Two months after the wayside horn technology went into effect, the City of Edmonds is addressing ongoing issues related to the number of horn blasts being emitted as trains make their way along the Edmonds waterfront.
“We’re working diligently with BNSF and the Federal Railroad Administration to see if the issue can be corrected,” City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams said Friday.
The city activated the new wayside horns and signals June 5. The milestone came after years of planning and negotiations with BNSF on the project.
The idea behind the wayside horns is this: Rather than an approaching train sounding its horn from hundreds of feet away as it nears the city’s two at-grade crossings at Main and Dayton Streets, the wayside horns isolate the audible warning to the crossing area only. In theory, 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, there are visual signals that alert train operators that the wayside horn system in Edmonds is working properly. When the operators see those signals, they are not required to blow their horns. Instead, the new horns take over the legal requirement for an audible warning to pedestrians and traffic that a train is approaching, Williams said.
However, the new system has experienced some glitches along the way. For starters, there was a delay on the part of BNSF in notifying train engineers about the change going through Edmonds — so for a few days both the wayside horns and the train whistles were going off at once.
While that problem has been mostly resolved, Williams said that train engineers may exercise their discretion and blow the train whistle anyway — in addition to the wayside horn — if they have a safety concern, such as the presence of a vehicle or a person on the tracks, that warrants the practice.
The other major issue still ongoing is the number of times the wayside horns emit a sound blast. In some cases, observers say, the horn can go off 15 or 20 times per train crossing. Williams said this happens most often with Amtrak or Sounder passenger trains, which alway stop at the Edmonds Train Station. “The two crossings are close together, and the train comfortably fits between them,” Williams explained, “but by the time it fits between them it triggers the wayside horn at both Dayton and Main at the same time.”
Each passenger train only stays at the Edmonds station for a few minutes, and the horns start up again — at both crossings — once the train begins moving. In contrast, with freight trains that are passing through, the horns may only blast a total of 8-10 times because the trains don’t stop, Williams said.
As for a solution, Williams says the city is working to get both BNSF and the Federal Railroad Administration to the table to discuss possible solutions — either technology or regulatory, or a combination of both
— By Teresa Wippel