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Utah cities seek quiet zones for trains

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19 2012 11:29 p.m. MDT

A freight train crosses Lehi's Main Street. Lehi and other cities in Utah want to make rail crossings less noisy.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

LEHI — Lehi is heading up a delegation of Utah cities working to make trains quieter in anticipation of a new commuter line that will dramatically increase train traffic.

Lehi is sponsoring an application to the Federal Railroad Administration to create a quiet zone, the Daily Herald reports.

Trains are usually required to sound a warning — long, loud and shrill— at every intersection they approach. For nearby residents, enduring the blasts a few times a day can be annoying. But with 60 trains a day, crossing intersections at up to 79 mph, it quickly becomes insufferable.

That's the number of daily trains possible when the Provo to Salt Lake line of commuter rail opens this fall, said Utah Transit Authority spokesman Gerry Carpenter. A few trains already are testing the line, blaring a horn at every intersection as they go.

To make the noise go away, or at least minimize it, cities have been upgrading safety features at crossings as required by the federal application process.

"To change to a quiet zone, there needs to be sufficient safety improvements to all railroad crossings," Carpenter said. That means installing gates at crossings, along with flashing lights and ringing bells.

"They also have raised cement medians which prevent cars from traveling around gate arms," he said. "The horns are very loud and high decibel and can be heard for miles, while the bell at the gate is directional and creates much less noise pollution."

Carpenter said officials believe the upgraded features will make the crossing not only quieter, but safer.

The quiet zone, expected to be approved late this year, will apply to all trains, whether Amtrak, Union Pacific or commuter.

It will include rail lines in Lehi, Salt Lake, South Salt Lake, Murray, Sandy, South Jordan, Draper, Bluffdale, American Fork, Vineyard, Orem and Provo.

But the quiet zone will not prevent train operators from sounding the horn if they see an obstruction or someone walking on tracks.

"The horn is always available as a safety measure, but the requirement to use it goes away," Carpenter said.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration website, there are currently five quiet zones in Utah — Salt Lake, West Jordan, Midvale, Pleasant View and Woods Cross.

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