City studies wayside horns to reduce train noise

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

A company that specializes in wayside horns to reduce train noise ran tests at six crossings in Elk River earlier this week.

Robert Albritton, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Quiet Zone Technologies, talked about wayside horns while running tests at the Jackson Avenue crossing in Elk River.

Robert Albritton, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Quiet Zone Technologies, talked about wayside horns while running tests at the Jackson Avenue crossing in Elk River.

Wayside horns are mounted on poles at railroad crossings and directed at vehicles on the road so locomotives don’t have to sound their horns at the crossing.

Robert Albritton, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Quiet Zone Technologies in Benbrook, Texas, said whole idea of wayside horns is to reduce noise pollution. They provide a “staggering reduction” in noise impact on areas around railroad crossings, Albritton said as he stood at the Jackson Avenue crossing in Elk River on Wednesday,  Feb. 27.

Although the Elk River City Council hasn’t decided whether to proceed with installing wayside horns in the city, the council had directed its staff in December to explore the option in greater detail. Elk River City Engineer Justin Femrite said he hopes to report back to the council with more information later this spring.

Dan Belair of the city of Elk River’s engineering division held a decibel meter outside Martie’s Farm Service, located near the Jackson Avenue railroad crossing. Behind him are City Engineer Justin Femrite and Street Superintendent Mark Thompson.

Dan Belair of the city of Elk River’s engineering division held a decibel meter outside Martie’s Farm Service, located near the Jackson Avenue railroad crossing. Behind him are City Engineer Justin Femrite and Street Superintendent Mark Thompson.

Femrite said they tested a wayside horn at six crossings in the city on Wednesday. Besides Jackson, the other crossings were Main, Proctor, Meadowvale, Ogden and Zebulon.

He plans to put videos and information on the city’s website at www.elkrivermn.gov. He is also looking into starting a blog to get the public’s feedback on the idea of wayside horns.

The wayside horns cost about $125,000 per crossing, which is much less than other “quiet zone” options the Elk River City Council has studied over the years.

A study done in 2007 determined that it would cost $4.5 million to add safety enhancements to the 10 railroad crossings in Elk River so trains would no longer have to blow their horns. That study was reviewed again in 2011, but both times the cost was a deterrent and nothing moved forward. The cost of that plan is now estimated at $5 to $5.5 million.

Femrite said what he has seen of the sound readings with wayside horns so far appears very promising.

wayside horn 1online

Zac Johnson from Elk River Municipal Utilities was in a bucket above the Jackson Avenue crossing to test a wayside horn on Wednesday.

Quiet Zone Technologies has installed wayside horns at more than 130 locations in the United States and Canada, including in Andover, Albritton said. There are wayside horns there at Andover Boulevard and Crosstown Boulevard.

Wayside horns are designed to sound like train horns, but with reduced noise pollution.

Train horns are required to be no louder than 110 decibels and no softer than 96 decibels measured 100 feet away. By comparison, a wayside horn only needs to be 92 decibels, Albritton said.

And because wayside horns are more localized, the noise impact is greatly reduced. Typically, a train approaching a crossing with a horn’s sound levels at 92 decibels and above affects about 36 acres around a crossing, while a wayside horn’s impact at 92 decibels and above is a little less than an acre, he said.

“So it’s a staggering reduction in the area impact,” Albritton said.

The wayside horns tie into the railroad crossing warning circuitry so when a train approaches a crossing and the flashing lights are activated, it sends a signal to the wayside horns to begin sounding.

A quiet zone indicator — a lighted, flashing orange “X” — is visible to the train crew and indicates that wayside horns are in use.

“If we lose power, one of the components goes bad, or the volume is not set right, the system will shut that indicator down and the train crew knows that they need to blow that (train’s) horn. So the train crew, in effect, becomes the backup system,” Albritton said.

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