A moment of silence, please

City council approves funding for railroad quiet zone infrastructure

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P.W. Braunberger / The Torch

Whiteaker resident Ian Kersey lives two blocks from the tracks. “One thing I really like about this neighborhood is [its] character. It’s a little bit of character hearing that train,” Kersey says.

On Feb. 26, Eugene city councilors voted 6-2 to spend millions making the necessary infrastructure upgrades to qualify for a railroad quiet zone at ten crossings in downtown Eugene.

Three of the crossings are between Hilyard and Pearl. The rest extend from Lincoln to Van Buren Street in the Whiteaker neighborhood.

Eugeneans in the Whiteaker and as far away as the South Hills have petitioned the city for decades to create a quiet zone, citing the adverse health effects of interrupted sleep and loud noise.

According to a 2015 petition on change.org signed by 779 supporters, “Constant, unnecessary, or harsh noise has been shown in numerous studies to cause undue stress which can affect all areas of life.”

But some who supported the creation of a quiet zone ten years ago now oppose the current proposal, citing costs, safety concerns and fears that it would raise rents in the Whiteaker neighborhood.

According to Sam Hahn, who chairs the Whiteaker Community Council and also serves on the city’s Railroad Quiet Zone Advisory Panel, “It was actually the Whiteaker Community Council that ten years ago initially brought a proposal for a quiet zone to the city council in the name of livability. At the time, that project only cost two million dollars.”

In the current proposal, the quiet zone advisory panel estimates needing between 6.8 and 7.4 million dollars for infrastructure upgrades at the ten crossings. Hahn believes the number will be closer to ten million.

P.W. Braunberger / The Torch
An Amtrak passenger train zooms through the Madison ST crossing in the Whiteaker neighborhood. Proposed infrastructure upgrades do not currently call for pedestrian gates at Madison ST or anywhere in the Whiteaker.

He is also concerned that the proposal focuses on infrastructure that protects motorists while neglecting protection for pedestrians and bicyclists. Under the current plan, the city would only put pedestrian gates in at the Hilyard and High Street crossings. According to the city, there has not been any vehicle-train collisions in the past five years but trains have hit four pedestrians and one cyclist, resulting in three deaths. Whether any of these were suicides is unknown.

“We’re going to be putting in measures at the cost of ten million dollars to protect against the type of accidents that we’ve never had while at the same time increasing the likelihood of the types of accidents that we have had which is train-pedestrian collisions,” Hahn said.

Hahn believes that if more pedestrians are hit, the Federal Rail Administration, which has ultimate say over quiet zone locations, would likely revoke approval and train horns would blare again.

LCC student Ian Kersey, who lives two blocks from the tracks, believes train horns are important warning signals for the Whiteaker’s homeless population, some of whom camp along the tracks.

“If it’s in the middle of the night and they don’t hear the train they could get hit. That concerns me a lot,” Kersey said.

Trains don’t wake Kersey at night. “I like the sound of the trains. It’s kind of comforting to me. It’s something you get used to,” he said.

Not everyone acclimates to the horns. Tamara LeRoy, who lived two blocks from the tracks while attending Lane Community College, moved her family out of Whiteaker partly because her oldest child was so sensitive to the noise.

“It’s disruptive, especially if it’s two or three o’clock in the morning when you’re trying to sleep,” she said.