OUR OPINION: Deliberate pace for quiet zones is balanced choice

Key leaders in City Hall indicated this week they expect an extended, thorough and cautious study of ways to develop railroad quiet zones through Tupelo, a fully reasonable approach to an issue Mayor Jason Shelton has identified as a priority of his administration.

Shelton, who took office July 1, and City Council President Nettie Davis, Ward 4’s council representative, both said they want to go forward with assessing how to implement quiet zones for train horns. The BNSF and Kansas City Southern lines route through the heart of the city.

The dozens of trains daily through Tupelo are required by federal regulation to sound horns – two long, one short, one long – for each grade-level intersection.

Shelton advanced the cause of quiet zones even before he took office, joining former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. in promoting the necessary engineering assessment at each intersection to move toward trains going through Tupelo without shattering the community eardrum.

The issue involves both quality of life and economic development potential.

A quiet zone has been defined as a section of rail line at least one-half mile long where locomotive horns don’t have to be sounded at public street/highway rail-grade crossings. There are about 500 nationwide but only three in Mississippi (Clinton, Vicksburg, Gulfport/Harrison County), three in Alabama, and one in Tennessee. The horn regulations are defined by the Federal Railroad Administration.

This is what the FRA official website says about the rule:

“Under the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.

“If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within a quarter mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds.

“There is a ‘good faith’ exception for locations where engineers can precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound the horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving …

“Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing …”

Conversation with cities where quiet zones have been implemented would seem a reasonable starting place in the next steps.