Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 29, 2013

Time to explore a ‘quiet zone’

The Goshen News

— There is a great “quality-of-life” aspect about Goshen. It seems there always has been. So, discussions and efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of life in the city are certainly held in high regard in our book. That would include the initiative to improve the appearance and function of the slice of town known as the Ninth Street Corridor.

This is a stretch that encompasses more than a mile of the Norfolk Southern’s Marion Railroad Line and a spattering of factories and businesses. It also bisects two major south-side residential areas and has experienced some environmental clean-up in recent years. Furthermore, thousands of Goshennites live within two blocks of the Marion Line.

THE LAZY RUMBLE of freight trains through this corridor has been a part of Goshen life for decades. So too has the blare from train horns. Because of the curve near Lincoln Avenue where the Marion Line splits off the main rail corridor, these trains must slow to a crawl. For years there has been talk about making the stretch a “quiet zone” in which trains aren’t required to sound their horns. However, current conditions and crossings do not allow for that.

On Monday, the Goshen Board of Public Works and Safety approved the hiring of American Structurepoint Inc. to provide on-call technical assistance and coordination of the establishment of a quiet zone. This is a big step. Employees of  the company were in Goshen Tuesday to begin a study of the Marion branch.

The length of the corridor in question stretches exactly 1.4 miles from Lincoln Avenue at its north end to College Avenue at its south end. Between those two points there are 12 road crossings of the Marion Line. That’s one nearly each one-tenth of a mile.

IF LOCOMOTIVE conductors adhere to the letter of the law regarding the Federal Railroad Administration’s “Train Horn Rule,” they are blaring their horn three times as they approach and proceed through each crossing. Each horn blast is at least 110 decibels. So, from the time a train takes the curve at Lincoln Avenue and then finally rolls past College Avenue, the engineer could sound their horn as many as 36 times. Add the fact that trains are creeping through town at between 5 and 10 miles per hour and we can understand how it may seem like the horn blowing will never stop.

The challenge in creating a quiet zone is convenience and cost. Equipping each crossing of the Marion Line with appropriate gates to facilitate a quiet zone will be expensive. Also, trains move so slowly on the line that vehicles can keep crossing the tracks even when the train is very close. Perhaps we should consider if each of these 12 crossing are necessary, especially if the U.S. 33 North Connector route/overpass becomes a reality.

FOR INSTANCE, do we really need minor crossings at New York Street, Burdick Street, Jackson Street, Jefferson Street and Washington Street? If those crossings were eliminated that would be 15 fewer train horn honks. Throw the Reynolds and Douglas street crossings into that mix and we’re up to 21 fewer horn blasts. It may also reduce the cost of crossing gate upgrades, although there would be costs associated with closing those crossings.

We’re just thinking out loud here. That may not be feasible, but it’s worth thinking about. We look forward to hearing the recommendations from the folks at Structurepoint Inc. We believe a quiet zone along the Marion Line, as long as the safety of residents isn’t compromised, will benefit Goshen’s quality of life.