Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — A report on the city of Washington’s potential for quiet zones was presented to the city council Tuesday night, where SRF Consulting Group Vice President Andy Mielke told municipal decision-makers their options all came with a price.
The possibility of a quiet zone remains on the table as city officials plan for a projected 300% increase in train traffic if a proposed merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern goes through. The implementation of a quiet zone would silence horns on passing trains, which are otherwise legally obligated to blast on approach to every at-grade crossing.
Mielke said making Washington a quiet zone would prevent that noise, but require the installation of gates and flashing lights, power-out indicator signals and constant warning time detectors, which would lower roadway barriers at a consistent time before each train’s arrival regardless of its speed.
The work would require upgrades at all but one of the 10 public crossings in town or on its outskirts, which would run for a net total of $2,950,000, after accounting for a $200,000 payment from a recent railroad agreement.
“Avenue D is the only crossing that currently meets that requirement,” Mielke said. “The issue that really hangs up in all of the other crossings is the lack of constant warning time. None of the other crossings have that device, and in order to put that in, Canadian Pacific would have to redo the entire crossing.”
The city has to follow other rules, as well. Mielke said a quiet zone would have to stretch for at least half a mile and be contiguous: Washington couldn’t exclude one crossing between two others.
To remain legal, each crossing’s abstract safety score, called a “risk index,” would have to stay below the “Nationwide Significant Risk Index,” which is the country’s average score.
Washington faces little risk of bumping against that limit, according to consultants: the study said the city’s current risk index with horns at every crossing, was 4,398. The risk index with the minimum amount of new infrastructure would be 7,336. The national average is 15,488.
“The residents in Washington are fortunate because there haven’t been any incidents recently,” Mielke said in a follow-up interview. “They’re also benefiting by the fact that, today, there’s a relatively lower train volume and speed than the average crossing … you don’t have high-speed, high-volume roadways crossing it either.”
That means Washington could pursue quiet zones, even if they worsened the city’s crossing safety. Alternatively, the city could opt to close crossings in exchange for $325,000 apiece, a sum from the state DOT and railroad company’s closure incentives. Such an approach would improve the safety score and lower the net cost of a quiet zone, but inconvenience residents that move through those crossings every day.
Even if the city closed three crossings, however, consultants said it would take expensive supplemental safety measures — like four-quadrant gates and concrete medians — to make a quiet zone safer than the status quo.
“This is largely a policy decision,” Mielke said. “You’ve got a menu here of different scenarios and costs and risk levels … I’m sure some of you are sitting here going, ‘Boy, I’m not too big on closing that crossing.’ I know that there’s some potential angst there.”
In a presentation, the consultant provided a menu of five scenarios Washington could pursue to lower its quiet zone risk index and cost beyond the baseline option.
- Close North Avenue F, lowering the net cost to $2,275,000 and raising the risk index to 6,802 from the current risk index with horns, which is 4,398.
- Close North Avenue F and C, lowering the cost to $1,600,000 and raising the risk index to 6,173
- Close North Avenue F and C, and North Iowa Avenue, lowering the cost to $925,000 and raising the risk index to 5,475
- Close all three crossings listed in option 3, and install a four-quadrant gate at North Marion Avenue’s crossing, lowering the net cost to $1,075,000 and raising the risk index to 4549.
- Close all three crossings, and add four-quadrant gates at North Marion Avenue and North Avenue B, lowering the cost to $1,225,000 and lowering the risk index to 3,677. While it’s the median cost option, it’s the only proposal from SRF that would give Washington a better safety score than its current standing with train horns.
In each scenario, the city could exclude a crossing at Palm Avenue to save $350,000, but slightly raise the resulting risk index.
Mayor Jaron Rosien said officials could also consider partial quiet zones, which would come with all the cost of a 24-hour quiet zone, but only silence trains during certain hours of the day, thus improving the safety rating.
“The upgrades are the same, whether it’s quiet 24 hours a day, or 8 hours a day,” he said. “My gut instinct was that safety is such a priority, it would be more likely for our community to let them blast during the daylight, but want quiet at night.”
Rosien said the city would consult with the public before committing to any of the options proposed Tuesday night.
“I think we need to include the community at large,” he said. “We certainly want to be very thorough and get it right … a real large community forum could be a good next step, when council is ready.”