FLAGSTAFF – An administrative judge recommended Sept. 22 that Flagstaff be allowed to proceed with a plan to prevent train engineers from blasting their horns in town.
The Arizona Corporation Commission, which stepped in earlier this year to say the city needed its approval, tentatively is scheduled to consider the recommendation at its Oct. 8 meeting.
City engineer Rick Barrett said it would be irresponsible to assume the decision, but hopefully when Oct. 9 comes around “we’ll be ready to build the project.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of happy people when the train horns are silenced,” he said.
Flagstaff city officials have been trying for years to create a quiet zone, worried that blaring horns that sound on average every 15 minutes are annoying, and keep residents and tourists from getting a good night’s sleep.
The case was the first of its kind to reach the commission that has authority over engineering improvements at railroad crossings.
“Whatever forces aligned to produce that decision have taken the expeditious and wisest course of action to solving what the citizens of Flagstaff have identified as a major annoyance,” said Flagstaff Vice Mayor Al White.
Much of the safety equipment, which includes vehicle and pedestrian barriers and stationary speakers known as wayside horns, was installed at ground-level crossings before the commission stepped in.
The city subsequently applied to use wayside horns at two railroad crossings on the east side of town as part of a quiet zone.
Wayside horns sound like traditional locomotive horns and are triggered along with crossing gates when trains approach. They can be pointed directly at the intersection to limit sound dispersion into surrounding neighborhoods.
The commission’s administrative Judge Sarah Harpring faulted the city for prematurely installing the wayside horns that caused confusion to at least one train engineer and could have posed a safety hazard. The city removed them while its application was pending.
“If there is negligence on our part here it was certainly benign and absolutely not intended to circumvent any safety issues,” White said. “That’s the last thing we want to do.”
Harpring also said the city did not follow regulations for establishing a quiet zone because a notice of intent was not sent to Amtrak, which operates all five crossings.
The city didn’t seek approval for the other three crossings in the quiet zone because no modification or installation of engineering improvements are planned there.
But Harpring opined that the city’s decision not to implement pedestrian barriers at two of the three crossings causes concern and “is not a choice that we believe we would make under the same circumstances.” She noted the concern stems from an awareness that the train horns won’t sound there when the quiet zone is established.
Flagstaff resident Walter Robertson, who intervened in the case, said pedestrian archways at two of the three crossings are inadequate for the hundreds of people who pass through there daily.
“There’s always been accidents down there and there will be more accidents down there. No matter what they put up, it’s going to happen,” he said. “Basically it’s a question of liability.”