21 Aug 2014
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Railroad Noise: Should Gaithersburg Enact Quiet Zones?

City staff is expected to present a few ideas to the Gaithersburg City Council later this month.

Railroad Noise: Should Gaithersburg Enact Quiet Zones?

Depending on whom you ask, the horns heard blaring from Gaithersburg’s railroad tracks either add to city’s historic charm or add to the intensity of your headache.

At least that’s how some people felt in a recent article posted in The Gazette—including a man who said he moved to a new neighborhood because the trains were so loud.

The news report comes as city staff mulls over whether to designate quiet zones in the three places where railroad tracks cross city streets:

  • In Olde Town
  • On Chestunt Street, near the fairgrounds
  • And in Washington Grove

Gaithersburg's railroad roots

Railroad history is deeply embedded in Gaithersburg’s identity, so much so that City Manager Tony Tomassello said residents in older parts of the city have come to accept the noise from the trains.

“It’s part of our culture here,” Tomassello told Patch. “It’s part of our heritage.”

According to records from the Maryland State Archives, the opening of the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the late 1800s spurred growth and modernization in the City of Gaithersburg.

You can still see traces of Gaithersburg’s railroad past in Olde Town.

But as the city grows, newcomers in search of quiet don't like being welcomed by the honk of railroad horns. Brand-new developments like the Parklands community near Washington Grove are particularly susceptible to the noise, Tomassello said.

That’s part of the reason there’s new interest in researching quiet zones near the tracks.  A quiet zone adopted in Kensington in 2010, Maryland's first, showed that creating one is a possibility, Tomassello said.

City staff plans to present a few ideas to the Gaithersburg City Council on Sept. 16.

Why train noise is a problem

There are no quiet zones in Gaithersburg. Outside of quiet zones, train operators must sound the horn when crossing over a street at ground level, Tomassello said.

A train operator is also obligated under federal law to sound the horn in certain circumstances—like to alert a pedestrian or motorist entering the tracks—regardless of whether a quiet zone exists, Tomassello said. 

The adoption of a quiet zone is not the same thing as a noise-free zone. Tomassello said it means that in certain cases train operator would have permission to not to sound the horn, Tomassello said.

What’s next

CSX owns the rails and the right-of-way on the tracks. Tomassello said the city has a couple of options.

Speaking generally, Tomassello said the city could either present a plan to all of the stakeholders involved—CSX, the federal railway administration, and county and state transit officials—get comments, make revisions and present a quiet zone proposal to federal transit authorities.

Or the city could simply declare its own quiet zones, which could call for costly infrastructure upgrades around the tracks. 

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>>>Speak out: Are train horns a problem for you? Should Gaithersburg adopt quiet zones?

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