Train horns come up at council meeting
The frequency of train horns was a topic of discussion at Monday night’s Fairfield City Council meeting.
Fairfield resident Joey Katz said she moved from the countryside to town about a year ago with the understanding Fairfield would be a quiet zone. The quiet zone took effect Nov. 21, 2012.
Katz said she rarely noticed a train horn for the first two months of the quiet zone’s tenure. However, she said horns have become very prevalent the past two months, and she was curious to know why.
Councilor Michael Halley said the trains can blow their horns for a variety of reasons. For instance, train conductors always blow their horn when they travel on a portion of track where construction is occurring.
The conductors also blow their horns when they see a person, animal, vehicle or anything else on the track. Halley said another explanation could be some conductors are unaccustomed to honoring Fairfield’s quiet zone and it will take time for them to learn.
Halley said during an interview today about 40 trains pass through town every day. Before the quiet zone was instituted, each train blew its horn four times at every railroad crossing, of which Fairfield has eight. That meant residents heard nearly 1,300 train horns every day.
Halley said the train horns were a nuisance during outdoor concerts and farmers markets. They could even be heard inside the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
The quiet zone has not eliminated train horns altogether, but Halley estimates it has reduced them by 99 percent. Instead of hearing almost 1,300 horns per day, residents only hear the occasional horn when the track is under construction.
“It’s not a completely silent zone,” Halley said. “The perception was that it was going to be 100 percent silent, and it was never advertised that way. There is no silent zone anywhere in the country. If there are workers in the right-of-way, trains will honk their horn to give them a warning.”
To become a quiet zone, Fairfield had to construct concrete medians at the railroad crossings so vehicles could not go around the stop arms. The city also had to widen the roads to allow extra space for the medians.
The project cost about $250,000. Two-thirds of that money came from private sources. The railroad company gave the city money to close two crossings, one on Third Street and the other on Eighth Street. The Iowa Department of Transportation gave $7,500 toward the project.
Halley said some people were worried the quiet zone would make Fairfield less safe. He said the concrete medians, which the quiet zone required, have actually made the city safer.
“We’re quieter and safer than we were,” he said.
In other news, the council approved an ordinance pertaining to safety equipment at Bonnifield Lake. The vote was 5-1 in favor. Councilors Halley, Martha Rasmussen, John Revolinski, Connie Boyer and Tony Hammes voted in favor while Daryn Hamilton voted against it. Councilor Jessica Ledger-Kalen was absent.
At an earlier council meeting at which Hamilton voted against the ordinance, he said he voted against the ordinance because the amended version did not require the beach to be closed if a safety device went missing or was stolen. He said he believed that put the city at risk for a lawsuit.
The council approved the parade route for Fairfield High School’s prom, which is April 6. The parade will proceed west from the high school on Broadway Avenue to Main Street, where it will turn north toward the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. The parade starts at 8 p.m. and will finish at about 9:30 p.m.