City of Columbia moving forward with plans to establish railroad quiet zones and silence train horns

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Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 10:39 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For those who are tired of hearing train horns in the city of Columbia, relief is coming.

This week Columbia city council approved a contract with Norfolk Southern to establish railroad quiet zones, where train horns are only used in emergency situations, at eight railroad crossings between Gadsden Street and College Street downtown.

“Now we’ve gotten the cooperation of the railroads, we’re ready to go,” Columbia At-Large councilman Howard Duvall said. “The project will go from Gadsden Street to College Street which will take care of a lot of the area that needs to be taken care of as far as the amount of people that will benefit from the quiet zone.”

Columbia has been working to establish these quiet zones for several years.

A committee was formed in 2017 to identify quiet zones, but the project stalled due to a lack of funding.

City leadership has now identified $1.8 million to get the project rolling and divided the project into two phases to accommodate for the funding available.

Phase two would include crossings between Hampton Street and Beltline Boulevard.

Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, said he is confident he can secure up to $3 million in state funds next year to complete the project.

The trains that pass through Columbia daily are required by federal law to blow their horns 15 to 20 seconds before they reach a crossing.

The Federal Railroad Administration details how cities can establish quiet zones. They must implement a number of additional safety measures at crossings within the zone, which include gates, flashing lights, a power outage indicator, and a constant warning time system.

According to Connor Spielmaker, the spokesperson for Norfolk Southern, the company has identified which crossings in Columbia need those requirements and designed them.

Now that the contract has been approved, Norfolk Southern will handle that construction work.

In a statement, Norfolk Southern said: “Norfolk Southern will continue working with local officials on the necessary improvements at crossings to meet federal minimums for the city to establish its quiet zone. These projects highlight the importance of crossing safety and how railroads and communities can work together to keep everyone safe.”

The city will be responsible for construction work outside the railroad right of way, which includes additional medians at crossings on Main Street and Pickens Street.

Grace Taylor and Julia Siemen, who live near one of the railroad crossings, said the changes cannot come soon enough. Each of them has been woken up several times due to trains blaring their horns.

Taylor described the horns as “super loud” and “unnecessarily loud.”

“I’d say it’s probably most nights that I notice it,” she said. “It’s horrible. I would like to sleep through the night for once.”

Siemen has lived near a railroad crossing in downtown Columbia for a year and a half and said the train horns are startling.

She said it was an adjustment when she first moved to the area.

“It is really loud,” Siemen said. “It is so loud, and it’s not expected times. It will wake us up at five in the morning blaring and it kind of scares people sometimes. Luckily I’m on that side of the house, but my roommates are right next to it and it rattles their rooms and we all just wake up. I’ve had guests visit and they do not like it.”

The timeline for phase one is unclear at this point, but the city will be working with Norfolk Southern to determine when it will be able to start construction work.

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