OUR OPINION: Consider rail quiet zone as a long-term project

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mayor Jason Shelton’s intention to continue exploring the possibilities of establishing a railroad quiet zone through Tupelo probably should be considered a long-term project because of costs anticipated with installing the automated lights, bells and crossing gates at every street crossing qualifying for an exemption to the railroad horn rule.
QuietZones, which are defined in federal regulations which also specify the duration and decibel level required of approaching trains, can be implemented only in compliance with the federal rules governing exemptions have been implemented in stages in some cities where they’re in force.
Communities can qualify for QuietZone status if their crossings meet minimum safety requirements, outlined in the Department of Transportation railroad Final Rule 49 CFR, Parts 222 and 229. Train crews are still permitted to sound the horn within a Quiet Zone for railroad or safety reasons, which usually would be classified as an emergency.
Decatur, Ala., an industrial/manufacturing city on the Tennessee River that’s often compared to Tupelo as an economic hub, has qualified for QuietZone status, but the process was prolonged and not without controversy because some crossings were proposed for closure, but ultimately remained open.
Every crossing requires an on-site analysis, and in 2007 the per-crossing cost was estimated in the $300,000 to $500,000 range.
However, other cities have been told that because each crossing is unique, the total cost to implement a QuietZone in a specific location will vary.
Decatur, also heavily reliant on commercial railroad traffic, has about 60 trains per day.
A congressionally funded, Mississippi Department of Transportation-led study of train traffic and railroad-related delays reported that in about 15 years the present 21 to 24 trains per day could rise to 35 to 40 per day. The figure does not include switching-train delays and the horns sounded for those trains.
Because Tupelo already has a capital expenditure plan in place, perhaps a QuietZone long-term project could be placed under that category, with installations paid for in areas of greatest residential concentration and business density first, with the rest of the city’s crossings brought into the zone after higher priorities have been met.
Immediate action seems unlikely except to move forward gathering information, with a calculation of long-term costs and identification of the areas with the most potential to benefit.