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Communities Coexisting with Train Traffic in America

Located along the Mississippi River on Iowa’s eastern border, the City of Clinton regularly experiences a disruption common to many communities — the ear-splitting noise of train horns as long freight trains move through town. The riverfront is home to several popular recreation destinations that are regularly enjoyed by citizens, including Riverview Park, Swimming Pool, RV Campground, and Bandshell, as well as the Clinton Marina and NelsonCorp Field, home of the Clinton LumberKings. The frequent noise pollution from loud train horns severely impacts the quality of enjoyment for visitors taking part in all of these activities.

In 2018, Clinton city leaders met with local business owners, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and the Federal Railroad Administration to discuss potential crossing improvements along the riverfront. As recognized experts in the field, the professionals with Snyder & Associates were brought in to help guide the complex process of ensuring a seamless and efficient result for the quiet zone implementation.

What Comprises a “Quiet Zone”?

When a quiet zone is established, improvements are made to the safety of at-grade railroad crossings. Improvements can take the form of adding roadway medians so that cars can’t drive around crossing gates, adding crossing gates, and closing crossings. Once those improvements have been made, trains are no longer required to blow their horns through the quiet zone, except in the case of an emergency. These steps are aimed at helping to improve the quality of life throughout the Clinton riverfront area.

Effective & Cost-Efficient Crossing Improvements Implemented along Clinton Riverfront

Crossing Closures

The least expensive and most effective way to improve safety at a railroad crossing is to close the crossing. Along the mile-long project area in the Clinton study, there are eight public roadway crossings, some of which lack warning signals and gates. The traffic counts at several of these crossings are low and alternate roadways exist for traffic to reach areas that might otherwise be isolated due to a crossing closure. With that in mind, it was recommended that the following three crossings be closed, 4th Avenue South, South 1st Street, and 4th Avenue North.

Two-Quadrant Gates with Medians

Most of the existing gates installed at crossings within the proposed quiet zone are two-quadrant gates. The two-quadrant gate-style means that gates are only present on the approach side of the crossing for oncoming traffic. Currently, an impatient driver could drive around these gates without much trouble. To improve safety, medians can be added to the roadway to make this maneuver more difficult. The main criterion is that medians must be a minimum of 60 feet long on each side of the tracks. This typically eliminates any crossings that have side roads or major entrances and driveways within that area. The following two crossings will have medians installed with two-quadrant gates, 6th Avenue South and 2nd Avenue South.

Four-Quadrant Gates

Another infrastructure improvement to ensure that traffic does not drive around gates is to install them at all four quadrants of the intersection, on the approach and trailing sides of the roadway crossing. Four-quadrant gates are generally used instead of two-quadrant gates with medians when there are side roads or important access points close to the railroad crossing. The following three locations will have four-quadrant gates installed, 5th Avenue South, 6th Avenue North, and 9th Avenue North.

Additional Measures Taken to Improve the Riverfront & Pedestrian Safety

Improvements to the crossings in the riverfront area weren’t the only upgrades in this expansive project. Because of the multiple crossing closings and other crossing changes, new access points had to be created at several locations. This included the relocation of the roadway leading to city facilities north of 4th Avenue South. The new access approaches from the south and the existing access road connecting to South 1st Street was removed. Additionally, a new parking lot for the skatepark was constructed near South 1st Street and several lightly traveled portions of Roosevelt Street were removed.

Although the rules for the establishment of a quiet zone address the safety of vehicles, they do not address the safety of pedestrians within the quiet zone. Because the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks run adjacent to parks and other amenities used by the public, it’s important to add protections for pedestrians using those facilities. To that end, multiple fences were added to separate the tracks from pedestrian-heavy areas. Additionally, a sidewalk close to the tracks was removed while other sidewalks near individual crossings were improved.

Snyder & Associates has extensive experience guiding communities through this critical process and was vocal in making the Clinton quiet zone a success. While the primary focus of quiet zone rules are to provide communities a way to silence train horns, maintaining an adequate level of safety that compensates for the risk that silencing train horns creates is the ultimate goal. Without the constant blare of train horns interrupting outdoor (and sometimes, indoor) activities, the positive impact on people’s lives is immeasurable.