Sunday, September 13, 2009

More Quiet Zones on the Lehigh Valley Line in New Jersey

Following article is from the Courier-News (NJ).

The Courier News
September 10, 2009

South Plainfield officials push for quieter railroad crossings


SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The borough's effort to make living near its railroad crossings quieter is on track.

The municipality learned earlier this week that the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington, D.C., has approved its request to create so-called "quiet zones" around three crossings along the Conrail line that runs through town.

"We're ready to move to the next phase," said Mayor Charles Butrico, who championed the idea during his reorganization speech in January.

The sites, on New Brunswick Avenue, on the South Clinton Avenue extension between Sampton and New Market avenues, and on Front Street just below Oak Tree Avenue, are scheduled to receive vehicle-safety upgrades as part of the plan, according to Councilwoman Chrissy Buteas, who has been overseeing the proposal.

The upgrades, which most likely will include new curbing or additional gates, are required by the Federal Railroad Agency in order for the agency to lift its normal standing order that oncoming trains blow their horns four times as a warning to motorists. An increase in train traffic over the years, has made life for nearby residents a lot noisier, notes Buteas.

The New Brunswick crossing will receive arms that move up and down to separate vehicles from the railroad tracks, according to Buteas. The stanchions to hold the arms already are in place, she added.

At South Clinton Avenue, the councilwoman said the borough plans to add a 6-inch-high curb in the middle of the roadway as it approaches the tracks. "What that will do is when that one gate comes down, you'll have a curb in the center of the road, so somebody couldn't zigag in between the crossing," she said.

The design for the Front Street upgrade hasn't been decided, Buteas said.

A series of driveways near Front Street on one side of the tracks as it approaches the crossing will require further study of a couple of options, the councilwoman said.

"We can look at a curb and also a "wayside horn.' That horn (triggered by the train's approach and sounded automatically at the crossing) would only blow toward the vehicles as you're warning about the train coming," Buteas explained.

A time frame for the study of the Front Street site and a decision on the changes will be announced at a later time, according to Buteas.

"It depends on the engineering reports, which is most feasible and cost-effective," she said.

The actual installation timetable hasn't been decided either. Public hearings by the Borough Council would held first.

The idea of upgrading safety to create the quiet zones began in earnest earlier this year.

"It's a huge quality-of-life issue," Buteas said. "The federal government requires trains to blow their horns four times when they're approaching a crossing, so that means they blow their horns 12 times through town, and train traffic has increased significantly. So it seems like the trains are constant. It's waking people up and disturbing them. They can't open up their windows."

When he was growing up in town, now-Police Chief John Ferraro said his family lived near the tracks.

"There's a lot more (rail) traffic now then there has been in the past," said Ferraro, who hailed the upgrades required for the "quiet zones."

"It should make those crossings safer," the chief said.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency within the U.S. Transportation Department created to reduce crashes involving large trucks and buses, 300-400 people are killed every year across the United States and more than 1,100 are injured at grade crossings, such as the three in South Plainfield. However, most of those crashes occur at rural crossings. The sites in South Plainfield already have some safety features, including gates.