Train warning system to push horns to the wayside
Last updated 4/21/2016 at Noon
Those in downtown Edmonds know when a train is pulling into town or just passing through.
About 40 trains a day pass through Edmonds, each sounding warning blasts that send the hands of people nearby to their ears.
The city has plans to install a trackside warning system at the Dayton Street and Main Street crossings, which will reduce the footprint of the sound, Public Works Director Phil Williams said. While it won’t muffle the sound near the crossings, it will prevent the noise from dissipating.
“The noise spreads out over a wide area,” Williams said, “and it goes all throughout downtown, and it’s quite noticeable.”
A wayside horn would provide directional signaling at the crossings and could be used alone or in addition to a train’s horn.
Williams said the horns would provide sufficient warning of an oncoming train to anyone near the crossings.
In September, the Edmonds City Council allocated $300,000 toward the design, purchase of equipment and installation of a wayside horn system at the two crossings.
The city has been consulting on the design with Quiet Zone Technologies, a Texas firm that has experience with wayside horn systems and has worked with Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
Williams said the design of the system is more complicated than he initially anticipated.
Currently, a train engineer will blow the train’s horn in accordance with the Federal Railroad Administration’s guidelines two long blasts and one short blast followed by one long blast at 92 decibels as it approaches the crossings, Williams said. The sequence must be completed within 17 seconds.
Sensors along the rail line also provide data on how fast the train is moving, and signal the cross arms to move up or down.
“Our automatic system needs to mimic what the FRA rules are, but obviously the 17 seconds will depend on how fast the train is going, so the distance you have to start that will depend on how fast the train is going,” Williams said.
“Passenger trains are going slower when they get to these two crossings, because all passenger trains stop in Edmonds. Freight trains none of which stop in Edmonds even though they’re slower trains, they’re going faster when they come through Edmonds.
“All of that has to get worked into the process and programmed into their [BNSF’s] hardware, and therefore programmed into our hardware.”
Williams said the city’s system needs to integrate with BNSF’s, and he needs confirmation from BNSF that the city is on the right track with the system’s design before a purchase order for the equipment can be made.
He also would like the horn signals to replace signaling by the train’s engineer. What he doesn’t want to see is the wayside horn signaling along with the train.
“I’m hoping that we can get it down to the same number of horn blasts that we have now, because that’s the minimum required by law,” Williams said. “Having them at the appropriate volume and just reduce the broadcast nature of them.
“I don’t think it would be seen as a success if we end up with more horns, sounding for longer periods of time, even if it does reduce noise in other parts of the community. I think that would be unacceptable down there at the ferry dock, the two parks and restaurants.”
Williams contacted Rick Wagner, manager of BNSF's public projects Northwest division, a few months ago to request the needed information.
He said the city also needs BNSF’s approval for installation, which puts them “in the driver’s seat” for the project. BNSF has provided a cost estimate of $96,000 for the installation, but has not responded to the city’s other requests.
Kirk Greiner, a member of the Edmonds Quiet Zone Committee who advocated for the wayside horn system, believes BNSF is stalling efforts to install the horns. Greiner is not alone as other citizens have expressed similar concerns.
In a March 22 post on EdmondsQuietZone.org, Greiner wrote, “The wayside horns are stalled. There is only one more step that needs to be taken and that is approval of BNSF and hookup to their signal system.
“Conversations have been ongoing on this, but BNSF wants an extraordinary price to do what seems to be a very simple connection.”
Williams said it has been an ongoing process, and “we’re doing the best we can to get the answers we need from BNSF, so that we can complete the design.”
On Tuesday, Williams said he was working with Quiet Zone Technology consultants on another request for information.
“We’re going to remind them [BNSF] here in the next day or two,” Williams said.
BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said on Wednesday that BNSF addressed the issue with the Public Works Department last week.
“We look forward to further discussions regarding the crossings,” Melonas said, “and that’s where we are.”
Both Williams and Mayor Dave Earling said they foresee the project being completed by the end of the year.