Railroad quiet zone study being done in Eau Claire

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – The city of Eau Claire is studying railroad quiet zones. The study would determine possible changes in the crossings that could minimize the use of train horns.

The study decision comes after the city council heard complaints from the public on the loudness and frequency of the train horns this summer.

Phil Fieber, the director of the Public Works Department, said there are ten at-grade railroad crossings in Eau Claire. Those are the crossings where traffic comes through. Of those ten, nine are the focus of Quiet Zone Consulting, a firm from the Milwaukee area. The nine crossings either don’t have lights or crossarms, and under federal regulation, that means a train must sound its horn before entering the crossing.

The crossing at Starr Avenue doesn’t have lights or crossarms. There are signs indicating there is a railroad as well as stop signs.

Chuck Lindvig and his wife live just down the street from the railroad.

“I'm retired so I’m here a lot so I hear the train when it goes by,” said Lindvig. “When you have the windows down in the summer time, you can certainly hear it.”

Although he and his wife are now used to it, he said he understands how irritating it can be when trains blare the horn at night.

“It’s two longs, a short, and a long,” said Lindvig who not only knows the sound and pattern of the train well from hearing it often, but also because he is a model railroader.

In Lindvig’s basement, there’s a room filled with handmade model railroads. Each detail is evidence of his love for trains. He said it’s been a hobby since he was 7-years-old.

“So if a train comes to a stop, it’s one short blast and before they start up again it’s two shorts,” said Lindvig.

But while this handmade model has grown from a childhood dream, just down the road, there's growing traffic on the railroad.

“Informally there are 14 to16 trains going through the town a day,” said Fieber. “There’s been an increase in traffic because of the frac-sand mining.”

Fieber said that’s three or f ur times more trains than usual and it’s bringing in complaints.

“So one of the things the city has promised to do is to come in and study these trains at at-grade crossings to determine whether or not there are some physical improvements that can be made at the crossing so the train does not have to sound its horns as it goes through these intersections,” he said.

Tim Dietrich, the owner of Quiet Zone Consulting, said it’s a process of coordinating with federal, state and city agencies.

“We will physically go out to the crossings, look at the safety features that are there, look at all the safety features required to qualify for a quiet zone and then the railroads telling us the need to identify what is there and what is not there electronically that you can't see from your eyes,” said Dietrich.

Lindvig said he can see both sides of the crossing.

“I don’t think we want to get too hard on the railroad itself, but at the same time I think there’s some things that could be done to ease the restrictions of horn use that would make everyone get along a lot better,” said Lindvig.

Lindvig suggested the train whistle be restricted and not used between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. instead of using crossarms and lights which could save on taxpayer’s money.

The study is just in the beginning stages because of a stall with the federal government shutdown.

Fieber said he hopes that in about six months, there will be some options laid before city council and the public.

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