By FAUZEYA RAHMAN
Special to the Leader
The familiar sound of a train horn might soon be nothing more than a memory for various areas in Round Rock. City officials held an open house on Aug. 22 to discuss railroad quiet zones, where trains will not be allowed to blow horns while passing designated areas except in cases of emergency.
The City Council has not made a final decision yet but affected intersections along the Union Pacific line could include:
County Road 172 at McNeil Road
Saint Williams Street at McNeil Road
Both Interstate 35 frontage roads at McNeil Road
South Burnet Street at Park Lane
Red Bud Lane at U.S. Highway 79
Safety improvements at these intersections could include signage changes, raised medians, changing rail crossings from two to four quadrant gates and vehicle detection sensors that won't completely close until a car passes through.
Operators would still be required to operate train horns at crossings not in the quiet zones, according to Chad Wood, Round Rock traffic engineer. These intersections include RM 620 at Chisholm Trail and Sam Bass Road west of Chisholm Trail.
Operators can still use horns even in the quiet zone, if someone or something is on the tracks or if a particular crossing's safety gates aren't working.
"This issue has been on the city's radar for about five or six years," said Wood, who's also manager for the quiet zone project. "I think most people understand there's an environmental or quality of life problem because of the horns, and we're using safety tools to solve the problem."
Currently, operators are required to give the horn two long blasts, two short blasts, and then sound the horn again through the entire length of the crossing each time the train passes through.
Almost 160 people attended the open house to learn more about the $1.2 million quiet zone project. Opinions varied among attendees.
"I don't see any reason for these changes," Beverly Nord said. "I live near Red Bud and 79 and the train doesn't bother me at all. I'm not familiar with the other intersections. People move into areas that are close to the railroad and then don't like the noise."
Other attendees said they understand the need for safety improvements.
"If these changes make it safer for Round Rock as it grows, I'm all for it," Richard Berkley said. "I enjoy the sound of the train, although I don't live too close to the track and the breeze blows much of the sound away from my house. I can see the point of the project for those that live closer to the train."
Berkley lives close to the Saint Williams Street and McNeil intersection, which according to current plans would be closed as part of the quiet zone project. Wood and other city representatives wanted to get feedback from residents on this issue.
"The closing might increase trip time by about one or two minutes," city transportation planner John Dean said. "It's helpful for the public to come in and make comments, because sometimes someone can tell us something we've never thought of before."
Wood echoed the possibility of plans changing based on public feedback.
"That's the whole point of getting the public involved in the process," Wood said. "We'll look at input and go back and make changes. If we make drastic changes, we'll bring those to the public. Depending on the comments we get, by mid-September we'll have an idea if we need to do this again."