Sssuuhhh-Lllooowwwhhh Quiet Zone!

Obviously, since a Quiet Zone is not in place it cannot be easy to implement nor can we be the first to suggest it. We will annoy someone for being new kids in the neighborhood. It would still be worth it so full steam ahead!

Now What?

After playing with Quiet Zone Calculator and some Scenarios, it brought up some questions that we sent to the FRA.

  1. Can an existing Quiet Zone be extended? Is that easier than establishing a new QZ?
  2. Looking at the data in the QZ Calculator, can a QZ for Delaware St, Carolina St and Florida St be auto-approved?
  3. If there is a sidewalk at the crossing, do any safety measures need implemented?
  4. If we add the Hoefgen crossing to the proposed QZ, can it be approved if SSM 12 is implemented?
  5. Is it better to establish the smallest QZ needed or largest one possible? For example, a QZ spanning Southtown and the three city districts would impact more residents than just the section near our building.
  6. What are the next steps for a Quiet Zone?7. Who can issue the Notice of Intent?8. What does the City of San Antonio need to do?

Shining a Light

We've received a response from the FRA. We're impressed! Less than 24hrs.

A detailed and helpful response was sent from a Staff Director of Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention Division. All of our questions weren't answered but there was good information.

Speedbump #1

The Quiet Zone Calculator uses data from the national crossing inventory in its calculations. This information may or may not be current so I cannot say with any accuracy that the existing conditions would enable a quiet zone to be established. This is one reason that one of the requirements to establish a quiet zone is that the public authority must provide and accurate crossing inventory for each crossing in the quiet zone.

We expected something like this since we couldn't possibly verify the data presented in the QZ Calculator. We're hoping a “public authority” has already been collecting the data to avoid a lengthy delay. Citizens here (District 5) and in other cities have waited years for the establishment of Quiet Zones.

From articles we've read, the process seems designed to be slow. Then the decision gets bounced between various stakeholder groups who disagree. The FRA wants to collect enough real data to make informed safety decisions. Train executives don't want sued for accidents. Train Engineers want horns so they never hit anyone. Cities don't want expense of new train gates and crossing maintenance. Residents want to live without horns but don't want to pay for it or let roads be closed, which is often the cheapest way get a QZ. Many will say “you get used to it”, “just move if you can't handle it” and “you knew there was a train, right?”.

Speedbump #2

…the Essex Street/Hoefgen Avenue intersection appears to be within 60 feet of the crossing's warning devices. If this is true, the mountable traffic channelization devices you mentioned could not be used a Supplemental Safety Measures. This does not mean that they channelization devices cannot be used. It does mean that they would become Alternative Safety Measures and the city would have to make an application to FRA for approval of the quiet zone. The values provided by the Quiet Zone Calculator are only valid when only Supplemental Safety Measures are used.

This issue sounds manageable. Seems like these are not rules but guidelines to be examined for each situation. The QZ we're looking at has the advantage that most of the crossings have very low traffic which is a major factor in the risk calculations.

Speedbump #3

…there appear to be nearby crossings (S. Presa Street and Carolina Street) that are closer than 1/4 of a mile which prevent the establishment of a quiet zone.

This refers to the Hoefgen crossing. Carolina is to the north of Hoefgen. South Pressa is to the southwest but across the 281/37 highway. The tracks here are a concern because they form a large 90 degree turn so trains could sneak up on you.

The 1/4 mile guideline is some logic they could add to the QZ Calculator. We were looking for the cheapest Supplemental Safety Measure. There are many SSM options. We also need to review and photograph the crossings. There is a safety difference between an at-grade or grade-separated crossing and it is unclear is the QZ Calculator makes the distinction.

Speedbump #4

…(we) recommend that you communicate your desire to have a quiet zone established to the city. San Antonio has established a number of quiet zones in the city and is familiar with the process.

Hand-off. OK. We'll try harder locally. NIMBY means NOISE In My Backyard for this project.

To Do

  1. Find the best Quiet Zone contact with the city. (It is probably not the Mayor or the City Council right now.)2. Find interested citizens/groups and see what they've learned.