Wayside horns activated as rail crossing quiet zones take effect

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    Publisher’s note: After this story was posted Wednesday, we received reports from citizens indicating that the train engineers were still using their horns despite the new system. We have reached out to the City of Edmonds, Burlington Northern and Sound Transit to clarify why this is happening, and will update readers when we learn more.

    At 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, City of Edmonds Signal Engineer Darren Browning opened the control box at the Main Street railroad crossing and flipped a switch to activate the new wayside horns and quiet zone signals, making those loud, blaring train horns that force many waterfront visitors to cover their ears a thing of the past.

    “Downtown rail crossings are now quiet zones, at least as far as rail traffic is concerned,” he said as he put the new system into operation.

    Rather than an approaching train sounding its horn from hundreds of feet away as it nears the crossing, the wayside horns isolate the audible warning to the crossing area only. This ensures that the sound will be loud enough to get attention along the streets approaching the crossing, but will be less intrusive 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.

    “The wayside horns are very directional and should really enhance everyone’s enjoyment of our waterfront,” explained Browning. “To hear the maximum volume you’ll need to be 100 feet away and directly in front of the horn. If you’re closer, further away or off to one side they’ll be much less loud. You might even completely miss them!”

    — Story and photos by Larry Vogel

    45 Replies to “Wayside horns activated as rail crossing quiet zones take effect”

    1. The “Sounder” just crossed Main St. traveling north and there were the usual number of horn blasts heard at 2nd and Bell.

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      1. Yes, we just heard there have been some glitches on the part of the train operators. We are asking about it now.

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    2. I was at Water Street around 2-2:30. Pm and the horns of a northbound freight train were deafening. They were not sonds from the wayside system.

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    3. I think if you move near a train track you know there’s going to be noise or train horns. I for one will miss hearing the train horn at my house in North East Edmonds. No ferry whistle, no noon city whistle and now no train horn. All part of my growing up in Edmonds.

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      1. Glad to hear I am not the only one who will miss the train sounds. A huge part of my childhood is about to disappear. I intend to savor every last moment we have of them. What was the noon city whistle?

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      2. Re- Judy Bakers love of trains, I agree I grew up in Edmonds and love the sound of trains – if u live in Edmonds – be a train lover. “Hear that lonely whistle…”

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      3. Sadly, like the mechanical weathering of rocks, slowly Edmonds looses it’s charm, piece, by piece, by piece. Now, Edmonds says goodbye to the romance of train horns which have been reverberating in the bowl for well over 100 years. Just another piece of it’s old time charm, gone. To hear the trains at night was never an annoyance. We could hear the trains and say, there’s the 7:17, right on time. Now Edmonds is just one more step closer to being just another “PC” urban town. Rather Sad.

        And it only cost Edmonds taxpayers, was is $ 400,000.00, to get rid of a very momentary sound, all while loosing a piece of nostalgia at the same time. What a great investment, so sad I missed the Ribbon Cutting event.

        We can’t have train horns -they make noise. Someone might stub their toe, so we need a new concrete monster on the beach, with gigantic (soon to be tagged with graffiti) pillars in the tidal zone. Dave Earling and his re-branding of Edmonds, his unfounded and illogical hysteria over trains, just one more thing to add to his growing list of Mayoral failures.
        Take away the old, and remake Edmonds into Seattle.
        Edmonds was always a good, nice little town, but Not in Dave Earling’s vision of “quaint”, everything must change.
        Thank God a new Mayor is coming, it can’t happen soon enough.

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        1. Maybe you live a lot further from the tracks than I do. Sound pollution from blaring train horns detracts from the charm of Edmonds for me and most of my neighbors.

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    4. To me, it’s not the train horn itself. It’s the train engineers that come around the south corner and blare the train horn all the way through Edmonds until they hit the north corner. It would be a very different situation if they just tooted the horn a couple of times before each crossing.

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    5. Obviously some problem as the train operators are either intentionally ignoring our quite zone or have not been instructed properly to honor our efforts. Someone needs to get on the phone to BNSF.
      I haven’t seen a single train go by yet without blowing their whistle.
      Noisier than ever!!

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      1. Some improvement today. Although right when I think everyone now knows, a train goes through excessively laying on the horn. Change takes time.

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    6. If you really want to prevent “four hour” train blockages of the waterfront, you might want to put up with some loud train horn noise. The noise is to prevent vehicles and, more importantly, people from getting flattened in our vicinity. Old timers like Judy Baker and I appreciate the fact that it’s a little annoying when all the newcomers want to dictate how things should work, now that “they have arrived.” Apologies Judy, if I’m putting words in your mouth. Looking forward to joining you and Bill for another music night out soon. Clint

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    7. I love the sound of the Train Horn, grew up hearing it.
      I’ll miss that!
      Nothing better than sitting on the Beach at Edmonds and here comes the Train.
      The kids always loved the sound of the train, would just stand and wave at the Train.
      It is part of Edmonds Beauty!

