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Published: August 15, 2008 10:54 pm ShareThisPrintThis
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Ipswich's train horns: They're loud, but legal
By Steve Landwehr
STAFF WRITER

IPSWICH - The 6:07 a.m. train blew through the Linebrook Road crossing right on time yesterday, flying out of the fog on its way to the depot. As has been true for the past couple of months, its arrival was heralded by the blaring of its horn.
The only difference was that Town Manager Bob Markel and Selectman Charlie Surpitski, along with a handful of residents, were on hand with a decibel meter to see just how loud that horn was.
Louder than required, it turns out, but not louder than what is allowed.
After decades of silence, train whistles have been sounded in Ipswich since June, largely the result of an accident at the Topsfield Road crossing in 2004. That makes the crossing less safe than required by new federal regulations.
The Federal Railroad Administration now requires horns to be sounded at any intersection it calculates is less safe than the national average at crossings where whistles are blown.
The town's other four crossings all meet that standard, but the single accident at Topsfield Road drags down their scores, so horns are sounded at all five crossings, 26 times a day.
The FRA says train horns must produce at least 96 decibels. Yesterday morning's train, which residents say is the noisiest of the day, measured 118 decibels. It's lower than the 120 decibels that are allowed today.
Opponents of the horns have raised concerns that the noise could cause hearing damage. For reference, a bulldozer running at an idle generates about 85 decibels, while the sound level near an ambulance siren is about 120 decibels.
Residents who live near the tracks have formed the Ipswich Citizens Action Committee to protest the blasts and try to get them silenced.
"The biggest concern is our children," said Lisa Marie Cashman, one of the group's organizers. "It's a terrible situation."
The town had a chance to keep the horns silent by filing a plan with the FRA detailing safety improvements it will take at the Topsfield Road crossing. Instead, selectmen asked the FRA to waive the deadline until March 2009, when the accident will no longer be included in the safety calculation at the crossing, and presumably no improvements would need to be made.
The FRA denied that request, so plans have now been filed, and the FRA is fast-tracking its consideration of them. If they're approved, whistles will be silenced until at least June 2010, by which time the required improvements must be completed.
The town's proposal calls for installing two additional gates at the crossing, so that when the gate arms are down, both sides of the street are blocked for their entire widths.
It won't be cheap, however - the estimate is about $1 million - and it will require approval by a two-thirds majority of voters at Special Town Meeting in October. From there it goes to the ballot, where it must be approved by a simple majority.
Even if the improvements are made, the whistles might not be silent forever. The current horn ruling is a result of a congressional mandate to the FRA to improve safety and standardize rules, and a string of accidents at gated crossings nationwide might well see Congress telling the FRA to have whistles sounded at every crossing.
And if there is a future accident at any of the town's crossings, that could change the safety calculation for all of them, and further improvements might be required to maintain silence.
Markel said yesterday he's hopeful to get FRA approval to turn the horns off again by mid-September.
 
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I never understood people who buy homes near airports, military training facilities, train tracks, etc, then complain about noise and safety.
 

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I live in the next town over, right next to the tracks, the train comes by about ten times a day and blows its horn, at first it bothered me, I dont even hear it anymore.
 

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I know people who work in the rail yards, when a train is moving slow it can be very hard to hear at times. Or so they say. Maybe they are death from all of the horns!
 

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MSP75 said:
I never understood people who buy homes near airports, military training facilities, train tracks, etc, then complain about noise and safety.
Don't forget to throw Sportsman's Clubs and Firing Ranges in that list.
The place might have been around for 80 years, but after all; "it's for the children..."
 

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From my earliest years I can remember the sound of the train whistles (and some neighboring town fire horns) blowing as I drifted off to sleep. I got used to the sound and later in my childhood years, when we moved even closer to the tracks, I slept through the whistles, bells and chugging of the old black steam engines that used to pull the commuter trains on the Boston route. The engine sound got quieter as they switched to diesels. These sound I never felt were offensive nor interrupted my life. They actually have become sounds I associate with happy sounds of my childhood. Since moving to my present neighborhood I still sometimes hear the whistle of the Downeaster miles away when the wind is right as it approaches crossings. I strain to hear that sound. I guess it's all the way you look at it.
 
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