WES horn noise rings in Tualatin folks' ears

Tualatin officials aren't sure yet how to pay for quiet zones or stationary horns

TUALATIN - Could the city of Tualatin spend the next two years working on mitigation factors for the Westside Express Service train-horn noise?

So says Tualatin City Engineer Mike McKillip who on Monday gave a brief presentation to the City Council on research staff compiled on the issues of quite zones and stationary horns.

Quiet zones are intersections where trains are not required to blow their horns. The zones usually require supplemental service measures like medians or four-quadrant gates. Stationary horns are horns permanently placed at railroad crossings that sound when trains approach. This eliminates the need for trains to sound their horns except in emergency situations. The stationary horn helps cut down on the Doppler Effect of train-horn noise.

After researching what other cities like Eugene and Rowena have gone through implementing quiet zones, McKillip noted that it could take the city of Tualatin anywhere from six to eight months to a couple of years to see a quiet zone established in the city.

According to a Tualatin draft staff report, residents in the small unincorporated area of Rowena have been working since the summer of 2006 to establish a quiet zone at the Rowena crossing. As of January 2008, the Oregon Department of Transportation issued a crossing order to require safety improvements at the Rowena grade crossing - something diagnostic teams anticipated. However, Wasco County, the state of Oregon and Rowena residents do not have the funding to implement the safety measures.

And with a possible $370,000 price tag, Tualatin city officials aren't quite sure how their city might pay for the noise mitigation measures either. TriMet, which will be operating the new WES trains when operations start in September, has already said through its officials that it would not be helping to fund any of the mitigation factors.

The City Council could consider funding the measures through the general fund or by establishing a new monthly fee to accommodate quality of life or community livability costs.

The Tualatin City Council has made no decisions yet on funding. But councilors did give staff the go ahead Monday to continue researching quiet zones and stationary horns.

Staff is stilling waiting on the Federal Railroad Administration to complete its update on the Quiet Zone Risk Index. The FRA formulates a Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold, a nationwide average risk of accidents at grade crossings equipped with flashing lights and automatic gates where train horns are sounded. The FRA then compares the risk index of proposed quite zones with that of the Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold. From that comparison, the FRA can decide whether to approve a quiet zone or deny one with the stipulation that supplemental safety measures could reduce the risk index.

Though WES is set to start running practice trains in April and to start the full 32-train operation in September, Tualatin is the only city whose residents have raised concerns about train-horn noise.

Train-horn noise is a nonissue in Tigard. It's also a nonissue in Beaverton. According to Tigard officials, residents have raised not a hint of complaint or concern about the noise that will blow from WES trains traveling through the city 32 times a day.

Tigard Assistant City Manager Liz Newton noted that the city of Tigard always responded to citizens' concerns. But so far, the train-noise issue isn't a concern, she said.