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    8. With our office on the waterfront, we hear every train horn throughout the day from 8 am through 5 pm. I think it’s safe to say BNSF, Sounder and Amtrak engineers haven’t yet gotten the memo yet that it’s a quiet zone as the blasts have continued this morning. But I’m sure it’ll take some time for the changes to make a full impact. I’m looking forward to not having to interrupt conference calls by putting them on mute for the multiple loud train blasts!

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    9. The new system is horrific at best. The trains are adjusting since it just started yesterday, but the horrible new sound coming out of those speakers is far worse than a train whistle. I walk down around Edmonds just about every evening and end up by the ferry dock. There were more people covering their ears from the new “noise” than if the train was blowing its horn. It is a lower pitched sound, but harder on the ears. It is definitely not a “quiet zone”. Let the trains blow their horns.

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    10. “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t …”

      … please all the people all of the time” (Poet John Lydgate as made famous by Abraham Lincoln).

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    11. If you don’t have enough sense to know a train is approaching, you deserve what’s coming. Remember the Darwin Awards? Time to bring them back. Maybe this will help solve the “homeless” and “lack of affordable housing” issues without spending one more (of my) dimes.

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      1. But Mike – Too random; perhaps you should suggest firing squads while you’re at it. Then we can start in on dissidents, the mentally challenged, various racial groups…

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    12. My family has been here since 1920 and lived on third ave north most of that time. Always loved the train sounds and will miss them. They are part of the character of the city.

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    13. To answer the gentlemen’s question on the noon whistle, I believe he may be referring to this. When I was a kid the downtown fire station use to blow the fire siren on the building at noon each day. We all knew it was time to go home for lunch. This practice today would most likely cause a complete uproar. Oh, for much simpler times.

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    14. I will really miss the trains sounding their horns – 2 long, 1 short, 1 long. Such a plaintive sound in the middle of the night which is soothing to me.

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    15. Man, we have some real humanitarians commenting here. I guess a “four hour” blockage would be a small price to pay for getting rid of a “homeless” every now and then? I know I come across as a little uncaring about possible problems due to lack of the connector, but this takes the cake.

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    16. I just read the comment by Mike Rose above. What a horrible thing to say and believe. Am I correct in thinking that trains running over homeless people is the way to solve the problem?! Unbelievable. And yet not unbelievable given the current climate of intolerance and lack of compassion for human beings that we see on the news every day. Sickening.

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    17. I was so looking forward to this change, but it’s very disappointing. I work down near the train station, and the signal noise is actually worse now (even though we’re off to the side, where we’re not supposed to hear it as much). The new signal resonates at a frequency that makes things vibrate more than the train whistles do, and it’s not quiet at all. Best of all, it blares even when trains are not going through. When the Sounder or Amtrak going south comes in and stops at the station, those new signals go off, even though the train is not going through the Dayton intersection yet. Then they go off again a minute or so later, when the train continues south (so far, always with a signal of its own). So instead of one fairly short train blast, we get three instead. More is definitely not better…

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    18. I was on the north end of the public pier this afternoon when a southbound frieght came through town. At that distance I could hear the wayside horn but it was not disruptive and I did not have to plug my ears. I was just out working in my yard and listened to a train horn blasting its way through Edmonds. (I’m a ten minute drive from the waterfront.) I guess at least some of the engineers haven’t gotten the message or perhaps don’t care. I am amazed at the complaints about the elimination of the train horns. This is not an issue of old-timers versus newcomers. An occasional sound can be music to one’s ears. But as the noise level from everything increases, including the number of trains roaring through town every day, what was once pleasant no longer is. Noise is a recognized cause of a number of medical conditions. For those working in the vicinity of the new wayside horns and who have complaints about them, I would hope the city and BNSF can investigate the issue. Perhaps there is some way to bring relief.

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    19. Train whistles vs Wayside horn, that big, ignored elephant is still in the room. BNSF will be adding a second track; Edmonds will be having 100 trains a day, a 60%+ increase in trains, horns, whistles. Some say they have lived here all their life and love the trains, (currently only 40 per day). But seem to not address the huge increase in train traffic coming in Edmonds future. Why is this not a topic of discussion? Am I incorrect? Once there are 100 trains a day, what difference does the “whistle vs wayside horn” controversy make?

