of one, and the new sound, he said, “was awful.”
Submitted by Nancy Covert