Tupelo Council delays first step toward railroad 'quiet zone'

I'm a journalist focused on government, policy, politics and people.
I find what matters and bird dog it like nobody's business.

By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Wanting more time to ask questions about an effort to create a “quiet zone” along Tupelo railroad crossings, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to do more research before proceeding.
On a motion by Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington, the council tabled the vote on deciding to pay $138,000 for engineering services related to preparing an application for a quiet zone for the city.
No loud train whistles would be heard in a quiet zone, but safety features at crossings would be enhanced.
Whittington said after the meeting he had questions related to the proposal, which includes each of the city’s 23 railroad crossings except for the busiest and best known, Crosstown.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. had suggested Monday at a work session that the City Council omit Crosstown because it would nearly double the cost of the first step.
Whittington said the cost and other questions gave him pause, and that he needed more time to examine the right course.
“If we spend the money to move forward, it needs to meet our expectations,” he said.
Whittington stressed the distinction between this project and previous railroad studies in Tupelo. This effort, which would be led by the Smith Seckman Reid engineering firm headquartered in Nashville, would complete necessary first steps of engineering and other technical work required for a quiet zone application.
Quiet zones must meet approval of railroad companies and the Federal Railroad Administration and require additional safety steps, including flashing lights and gates that lower at crossings.
During the Monday work session, engineer Sharpie Smith of SSR said he had no estimate on the total cost of the project.
While considering quiet zones along railroad tracks in the city is a recent development, trying to find solutions to improve quality of life in a city split by railroad tracks isn’t. A $2 million federally funded study in 2006 reported a cost of $384.7 million to elevate train tracks in the city.
With relocating railroads cost prohibitive, the city continues to evaluate better ways to live with them.
Whittington said he and other council members prefer taking time to ask questions to make sure the city ends up on the right track.
“The trains are going to be with us for a long time,” he said. “I don’t see any real urgency in getting this done.”
robbie.ward@journalinc.com