Train horn study

A study being done for Ladysmith will be part of an effort to silence train horns in the city.

The Ladysmith Common Council voted 5-0, on Monday, Aug. 24, to hire a firm to conduct a “quiet zone” assessment as part of an effort to silence train horns in the city

The council placed $10,000 in the city budget years ago for this study, but the money was never expended. The amount carried over for years in following budgets.

The council hired SRF Consulting to complete the study for $9,000. The firm is expected to schedule meetings with city, Canadian National Railroad, Federal Railroad Administration, state Department of Transportation and any other officials that might be needed.

“It already has been approved by the council in the past,” Ald. Marty Reynolds said.

Under the federal Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings. If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within one-quarter mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds.

There is a “good faith” exception for locations where engineers can’t precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound the horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving at the crossing.

Most trains through Ladysmith travel less than 60mph.

Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts.

The maximum volume level for the train horn is 110 decibels which is a new requirement. The minimum sound level remains 96 decibels.

The city council Legal Affairs Committee voted 3-0 at its Aug. 13 meeting to recommend the study.

“With the increased train traffic, it’s a good time to move forward with this,” Legal Affairs Committee meeting minutes state.

“All things are in place to move forward with that project,” Finance Committee meeting minutes state.

Applications, and notices will cost $11,500 maximum, according to city officials.

“Everything is included with the exception of the notice of intent for the quiet zone application if we make one and the notice of establishment,” said Reynolds, who has fought many years for the quiet zone.

The application and notice is projected to cost an additional $2,500.

“It looks like we have had the money in the budget, and it is just a matter of reallocating it or doing something similar,” Reynolds said.

The meeting with railroad and state transportation officials is expected to last most of a day and be held in Ladysmith. A date for this meeting has yet to be set.

“We’ve done this once before, I think in 2012, and it never went anywhere after that,” Reynolds said.

The city has five CN mainline crossings: Wis. 27 north, Lake Avenue, Miner Avenue, Worden Avenue and Doughty Road. The quiet zone likely would apply to the lesser-traveled Barron Sub line that runs east to west and crosses many residential streets in the city.

A New Quiet Zone must be at least one-half mile in length along the railroad tracks. It also must have, at a minimum, flashing lights and gates in place at each public crossing. These must be equipped with constant warning time devices where reasonably practical, and power out indicators. Any necessary upgrades must be completed before calculating risk for the quiet zone.

Quiet Zone applications are considered on a point system based on Supplementary Safety Measures in place at affected public crossings.  

A Federal Railroad Administration Quiet Zone Calculator on-line tool is used to determine a Quiet Zone Risk Index.

When city officials last pursued a quiet zone, the move was cost-prohibitive mainly because it was thought the city would need to pay for installation of concrete raised medians at the busy Lake Avenue crossing to accumulate enough points to satisfy federal requirements. These raised medians are now being installed as part of a state project to resurface Lake Avenue at no cost to the city.

In 2015, state transportation officials estimated the Lake Avenue medians will cost about $37,000 to install. In the interim, state DOT has painted lane markings at the crossing to show where the medians will be installed.

Lake Avenue was once one lane each direction with on-street parking. It was last rebuilt in 2003 with a center turn lane and bike lane, based on DOT-approved plans.

At a June 2012 hearing on a proposed quiet zone, city officials heard arguments. This included:

Keep train horns sounding during the day, when more pedestrians are out and train headlights are not as visible.

Trains traveling at about 88 feet per second may not give engineers enough time between crossings to follow federal train horn regulations 

The Miner Avenue crossing near downtown was called the most dangerous because of a bend in the tracks that makes it difficult to see trains coming into the city from the south, giving less time to react.

Blowing train horns should be left up to the discretion of the engineer.

More consistency by engineers in following train horn regulations.

Reynolds believes with the state installing medians on Lake Avenue, the city has a very good chance of having a quiet zone application approved.

“We have the state’s word the median is going in, then I would say it is going in,” Reynolds said. “If we can get them to hold the horn on Doughty Road all the way through, that is a big step.”

“They can still blow their horns in an emergency, but that doesn’t happen very much,” Reynolds said.

In other matters, the council:

Was told there will be a hearing at 5:15 p.m., Monday, Sept. 14, at city hall on a proposal to add new residency restrictions on sex offenders in the city. The proposal would ban them from living within 500 feet of any school for children, licensed day care center, public park, public library, public playground, recreational trail, any facility for children or any other place where children are known to congregate. It also would ban offenders convicted of a sexually violent offense or a crime against a child from residing in the city, unless the person was living in the city at the time of the offense.

Voted 5-0 to approve a $7,350 bid for Industrial Park Ball Field fencing from Northern Wisconsin Fence of Phillips. Hayward Fence bid $20,110.

Voted 5-0 to approve up to $1,000 to scan Lindoo Avenue school plans as a cost to Tax Incremental District 8 if the county is not able to perform this task for the city.

Voted 5-0 to appoint Rachel Cerra to the planning commission.