The Regional Transportation District held a virtual meeting on Thursday, March 4, to discuss the use of train horns within the designated Quiet Zones on the B and G lines. A Quiet Zone is a section …
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The Regional Transportation District held a virtual meeting on Thursday, March 4, to discuss the use of train horns within the designated Quiet Zones on the B and G lines.
A Quiet Zone is a section of the railroad where the conductor does not have to routinely blow the train horn, the goal of which is to decrease the impact of train-related noise in residential neighborhoods.
Almost the entirety of the G line' rail alignment — which runs from Union Station to Wheat Ridge and passes through Arvada — is located within a Quiet Zone, except for a crossing that passes through a BNSF yard. The B line - which connects Westminster to Union Station - does not feature any Quiet Zones, but was included in the meeting because of the shared trackway between the two lines.
Despite the Quiet Zones, meeting attendees who live along the B and G line corridors reported frequent noise pollution from train horns. RTD Assistant General Manager of Rail Operations Dave Jensen said that even in Quiet Zones, safety concerns sometimes call for train operators to sound their horns.
“The reasons the operators are sounding their horns are for safety,” said Jensen. “I want to assure the public that the reason we are sounding our horns is so we don't hit anybody. We don't want to take the chance that someone could get hit because we didn't take every possible effort to be safe.
“It is our commitment and desire to be good neighbors and not be disruptive to the community,” Jensen continued. “But the loss of life is disruptive to the community.”
Jensen added that the software commuter trains use to avoid collisions — called Positive Train Control — goes through updates that don't always initialize properly. In those cases when the PTC drops out, the train defers to the automatic train control, which directs the train to sound its horn when it goes through a crossing.
PTC outages are unpredictable and therefore impossible to notify residents of before they occur. RTD Board Member Shelly Cook said that the transportation district has been working with the PTC software manufacturers to reduce the number of outages.
Denver Transit Partners Communications Manager Nadia Garas said that the reason residents don't find out about train horns necessitated by PTC outages beforehand - and even after the fact, in some cases - is to minimize confusion for those that live near RTD tracks.
“These are issues that we find out about in real-time,” said Garas. “We are working to communicate proactively when we have as much information as we can. We don't want to give the wrong information because it will cause more confusion.”
Neighbors of the Quiet Zone corridors that called into the meeting said they understood the need to blow train horns in possible collision scenarios, but did not feel that the RTD was doing enough to communicate about these disturbances and did not believe that trains should continue running if the PTC goes out.
“I remember thinking when the Quiet Zones were announced that the horns will always be on, and they have been,” a meeting attendee named Anthony wrote in the chat. “Why run the trains if the software doesn't work?”
“Respectfully, I don't think anyone here is downplaying the need for horns for pedestrian safety,” another meeting attendee named Kelly wrote in the chat. “And it's disparaging to us to be lectured on that.”
Pauletta Tonilas, RTD's assistant general manager, said that text alerts for train noise would be included in the next phase of the district's Rider Alerts service.
“Text opt-in is going to happen with the next rollout of the Rider Alert enhancement,” said Tonilas. “That's coming this summer. The Rider Alerts can be filtered by corridor or project.
Our folks also do a great job with Twitter.”
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