Fairfield counts down to midnight quiet zone start
A good night’s sleep without the disturbance of train horns is finally within reach, according to Fairfield city councilman Michael Halley, just hours before the establishment of the town’s quiet zone.
Railway company, Burlington Northern Santa Fe has informed the city beginning midnight today, trains passing through will do so quietly in observance of Fairfield’s quiet zone.
It has been eight years since the city council first considered the idea of implementing a quiet zone, a whole year longer than it took earlier residents to build a railroad through town, according to Susan Fulton Welty’s, “A Fair Field.” Welty said the first train to roll through Fairfield was met by a cheering crowd Sept. 1, 1858.
“A cannon boomed a repeated welcome, and the train’s whistle mingled its music with the joyful clamor of brass bands. The way was at last open to the markets of the United States and the world,” she wrote.
In the more than 150 years since then, residents enthusiasm for train horns has waned, especially for those living near the tracks. And according to Halley, train horns have become louder and more frequent during that time. Halley has spearheaded the effort to implement a quiet zone in recent years, and plans to wait up tonight to be the first to experience the historic moment.
“It has been a long time coming,” he said. “I’ll be out there waiting for the first train after midnight to make sure it complies with our quiet zone. They roll through a couple of times an hour around the clock so it shouldn’t take long.”
Quiet zones in the United States are overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration. Cities must meet the administration’s safety standards in order to qualify. Once the standards are met, the city sends a notice of establishment to the FRA. After 21 days, the quiet zone goes into effect.
Quiet zone construction began late July and was completed in October. The city selected a design with 2-foot wide by 10-inch tall medians running 100 feet north and south of all of Fairfield’s crossings in order to create a barrier to traffic.
Halley submitted a notice of establishment to administration headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31. According to administration rules, quiet zones go into effect 21 days after a notice is issued as long as the area meets its standards.
Halley has been in communication with the railway company, which is required to post signs one mile outside of town informing the train operator of a quiet zone. A representative said the company’s legal team has reviewed the notice of establishment and will observe the quiet zone after midnight.
Tuesday the city will unveil quiet zone signs at each of the crossings. While all of Fairfield’s railroad intersections have been in compliance for nearly a month, the rectangular signs announcing the quiet zone have remained covered by plastic bags.
Throughout the life of the project, Halley has focused on educating the town about quiet zones and railway safety. While Halley said most people now understand the safety benefits of quiet zones, he said it’s more important than ever to remind pedestrians to stay off the tracks. While train operators will continue to sound horns if they see a person on the tracks, Halley said it takes about a mile for a train to come to a halt.
He said now is an important time to remind people, especially pedestrians, to be cautious.
“It will be a transition once the quiet zone is established,” he said. “It’s the right time to remind people of the importance of staying safe and staying aware.”
To that end, the city has agreed to participate in a public safety and education program by the nonprofit organization, Operation Lifesaver.
“The timing is right because of this change,” he said. “We’re entering a new era.”
Regional FRA manager and a certified Operation Lifesaver educator, Howard Gillespie will visit Fairfield Nov. 26 to promote railway safety. According to the nonprofit, a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours in America. Gillespie will focus on prevention, speaking to the council and sharing a safety video through Fairfield Media Center’s Channel 9.
“Quiet zones are much safer for people in vehicles,” said Halley. “Now it’s time to enhance safety for pedestrians.”
Gillespie’s office oversees 41 quiet zones in Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Fairfield will be the region’s 42nd quiet zone.