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      1. Linda, I heard about 2 tracks being put in years ago, back when reading about the coal exports I saw a plan somewhere for two tracks. I’ve been trying to figure out if the second track would increase or decrease the likelihood of a stalled train combined with a need for emergency service. Considering what I little know about trains (I’m an aviation systems engineer), I think two tracks would actually decrease the likelihood of a stalled train combined with a tragic fire [for example]. The logic is that the single track exacerbates track incursion and the likelihood of accident associated with that, whereas two tracks omits waiting and switching making the system safer. The connector would actually increase the likelihood of an accident that stops a train and requiring emergency services, whether it be suicide jumpers or accidents while the overpass is being built. Any obstacle creates more risk. Train accidents occur more often in developed areas, and when tracks are shared. The connector is a development project, which will stimulate use of land, meaning more traffic and possible accidents. As far as increased throughput, it would be interesting to know how many more single-track areas there are for this traffic. Is Edmonds the only single-track area? How often do they wait around the corner and up the line? The math here is that if Edmonds had three tracks instead of one, it wouldn’t triple the traffic capacity as it’s contingent on a lot of other factors.

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    20. I have to say that I am a little puzzled by the new wayside horns. I just walked my dog past the train station (9:15 a.m. on Sunday morning, June 9, 2019). As the train was approaching the WH’s sounded 18 times (that’s right, 18 ..), over an approximately 30-second period. At the next crossing the WH’s sounded 8 times, and the train also sounded it’s traditional signal (for a total of 12 horn-blasts in all at that crossing). This was not quiet, nor a substantive improvement over what used to happen there.

      Also, I don’t actually know what the WH’s accomplish in practical terms. The WH’s only began sounded after the crossing arms were down, attached lights were blinking and bells were sounding – an approaching driver would have to be both deaf and blind not to know that a train was approaching, making the WH’s essentially redundant. I always understood that the train horn-blasts – loud and repeated – made it clear where the train was in relation to the crossing (again, the crossing itself is by that time already blocked with crossing arms, lights and bells, and there are no surprises at the actual crossing itself). Maybe I’m wrong, but what I witnessed (and heard) half an hour ago was ridiculous. You can call it lots of things, but “quiet” is still not one of them.

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    21. Echoing comments above, we already miss the train horns. We wouldn’t have moved 2 blocks from a train track and crossing if we didn’t expect to hear train whistles at all hours. We have never been bothered by them when walking close by or from our home with all the windows open. This past weekend we were so excited with every real train we heard. A little piece of charm was taken away with every fake train. We sure hope the train engineers keep blowing their horns.

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    22. Over Promise, Under Deliver?
      It appears the investment of taxpayer dollars to eliminate train horns in Edmonds that are 96 to 110 decibels or “Dangerous to hearing” (as defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) won’t happen.(https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/loud-noise-dangers/) According to BNSF, train crews now have the option of using the horns:

      “One solution to reduce the use of train horns is for a community to apply for FRA approval for a Quiet Zone. A Quiet Zone is a stretch of track where the railroad is not required to automatically blow the horn at each crossing except in emergencies, such as someone on the track, workers within 25 feet of the track etc.”(https://www.bnsf.com/in-the-community/safety-and-security/train-horn.html)

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      1. Thank you Eric Sonett for pointing this out. It would appear that someone missed the boat on this project.

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    23. It is now noisier then it has ever been. There was only one day since the horns were officially operating that it was reasonably quiet. That day was Friday when half of the Sounder Train engineers complied and a few of the BNSF. Amtrak was somewhat compliant. However, since that day it seems that every train that goes through not only honks their horn but the duration is longer. I happened to be across from the train depot yesterday when a BNSF approached. The wayside horns sounded loudly, the gates came down, and the vehicles stopped. All the while the BNSF engineer sounded it’s horn at both ends. At the south end it was a pointless endeavor since the engine was pretty much in the crossing at the point its horn sounded. This morning I noticed as the Sounder trains stopped, the wayside horns continued for a bit. Then they stopped and traffic was allowed to cross at the southern crossing. As the headlight reappeared on the Sounder, almost simultaneously the wayside horn sounded followed immediately by the Sounder train horn. I am assuming the wayside horn system has been used successfully in other cities across the country or they would not be an option. Why the disconnect here?

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    24. Suggest ear plugs or sound mufflers and move on with your lives. It’s not rocket science folks, we live and work near railroad tracks. The tracks went in when the saw mills were humming down there. We came later. Get over it already.

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    25. There may not be a disconnect. Engineers are likely given great discretion in sounding their horn. From what Eric mentions, if the FRA still allows trains to sound their horn if someone is on the track, when vehicles are seen crossing (even before the arms start to lower), then it would seem the engineer can blast away.

      Given the limited reliability of the system noted in the comments, and how the article itself explains that the wayside horns are designed to be loudest 100 feet away but quieter closer to the track, it seems reasonable for engineers to err on the side of safety and blast away.

      I would prefer City of Edmonds absorb some train noise rather than the consequence of a catastrophe that could have been averted had a train not kept quiet.

