City’s request of a downtown train quiet zone denied by FRA

Erik Petrovich

Fort Collins may have to deal with loud trains for a little while longer than expected as the Federal Railroad Authority denied a waiver request that would have allowed the city to proceed with plans to create a quiet zone in the downtown area.

The area of the proposed quiet zone is planned to extend from Laurel to Cherry, but implementation has been delayed by the FRA requiring gates at crossings within the city. (Photo courtesy City of Fort Collins)
The area of the proposed quiet zone is planned to extend from Laurel to Cherry, but implementation has been delayed by the FRA requiring gates at crossings within the city. (Photo courtesy City of Fort Collins)

The original plan aimed to create a quiet zone from Laurel Street to Cherry Street without using safety gates at train crossings. Joe Olson, a traffic engineer with the Fort Collins Department of Transportation, said using gates would have stopped cars from being able to travel North and South on Mason Street, as the FRA Train Horn Rule requires a minimum 12-foot gap between the railroad and a gate, placing them directly in the middle of the road. 

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The city believed that with enough warning measures, such as lights and sounds, the train would not need to sound its horn and could instead pass through the city without disturbing the downtown area. The official waiver was submitted in March 2015, and was heard during a safety meeting Aug. 29.

The FRA said they denied the request to waive the use of safety gates in the implementation of a quiet zone because they are necessary to prevent drivers from crossing in front of an oncoming train.

Instead, in a landmark move, the FRA will establish a Working Group within Fort Collins with the Federal Highway staff and the Federal Transit Administration staff that will work on finding other ways to implement this quiet zone. A Working Group is a committee that investigates an issue to come up with solutions to a problem, in this case, how to create a quiet zone while adhering to the FRA’s Train Horn Rule.

“We are disappointed,” City Manager Darin Atteberry said. “The City worked with federal officials in good faith and within the train horn noise rule. We felt the waiver offered a reasonable solution, however we look forward to working more with the FRA to best serve the needs of the railway and our residents.” 

Collegian news reporter Erik Petrovich can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @EAPetrovich.