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Eugene Behind In Nixing Super-Loud Train Horns

Thanks to a federal law enacted in 2005, Eugene gets about 40 blasts of a 96- to 110-decibel horn each time a train passes through town, according to Whitey Lueck. Lueck is an instructor in the UO’s Department of Landscape Architecture who has been involved over the years in trying to implement a “quiet zone” for Eugene’s 10 crossings to protect the ears of city dwellers. 

The horn-blasts are mandated at a minimum of 96 and a maximum of 110 decibels in a pattern of two long, one short, one long. Luckily the blasts are fairly quick — 15 to 22 seconds, according to the Federal Railroad Administration — because the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that regular exposure of more than one minute to a volume of 110 decibels risks permanent hearing loss.

In 2006 after the federal law went into action, the city of Eugene began looking into creating a quiet zone, Lueck says. Under federal regulations, a quiet zone allows cities to prevent trains from sounding horns (unless needed for an emergency) by putting other safety measures in place.

Eugene attorney Larry Deckman says he can hear each of the horns even though he doesn’t live near the tracks, thanks to the way the sound carries. He, like Lueck, was one of the advocates for a quiet zone back in 2006 and wants to bring the issue to the forefront again. Deckman points out that the issue of the horn noise is “increasingly relevant as train traffic increases.” He adds, “I’m not opposed to the railroad — my wife and I don’t fly. I’m a big train user.” But he says 1,080 horn-blasts in Eugene every 24 hours is just too much.

Rob Inerfeld, transportation planning manager with the city of Eugene, says that a lack of funding is what drew the city’s efforts to create a quiet zone to a halt in 2009 after several City Council work sessions and public comment opportunities. Inerfeld says methods to create quiet zones include closing streets so there are fewer crossings, installing medians to prevent cars from driving around gates at crossings, making the streets with crossings one-way or installing “quad gates” that also prevent people from driving across the tracks in front of passing trains.

Deckman says his research has shown there are 600 quiet zones around the country. Westfir out off Hwy. 58 has a quiet zone, according to federal records, and Salem got one in 2013. Inerfeld says that the Salem quiet zone, which is comparable in size to what Eugene would need, came at a cost of $2.6 million funded through the city’s streets and bridges bond measure.

“Personally, this seems like the kind of thing that would enhance the quality of life and enhance the quality of the city,” Inerfeld says, if funding would allow it. 

In 2008, the Oregon Department of Transportation told the city it would need to close five of 10 crossings to get state funding, according to a council work session summary. At the Eugene City Council’s discretion, it could request the city manager to make quiet zones a priority, Inerfeld says. Lueck and Deckman hope a grassroots efforts could help. For more information contact them at eugenequietzone@gmail.com.