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Decatur residents petitioning for a quiet zone at Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing

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Decatur residents petitioning for a quiet zone at Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing

Decatur residents are petitioning for a quiet zone to be added to the Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing. There is a quiet zone on Coventry Road, pictured above, at the railroad that runs along the edge of the city limits. Photo by Tomas Valenti.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — As Decatur moves forward with improving the Atlanta Avenue railroad crossing and realigning it with Adair Street, some residents are requesting a quiet zone be added to the area.

According to CSX Transportation, a quiet zone is an exemption to the Federal Railroad Agency’s rule requiring trains to sound their horns when approaching public highway-rail grade crossings. The Federal Railroad Administration‘s train horn rule requires train engineers to sound the horn under a variety of situations, including when a train is approaching or passing through a highway-rail grade crossing.

Under the FRA rules, train horns must be within 96-110 decibels, be sounded for no more than 20 seconds before a crossing, be sounded when approaching people on or near the track, when passing passenger trains, stations, roadway or railroad workers.

Train horns can still be sounded in quiet zones in emergency situations or for other safety reasons. The quiet zone only prohibits horns from being routinely sounded as a train approaches a grade crossing.

Currently, the city has not considered adding a quiet zone at Atlanta Avenue, Decatur Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon said.

A petition started by Tomas Valenti, which has gained over 150 signatures, lists five reasons why the intersection would benefit from a quiet zone.

– A quiet zone would increase livability in the city of Decatur by instilling a more peaceful and less stressful living and work environment

– The intersection is one of three ground level intersections with existing residential homes next to the tracks

– Train horns can disturb sleeping, which effects the well-being of Decatur residents who live at the edge of the city.

– Businesses near the tracks may benefit from the city being quieter, more productive and economically attractive.

– Implementing a quiet zone would coincide with the city updating its noise ordinance and consideration of limiting gas powered leaf blowers, loud concerts and loud generators. If a train horn is 100 decibels, that is considerably louder than a leaf blower and could cause hearing loss.

He previously pushed for this about 10 years ago and gained about 200 signatures.

“It’s something that’s very important to me,” Valenti told Decaturish. “What I worry about is that all of College Avenue is a route for children going to school who have more sensitive ears. You can have instantaneous hearing loss at 110 decibels, which the trains blow horns [at].”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average sound measured coming from a gas-powered lawnmower or leaf blower is 80-85 decibels. At the level, damage to hearing is possible after two hours of exposure. Sound from a motorcycle is measured at 95 decibels and 110 decibels is the maximum volume on personal listening devices like a radio or TV and is like shouting into one’s ear.

At 95 decibels, damage to hearing is possible after about 50 minutes of exposure and at 110 decibels, hearing loss is possible in less than five minutes. The CDC also notes that to measure loudness, a sound must be increased by 10 decibels to perceived as twice as loud.

Valenti added that it’s a good time for the city to think about requesting a quiet zone from CSX as they begin updating the city’s noise ordinance.

According to CSX and the U.S. Department of Transportation, citizens who would like to establish quiet zones should contact their local government who could request a quiet zone and initiate the establishment process. Although, the establishment of a quiet zone is up to the FRA.

“I really think that it would be the perfect time to include this in the noise ordinance or do it in conjunction with the ordinance,” Valenti said. “If people are indeed concerned about noise pollution in our city, that’s a really big factor.”

The intersection at Atlanta Avenue has homes, including Valenti’s home, that are right along the tracks and bear the brunt of the horns when they are blown.

“I’ve been in this house 20 years. I’ve been in Decatur for 40 years. I’d love for Decatur to become a quieter place and a little more peaceful,” Valenti said. “It’s a little hard. I do live in a main road and those are the things that do bring noise, but the main thing is the trains.”

The city considered requesting a quiet zone in 2009 when working on improvements at the intersections of McDonough Street and Candler Street, which both intersect with College Avenue. The quiet zones, however, were not requested after the city heard opposition from residents, Saxon said.

“The concern that was expressed by the community during that period of time was that No. 1, there was a concern that there were a lot of children on the railroad right of way and that it would be dangerous to have a quiet zone [and put] so many school children at risk,” Saxon said.

Valenti, however, said it was unfortunate that hearing loss due to the horns was not considered when thinking about the kids and adjacent homeowners when the intersections were improved.

“It’s never too late to start somewhere. This would be the perfect timing because they’re moving the intersection. It could be a part of the whole thing,” Valenti said.

The city does not currently have any quiet zones in the city limits, but there are two quiet zones on East Lake Drive and Coventry Road along the railroad that runs along the western boundary of Decatur. The city limits end at the edge of the railroad right of way.

According to a document from a 2009 public workshop on the railroad crossing improvements, potential benefits of the quiet zone would be reduced sounding of the train horn in the quiet zone, and residential and commercial areas would benefit from the noise reduction. Potential disadvantages were that it would be costly upfront for the engineering design and equipment installation, there would be annual maintenance costs, and the quiet zone would not eliminate all sounding of the horn.

To implement a quiet zone, Decatur would have to pay the costs related to the preliminary engineering, construction, maintenance and replacement of active warning devices, including wayside horn systems. In 2009, the estimated cost of the four-quadrant gate system was between $600,000 and $1 million to install a four-quadrant gate system, a basic active warning system, a basic interconnect and for annual maintenance at both intersections.

According to CSX, upgraded warning devices and additional safety measures would have to be installed at grade crossings currently in order to implement a quiet zone. The community requesting the quiet zone would be responsible for installing those measures, which may cost in excess of $200,000 per crossing.

Grade crossings in a quiet zone may also be equipped with supplemental safety measures, like four-quadrant gates, roadway channelization and median barriers, one-way roadway with gates or permanent closure of nearby public crossings.

The four-quadrant gate system has four arms that come down to block traffic from going across the tracks instead of the standard two arms.

Some residents in Atlanta and unincorporated DeKalb are working to implement a quiet zone along DeKalb Avenue. The hope is that quiet zones would be implemented along that railroad that pass through Decatur, Kirkwood and part of unincorporated DeKalb County. At the Feb. 10 Kirkwood Neighbors Organization meeting, Robert Ballou asked residents to volunteer to help with the quiet zone and keep the community informed.

“What we really need is for Kirkwood to be aware that the Atlanta plan for DeKalb Avenue is a road diet from basically downtown Atlanta to Ridgecrest Road,” Ballou said. “[West] Howard [Avenue], which comes from Decatur and then becomes DeKalb Avenue, is also two lanes up to the East Lake MARTA station.”

Ballou hopes that Atlanta will extend the road diet from Ridgecrest Road, going east, to Howard Avenue.

“If we can do that, then we can have DeKalb County put in concrete islands at the rail crossing similar to what you see on East Lake Road, which is a quiet zone,” Ballou said. “GDOT is already planning to put two crossing gates up at the rail crossing and then it could become a quiet zone, which will benefit and the other side of DeKalb Avenue, including Druid Hills.”

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