We’ve all heard it before; the aggravating toot, the blaring cacophony of the train horns. They break conversations, disrupt the calm tranquility of a warm summer day, interrupt businesses, and ruffle the feathers of anyone trying to enjoy the ambience of town. The city council has been considering various strategies to silence the trains as much as possible; namely among them, railroad-approved crossing equipment that could cost up to five million dollars to construct. This fix seems too costly for a problem that is, at worst, an irritant that poses no obstruction to business or pleasure. A cure for our city’s collective headache would be nice, but frankly, such a large sum of money would be better spent elsewhere.
The biggest problem with the proposed solution to silence the train horns is that it would merely trade one headache for an even larger one: urban congestion. The million-dollar “Quiet Zone” equipment the city council is considering installing would, per regulation, make it physically impossible for cars to be on the tracks during a train’s approach. The issue is that pedestrians and bicyclists have been left completely out of this equation. Any such barriers installed by the tracks would be an imposition on pedestrian and bicycle traffic. With the city striving so diligently to spark growth in the Mason Street Corridor, wouldn’t these special Quiet Zone barriers only hamper their efforts? Additionally, the barriers do not fit the modern aesthetic the city is aiming to create for the The Mason Street Corridor is being modeled as an attractive new place for businesses and pedestrians alike; these barriers would taint the atmosphere of this area and of Old Town. In fact, Fort Collins’s Downtown Development Authority asserted in a letter to the city that the proposed barriers would be a “clear detriment” to business access and movement across Mason Street. They too realize that it would make no sense to add more unsightly impediments to an area soon to be abuzz with sores of new businesses and people, not to mention the MAX transit system. How does the city council propose to fit all these projects into the same space? If Mason becomes as busy and alive as they claim it will be, adding the barriers to quiet the trains would take up the last of everyone’s breathing room.
Not only would the creation of a Quiet Zone with these barriers eat at the last of everyone’s personal space, it will also eat away at the city’s budget, too. Fort Collins is a busy place, with lots of development around town and many pressing needs that still need to be addressed, needs that might require expensive solutions. Spending five million dollars on such a frivolous matter is hardly justifiable when you consider the city’s major issues looking into the future, such as the increasing occurrence of wildfires and the continuing drought. The infamous fires of the past year, the High Park and Galena fires, cost Fort Collins and the state of Colorado 31.5 million and 38.4 million dollars to extinguish, respectively. On top of that, the Front Range as a whole continues, on a yearly basis, to tiptoe in and out of a permanent state of drought. Developing new water reserves to combat this will only be more costly. The Glade Reservoir, proposed to increase water supplies, would cost up to one billion dollars to construct. The resolution of these pricy problems is essential to the future vitality of the Front Range, and must take forefront over needless expenditures such as the Quiet Zone barriers. Couple these issues with the city’s council vision for expansion, and you have a budget that simply cannot afford to waste money on cumbersome train-silencing barriers.
Admittedly, it would be nice to have some relief from the cacophony of horns, but the trains that pass through Fort Collins aren’t the only things that are just a bunch of noise. The proposed “Quiet Zone” barriers being considered by the City Council are an unnecessary expense in current times, one the city cannot afford to incur. The people of Fort Collins would have their quiet trains, but at the price of urban congestion, tainted city aesthetics, and an overstretched city budget. Five million dollars is too much to spend on something that is, at worst, only a slight irritant to daily life. The city council should not trade a minor headache of a problem for a whopping migraine of one.