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Trains' 'quiet zone' delayed

Trains' 'quiet zone' delayed

by: BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
5/26/2009 3:20:05 AM

Establishing a sealed corridor in downtown Tulsa to stop freight trains from blowing their horns is taking much longer than expected, officials said.

The "quiet zone" designation was expected this spring after the completion of work at five railroad crossings but is now projected to happen before the end of the year.

"I hesitate to be more specific than that because at every turn this has demanded more time," said Dennis Whitaker, a city planner.

The good news is that the work on the crossings is under way by special Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway crews, he said.

Numerous trains pass through Tulsa's central business district each day and are legally required to sound their horns because of the type of crossing gates used.

But new vehicle-proof gates are being installed at Greenwood, Elgin, Cheyenne, Elwood and Guthrie avenues to eliminate that requirement.

The technology for such a system continues to advance, and that has caused delays in the process to get the right equipment, Whitaker said.

"This is all based on fairly new legislation," he said. "It's like when a new model of car comes out. They start to find and fix the bugs. Tulsa is going to benefit from that experience."

Congress set tough national standards for sealed corridors in 2005, after ones established by state and local governments without extra precautions caused a spike in train-automobile collisions.

When the new gates are ready, the city can ask the Federal Railroad Administration to designate a 3,600-foot quiet zone through downtown, Whitaker said.

After a 30-day testing period and then a 21-day notice to all affected entities, the trains can go silent, he said.

Burlington Northern's spokesman Joe Faust said safety is the priority. "When you eliminate train horns, that takes away a safety feature, so we want to make sure this system is working perfectly," he said.

Even in a sealed corridor, trains can sound their horns if there is a suspected failure in the system or an immediate danger.

Also, bells will sound and lights will flash at the crossings whenever the gates are about to come down.

The work on Burlington Northern's property is funded with $1.4 million from the federal government.

An additional $750,000 from the 2006 third-penny sales-tax program is paying for the work being done on the city's rights of way.

Once the sealed corridor is established, it should help downtown's revitalization efforts, Whitaker said. "It will certainly create a more pleasant atmosphere for businesses and particularly residents," he said.

The Brady Village, where trains pass through, is poised for a transformation, particularly with the new ballpark going in, Whitaker said.

Jeff Castleberry, the owner of Caz's Chowhouse, a restaurant in the area, looks forward to no longer hearing the horns daily.

"I used to live within three blocks of the tracks, so I know all too well that if they want to draw more residents downtown, this is very necessary," he said, adding that friends of his who live downtown put mattresses against their windows.

Tom Wallace of Wallace Engineering, on Brady Street, owns another building nearby that he's converting for residential use.

"When the horns sound, you can't hear anything else," he said. "This is critical to making downtown what we want it to be: a welcome place for both visitors and residents."

Brian Barber 581-8322

Associate Images:


A Burlington Northern train passes near First Street and Cheyenne Avenue in 2008. Trains are expected to stop sounding their horns downtown by the end of the year, when the "quiet zone" designation is now projected to happen. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file


A train rolls through downtown Tulsa near Greenwood Avenue. Tulsa World file


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