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Quiet zones on the way?

City closer to realizing goal of silencing train horns
by: anthony roberts There would need to be upgrades to train crossings, like this one at Harrison Street, in order to implement a quiet zone in which trains don't blow their horns.

'I get frequent phone calls and e-mails about when are those trains horns going to be quiet,' Wendy Hemmen, Milwaukie's light rail coordinator, told City Council at another well-attended work session on the subject last week.

Hemmen has also been awaiting answers on the city's quiet zones at rail crossings for a long time, but she admitted that the Union Pacific main line project has been hampered by delays in authorization of federal funding, before the city can complete coordination efforts with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

To make a quiet zone possible, a railroad intersection has to be completely blocked to traffic, which requires expensive upgrades to the typical 'Z' gates that only blocks traffic going in the correct direction. Since drivers can swerve around the 'Z' arms that only block traffic, trains are required to sound at high decibels when passing through such intersections.

Also in past years, Milwaukie residents have come out en masse to advocate for expensive four-gate upgrades, possibly with curbs dividing the traffic directions and keeping drivers in their lane; or a stationary wayside horn. It will take approximately $300,000 to install specialized crossing arms and sidewalks on Harrison, Oak and 37th Avenue; the city would be required to pay about $200,000.

'It could be as early as 2012 depending on funding, but hopefully no later than 2014,' Hemmen said.

For the so-called Tillamook Branch through downtown, the city is working with TriMet to begin work this summer so that light rail trains can be silent before testing is scheduled for a 2015 opening.

TriMet has allocated about $1 million to implement the quiet zones as part of the agency's plans for a $1.5 billion light rail extension through Milwaukie.

Councilor Dave Hedges joked that he wanted a more expedited timeline to keep a campaign promise for his re-election campaign scheduled in 2014.

'I'd be pleased if the Budget Committee could find the necessary funding for this year,' Hedges said. 'Particularly now that the summer is coming on, those of us who live near the tracks will open their windows again.'

Councilor Joe Loomis agreed that the project remained worthy of funding, but liked the idea of completing the project piecemeal over the next few years.