An automated horn system installed at the Cooper Street rail crossing in Meriden blares so loudly when trains pass at night that nearby residents are up in arms.
Residents and businesses near the crossing say the horns, which the Connecticut Department of Transportation plans to install at every rail crossing in the city by the end of the summer, have damaged their quality of life.
And yet, the Federal Railroad Administration has installed such “wayside horns” in other states and says they are effective in warning motorists while at the same time being easier on the nerves of nearby residents than the horns mounted on trains.
According to the FRA, wayside horns installed in Mundelein, Illinois, “reduced the disruption of daily activities experienced by nearby residents.” A substantial majority of the Mundelein residents who responded to a phone survey “found the wayside horn much less annoying than the train horns,” the FRA reported.
Something’s out of kilter here, because that’s not at all what seems to be happening in Meriden.
Granted that the Cooper Street crossing is a difficult one because residences and businesses are “right on top” of the crossing, said John Bernick, assistant rail administrator for the Connecticut DOT. “It’s difficult to position it so that residents are not affected,” Bernick said.
That may be an understatement. Elaine Scalione, whose apartment is only a few hundred feet from the horn, says that in order to cope with the noise, “I have to put my air conditioning on, I have a fan leaning against my wall so it’ll vibrate, and I have a pillow over my head.”
That’s just about the opposite of what the residents surveyed in Illinois had to say. Then again, there have been complaints about similar horns placed in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The FRA says the sound is directed down the roadway, “which greatly reduces the noise footprint of the audible warning.” But in a very built-up area like Cooper Street, that “directed” sound may not be making much of a difference.
To make matters worse, the horns, mounted on poles, may sound briefly for a short passenger train but can sound upwards of 25 times for a long, slow freight train. And sometimes the horn malfunctions and sounds long after a train has passed, neighbors said.
The whole idea of installing the wayside horns was to mitigate the noise produced by the expanded Hartford Line rail service launched last year. In theory, that’s good. The wayside horns are supposed to be heard within a 250-foot radius, whereas train-mounted horns can carry for half a mile.
City Manager Tim Coon and Public Works Director Howard Weissberg have met with DOT officials, who told them that they are continuing to explore solutions. The idea, Bernick said, is to make it so that the new wayside horn system is no louder than the train-mounted horns it replaced.
Let that be the goal: Safety has to come first, but keep trying to tweak the system so that it’s no louder than it was before.
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