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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Waverly, Neb., may get a quiet zone

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The Railroad Transportation Safety District recently talked about making changes to three Waverly crossings to create a nearly three-mile long quiet zone, where trains wouldn't have to blow their horns, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. The Federal Railroad Administration requires trains to blow horns at unprotected at-grade crossings, but they can be silenced if cities create quiet zones by beefing up safety features around crossings with raised medians, lights and gates.

A consultant proposed raised medians at the 141st and 148th street crossings and the closure of a private drive near Millard Lumber -- all of which would cost about $870,000.

Waverly officials have considered building an overpass at 148th Street and a pedestrian walkway at 141st Street and U.S. 6, at a cost of nearly $15 million, but the 141st Street crossing would have had to be closed, and residents opposed that because it is the main entrance to downtown.

Nebraska Department of Roads officials said the project is on hold until the city has enough support for the project and is willing to close the 141st Street crossing.

A quiet zone wouldn't eliminate all safety concerns, but it would address the noise.

Waverly Mayor Mike Werner attended the RTSD meeting and said a quiet zone would improve the quality of life in Waverly, but he questions whether it's worth the money if an overpass is built later.

RTSD head Roger Figard -- also Lincoln's city engineer -- suggested budgeting $10,000 for quiet zone work and urging all entities to get together to make a decision.

The RTSD is a local political subdivision funded by property taxes. It was created in 1971 to improve railroad safety, particularly at crossings. Its board is composed of three City Council members and three Lancaster County Board members.

Lincoln is believed to be the first Nebraska city to establish a quiet zone -- a six-mile stretch of railway along Cornhusker Highway where trains no longer have to blow horns before crossings, unless someone is near the tracks. The trains went (largely) silent in September.

The city plans to extend the zone to the South Salt Creek Neighborhood by closing crossings on J Street at Second and Third streets and putting raised medians at crossings at First and J and Third and D streets.

Figard said because the arena project passed last month, there's more pressure to vacate and close the J Street crossings (BNSF, from which the city is buying considerable land for the arena, will be happy to see the crossings close). He said the RTSD will meet with neighborhood residents again, and a vacation ordinance has to be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council before work can proceed.

"Railroads tolerate them (quiet zones) and agree to them, but they certainly don't see them as a real improvement to their system," Figard said.

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