‘I have to put earplugs in ... that’s not a quiet zone’

Residents question regular noise in G Line quiet zones

Posted 6/26/19

Chuck Decino lives in a quiet zone along the G Line, where trains don’t always sound a horn when approaching a crossing. But from his home near the Allison/Zephyr Street crossing, he still hears …

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‘I have to put earplugs in ... that’s not a quiet zone’

Residents question regular noise in G Line quiet zones

Posted

Chuck Decino lives in a quiet zone along the G Line, where trains don’t always sound a horn when approaching a crossing. But from his home near the Allison/Zephyr Street crossing, he still hears the four warning bells every time the crossing gates go down.

Decino has lived in his home for 53 years, and since the commuter rail opened in April, he feels the community atmosphere has changed significantly. At a meeting hosted by the Regional Transportation District on June 17, which brought dozens of residents to the Elks Lodge in Olde Town, Decino listened to similar stories from other residents — and shared his own.

After hearing transportation personnel’s responses, he walked out before the meeting was over.

“I can’t sit in my backyard,” he said. “I have to put earplugs in to be able to sleep. That’s not a quiet zone.”

The first of two RTD-sponsored events this month, the community meeting aimed to answer questions and complaints about noise level in quiet zones along the G Line. After a presentation, three panelists conducted a question-and-answer session with residents.

Those residents — many of whom live just yards away from track crossings, where bells sound daily — stated the noise disrupts their daily lives, despite the fact they are living in desginated quiet zones.

Quiet zones are segments along a freight or commuter track where train operators do not routinely sound their horns when they approach a crossing. The zones must be approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

RTD implemented quiet zones when opening the G Line and incorporated them along the A Line on March 1.

Even in quiet zones, operators still must sound horns for a number of reasons, and community members near the tracks hear multiple train horns and warning bells every day.

The noise of these horns can range from 96 to 110 decibels. According to Everyday Hearing, a hearing information site, a concert reaches noise levels from 100 to 120 decibels.

Based on information they received from RTD, community members said they did not feel prepared for the amount of noise they now hear. Many questioned why the horns sound so frequently.

“Quiet zones are not always quiet,” said Pauletta Tonilas, RTD’s assistant general manager for communications. “The operator always must use discretion to blow their horns when they deem it necessary. Sometimes, the reasons are invisible.”

Reasons for the noise

Operators must sound their horns when the software that runs the train, known as Positive Train Control or PTC, is updating. During the updates, trains switch to another operating mechanism that requires a different safety procedure, Tonilas said.

Horns also sound when operators see “people or animals around the crossing or work crews near the alignment,” she said.

For many residents, this means they are hearing multiple horns a day, with some sounding as early as 4 or 5 a.m., they said. Individuals also questioned why crossing gate bells sound at the same time and so often.

“My 5-year-old is now having developmental disabilities because you guys can’t figure out how to run your trains,” said Lee Scott, who also lives near the Allison/Zephyr Street crossing.

He raised concerns that the noise wakes his daughter before 5 a.m. some days, often continuing for minutes at a time. Scott believed this was unnecessary and called on RTD to investigate and eliminate unnecessary noise.

“You need to stop the whole thing until you guys can fix it,” he said.

However, RTD cannot get rid of crossing gate warning bells because they are an FRA requirement, said panelist John Thompson, executive project director at Denver Transit Partners. He added that quiet zones do not make any specifications for warning bells; the zones only regulate train horn activity.

RTD also cannot ask operators to sound their horns fewer times, as this would go against safety protocol. “One life,” Thompson said, “is really important to us.”

Potential solutions

Thompson and his fellow panelists promised residents they would look into the minimum noise levels for bells and horns. If the noises sound at the higher end of the required decibel range, RTD could lower their volume.

Tonilas said the communications team would better inform citizens on upcoming software updates. She encouraged residents to sign up for rider alerts at www3.rtd-denver.com/elbert/RiderAlerts/index.cfm.

RTD will will hold an informational session and pancake breakfast on June 29 to answer further questions on why horns sound in quiet zones. The event will take place at Arvada Ridge Station, 10189 W. 53rd Ave., from 9 to 11 a.m.

“We’re not some organization that just doesn’t care about the people,” Tonilas said. “We understand your frustration.”

Despite meetings to get the word out, however, some still feel more must be done to make quiet zones quieter.

“I accept the fact that we need this train,” Decino said, “but one bell would suffice.”

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