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Check out the videos to the right of the new East Lake Rd. Quiet Zone, which became operational May 27, 2015.  Gates come down, horn doesn’t blow. Perfect. The DeKalb Ave. and Coventry Rd. crossings could look like this. We need help from residents near DeKalb and Coventry to make Quiet Zones at those crossings a reality.

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Re: Coventry Rd. Quiet Zone

A Letter to Decatur Commissioners | 7 January 2015

January 7, 2015

Commissioner Fred Boykin
Commissioner Scott Drake
City of Decatur Commission

P.O. Box 220
Decatur, GA 30031

Dear Commissioners Boykin and Drake,

I wrote to you last year about establishing a train quiet zone for the Coventry Rd. crossing. The next crossing north of Coventry, Frazier Rd., is already a quiet zone, and the next crossing south, East Lake Rd., with its new gates in place, is on the cusp of being a quiet zone. It makes sense to start the process for the crossing between those two, Coventry.

DeKalb County might have enough funds left over from the East Lake quiet zone to pay for half of a quiet zone at Coventry. (Just as a reminder, the rail line here, called the Park line by CSX engineers, separates the county from Decatur.) I propose that during the upcoming budget formation the city set aside $190,000 for its half of the Coventry quiet zone, contingent upon the county’s being able to pay for the other half.

(The Frazier Rd. quiet zone, with its four-gate system and road improvements, was built for about $400,000. Since the Coventry crossing is smaller than the Frazier crossing and doesn’t require road improvements—and may actually require only two gates— I believe that the quiet zone can be done for significantly less than $400,000. The enclosed photo of the crossing with four gates is the Frazier quiet zone; the one with two gates and a median is the East Lake quiet zone. East Lake Rd. was recently reduced from four lanes to two, along its entire length.)

David Pelton, the acting head of DeKalb Transportation, has shepherded the quiet zone process on two crossings, and he’s prepared to take on Coventry. The DeKalb BoC would have to vote to move the leftover quiet zone funds from East Lake to Coventry—and there’s no reason to think they would not.

Safer Crossing (safercrossing.org) is the organization behind establishing the Intown Quiet Corridor (IQC), which will include quiet zones at every grade crossing on the Park line: Frazier Rd., Coventry Rd., East Lake Rd., and DeKalb Ave.

I’ll summarize the arguments for Decatur doing its part to help make the IQC a reality.

I.   The overarching goal of the Federal Rail Authority’s National Rail Plan, which is being formulated today, is to put more freight and passengers on existing rail lines. For reasons of economic growth, safety, environmental concerns, energy, and national security, it is a national priority to make greater use of rail lines. Neighborhoods with rail lines through them will experience greater volumes of traffic as a consequence of this priority. To help achieve “livable communities,” a term the preliminary rail plan mentions, the nation—cities, counties, states—should assist communities in protecting quality of life by providing funding for quiet zones.

II.   Everyone enjoys the economic benefits of rail shipping; however, Decatur citizens living near the Coventry crossing effectively pay a higher price for rail-shipped goods in the form of a diminution in quality of life caused by the loud train horns. Train horn blasts at over 110 db—far louder than they were up to a few years ago and now required as long as the lead locomotive is in the crossing—are of course damaging to health, beginning with the ears. Children playing outside are susceptible to problems caused by the horn. Sleep is disrupted by horns blowing on this route at night (and night traffic is increasing on the Park line).

The solution to this problem, which will only increase with ever-increasing train traffic, is to use city (and county) funds to replace a primitive form of warning—deafeningly loud train horns mounted on locomotive cabs—with a high-tech solution: state-of-the-art gates and warning signals, which are available and already used in metro Atlanta and elsewhere in the country. Decatur, which of course has a long history as a train town, should be among the leaders in quiet zones in Georgia and the southeast. The entire metro area should eventually be one big train quiet zone, serving as a model for the rest of the country. It would all begin with the establishment of the IQC, which has been under consideration by the FRA, GDOT, Dekalb County, CSX, and engineering consultants for a long time.

III.   Automobile design will always include a focus on making cars more soundproof. Over time, it will become harder to hear the train horn within a car. Additionally, drivers will find themselves ever more distracted by devices that can be used while driving. CSX and the FRA know full well that drivers with earphones in place, with the volume turned way up, might not always hear the train horn early enough. They know how distracted drivers are when they’re talking or texting on cell phones. CSX and the FRA will surely eventually lobby for higher train horn volumes, which, if they come about, will further diminish quality of life in the neighborhoods near crossings. Homeowners cannot easily soundproof homes.

IV.   Drivers regularly run through the warning lights at ungated crossings. CSX and the FRA are long aware of this. The Coventry crossing lacks even the most primitive sort of gate. There are only flashing lights—above and to the side—to warn drivers. With a gate system at Coventry, no vehicle would be able to enter the crossing as a train approaches.

With a quiet zone at Coventry, CSX and the public would see a steep decrease in risk associated with collisions. Overall safety would improve. Further, with there being no need for the train horn, and neighborhoods adjacent to crossing would see an immediate increase in quality of life—including an improvement in health. Everyone wins with quiet zones and the quiet corridor.

By the way, the east-west line through Decatur presents a greater challenge when it comes to quiet zones. The main problem—as CSX, the FRA, and the city have been pointing out for years—is that pedestrians cross that line at countless places, not just at the three grade crossings in Decatur. Safer Crossing is focused only on quiet zones on the Park line, where this pedestrian issue doesn’t exist.

I thank you greatly for considering in the 2015-2016 budget this request for funding the Coventry quiet zone. I would be happy to talk with you about any details of this quiet zone or any others on the Park line.

 

Sincerely yours,

Robert Ballou
Safer Crossing

 

c.  Ms. Andrea Arnold, Assistant City Manager, Decatur
Ms. Peggy, City Manager, Decatur
Mr. Jim Baskett, Mayor, Decatur
Mr. Hugh Saxon, Deputy City Manager, Decatur
Ms. Meredith Roark, Budget and Measurement Manager, Decatur


For those wishing to print this letter or share it with friends and neighbors via email or social media, a PDF is provided here: Letter to Decatur Commissioners

Safer Railroad Crossings in Atlanta