      Or, if this increased din is just part of the transition period, then I suppose we’ll have to wait until the waterfront connector is complete and emergency services has changed their response route to avoid being block by a train (whether or not a train is present) and the sunset neighborhood is filled with the sounds of sirens.

      Perhaps that will be music to somebody else’s ears.

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    26. Nobody seems to realize the wayside horns, despite being quieter, are safer. They project the sound up the street where those potentially crossing can actually hear it. Furthermore, if the trains actually complied with FRA requirements, we probably never would have needed wayside horns. It is actually illegal for them to blow once they have entered the crossing, since that doesn’t do anybody any good. When adjacent to a crossing, they also don’t need to blow at all, since everyone knows they are already there. Yet engineers, and especially Amtrack, constantly abuse the regulation, starting from the station and blowing through and beyond the crossings.

      I agree that many engineers are ignoring the wayside horns. Amtrack and Sounder seem to be complying most of the time. Hopefully the city will work with BNSF to rectify this. Yes, there are other horns between Vancouver and Edmonds, so they should be familiar with them. If they don’t comply, all this money was spent for nothing….

      I wish someone would supply a contact where we can register horn abuses and complaints

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    27. Okay, it is now Tuesday, 11:11 am – a train is approaching south-bound and the WH’s and the traditional train horns are both sounding in concert. It has been this way every day.
      I’ve learned a few things through these past five days:
      1. The train engineers have the option of sounding their horns (it is not prohibited, as was incorrectly reported earlier), and many/most of them apparently feel that it is safer to use their own horns at the crossings than rely on those WH toys that are hung on the poles (good for them if they feel that way, because safety is ultimately the engineer’s primary responsibility).
      2. The WH’s don’t “replicate” the sounds of an approaching train (I sat at the donut shop patio near one crossing on Sunday and counted 28 WH signals over a 75-second time-span – while the other crossing’s horns also blared away). The trains don’t do that, or anything close to it.
      3. The jury is out on whether these things will be durable – at 1152 on Sunday I took a video of the Dayton crossing, and the WH’s were already out of order (lights off, no horn). That wasn’t even the second day of them being fully operational.
      4. These WH signals are tinny and higher pitched, and they have all the charm of a broken car-alarm as they dementedly signal their presence for over one minute.
      5. Anybody who suggests that this is a “quiet” alternative to the trains is talking nonsense – I cannot believe anyone who works or lives near those crossings considers the racket from these things as an improvement.
      6. I have heard plenty of people commenting about these WH’s, and almost all of them negative. I respect the opinions of those who have taken the time to write here in their support of them, but just as with the Waterfront Connector it is hard to actually find anyone in agreement that this is an improvement.
      7. I did not ever hear about these things being considered by the city, and I don’t remember anyone asking me for my opinion before they did it. Maybe I missed something, but in this election season I note that this initiative really seems to me just another local taxpayer-funded solution desperately in search of a problem ….

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    28. Can someone please explain to me, now that trains are in “quiet mode” when transiting Edmonds, why I can hear them quite well all the way up to Five Corners?
      And, since Paine Field promised that take-off and landing patterns would be over Puget Sound and not over Edmonds, how come there are low-flying passenger jets repeatedly going over my house?
      Hmmmm? Maybe someone running for Mayor will please answer these questions? Hmmm?

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    29. I just went for a walk down to the ferry dock and beach. The installed horn went on and on and on. Is it really necessary for them to do more than the same – – . signal that the trains use?

      BTW – there were quite a few of us waiting for quite a while for a long, slow oil train to go by. Perhaps we need a simple pedestrian overpass rather than the far larger connector?

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    30. I think Mr. Brown is on to something.good here. A simple pedestrian walkway, wide enough for a medical gourney to pass. I’d even be up for naming it the Earling , Mesoros and Twietzel Memorial Connector if that would help push it along.

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    31. We need a total solution NOW! Lets all pressure our legislators to do something useful for us here and now instead of spending most of their time on environmental issues that many of us will not live long enough to ever see any achieved benefits. Olympia needs to come up with the funding for the Edmonds Crossing multimodal facility. Let’s not let them off of the hook for getting this going in the next couple of years.

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    32. I live in Meriden, CT, approximately 60 feet from a Wayside Horn that was installed in January. I’m sure for those further away it is a relief but for those of us close by it’s a nightmare. We’ve been fighting for 5 months for the same reasons you’ve stated…blares for over a minute, the horrible noise, and sometimes it goes off without any train passing by. I found articles from other states with the same issues but the one from 2011 Lewisville, TX is the most telling. It proves that it hasn’t worked correctly in over 8 years and they still haven’t fixed it. This project is a failure but I see they keep installing them. It’s ruined our quality of life in our homes but we will continue the battle for the peace we deserve. Good luck to all of you.

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