Updated June 7 with additional details from City of Edmonds.
For those wondering why the wayside horn “quiet zones” — which the City of Edmonds announced would go into effect at downtown railroad crossings Wednesday — have seemed noisier than ever, we have some answers.
According to Scott Thompson, public information officer for Sound Transit, the quiet zones officially will begin operations Friday, June 7 on the BNSF tracks. BNSF engineers operate trains both for the railroad and Sound Transit’s Sounder trains — all of which use the downtown tracks.
Since engineers have continued to use their traditional train whistles to alert pedestrians and drivers to approaching trains at both Dayton and Main Streets, for the past two days, both systems have been operating at once.
The City of Edmonds activated the new wayside horns and signals at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 5. The milestone came after years of planning and negotiations with BNSF on the project. As a result, residents believed that those loud, blaring train horns that force many waterfront visitors to cover their ears would immediately be a thing of the past.
But not so, said Sound Transit’s Thompson in an email. “BNSF has to put this information into their general orders for the conductors and it was not in their orders earlier this week,” he said. “So, that’s why the trains were using whistles. Not sure why the city turned on the equipment a couple of days early.”
On Friday the City of Edmonds forwarded an email from BNSF to Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams indicating the glitch was on the railroad’s end.
“I apologize for the confusion surrounding the activation of the wayside horns at Dayton St and Main St.,” said Stephen Semenick, BNSF Manager of Public Projects in an email. “I spoke with our system transportation team yesterday evening, and again this morning to address the issue. There was a delay in the General Order (GO) being issued to train crews in the region. However, the GO notifying train crews of the wayside horn systems at each crossing has since been issued, and will be in effect as of 00:01 on 6/7/2019.”
Assuming all goes as expected, trains will cease using onboard horns in Edmonds on Friday, leaving the new wayside horns to take over the job of providing the audible warning that a train is approaching. The new horns are designed to isolate the sound to the crossing area only, eliminating the intrusive series of horn blasts from oncoming trains as they pass through downtown. The design ensures that the sound will be loud enough to get attention along the streets approaching the crossing, but will be less noticable to those not directly in the path and cut down on auditory pollution.
Along with the wayside horns, additional visual signals alert train operators that downtown Edmonds is now a quiet zone where sounding the traditional onboard train horn is not permitted. The new horns take over the legal requirement for an audible warning to pedestrians and traffic that a train is approaching.