Affordable cost of a quiet waterfront | Guest View

By Peter Laylin, Train Horn Noise Advisory Committee | Aug 21, 2014

On July 2, 2013, we wrote a letter to the Beacon regarding the problem of the horn noise produced by trains passing through Edmonds on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks.

We noted that a number of cities had created “quiet zones,” in which trains would no longer sound their horns, except for emergencies.

We also reported that, since the financial meltdown in 2008, no money had been available to fund the creation of a quiet zone here.

We urged citizens to support the creation of a Local Improvement District to pay for the quiet zone, and were able to collect a number of signatures on a petition, stating support for a quiet zone and willingness to help pay for it via a LID.

In the intervening months, we have been confronted with several factors that made the installation of a quiet zone, and of a LID, problematical.

What we were calling a “full” quiet zone requires the installation of additional gates and crossing arms, and would be very expensive: most likely, well over a million dollars.

There was also the issue of the second track, which BNSF has planned, but for which it has not given an estimated date for installation.

Were the city to put in place a “full” quiet zone for the current single-track configuration, the gates, barriers, and arms would have to be moved in the event the second track was constructed. Again, a very large expense for the city.

Finally, there was significant opposition to the creation of a LID to fund the quiet zone, and getting an LID established and adopted by the council would be an arduous project.

We therefore turned to consideration of another system, the wayside horn, also known as the Trackside Warning System.

This system is not a “full” quiet zone, but has significant advantages over the full quiet zone.

The system provides for horns, to be mounted on poles or stanchions at the crossings (about where the crossing arms are now).

The horns are directional; they are focused toward the streets approaching the crossings (up and down Main and Dayton Streets).

The trains passing over points on the rails as they approach the crossings trigger the horns; just as the crossing arms and bells are triggered now.

So the trains will no longer sound their horns, except in emergencies. The wayside horns will be set to sound at 92 decibels, quieter than the current settings on the train horns, so there will be some relief for businesses and residences directly up and down Main and Dayton Streets.

Furthermore, since the horns are directional, there will be dramatic relief for the properties not in direct line with the crossings.

The installation of a wayside horn system was fully considered in the 2008 study done for the city by a contractor, Railroad Controls Limited, so the city can build on that study when installing the system.

Finally, the cost of such a system would be substantially less than for the “full” quiet zone. The current estimate provided by RCL is $250,000.

Due to that substantial reduction in cost, we no longer felt that we needed to pursue an LID to fund it.

With substantial support from city staff and some council members, we now have this project listed, as the Trackside Warning System, on the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program.

We now need to demonstrate sufficient support for the project to persuade the mayor and the council to fully fund it, and to proceed to construction and installation.

We are continuing to obtain signatures, and now have approximately 200.

We have modified the petition so that we are no longer asking citizens to help pay for it, as we did with the LID.

We are aware that there are other projects being proposed as the long-term solution to the various issues presented by the BNSF tracks going through Edmonds; in particular, the train trench proposal.

We take no issue with that proposal, and feel that it has real merit.

However, the hurdles to actually getting that project approved, funded and built are formidable.

In the meantime, and until the final solution to the train crossings issue is determined and actually built, the wayside horn system can be installed, and will provide significant relief from horn noise.

The system has already been studied. It is economical, and it can be built and installed in the very near future.

We are asking that citizens sign our petition, and show support for funding the wayside horn (Trackside Warning System) in the current city budget.

Citizens can email us at, can check our website at, or contact me directly via that website.


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