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It’s noisy at the intersection of San Antonio’s industrial transportation economy and growing urban neighborhoods. Many industrial districts and neighborhoods were built around the historic economic force of railways, but many residents have started to cringe at the distant blare of incoming trains and have requested a “Quiet Zone” to stop trains from using their horns when passing through.
I’ve always loved the sounds of trains at night. I’m often lulled to sleep by their call-and-response – but, then again, I have never lived within a block of the tracks.
Maurine Boyd lives half a block away from the tracks near Roosevelt Park and attended one of the first community meetings that called for the establishment of the Lone Star Del Rio Quiet Zone almost two years ago. “They (City staff) told us it would be six months, maybe a year until the quiet zone would be in effect,” Boyd said.
After several emails with Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) staff, she’s looking forward to a quiet night’s sleep. An uninterrupted phone call.
“We’ve only lived here for four years,” she said. “I can’t imagine how people who have lived here for 10 years handle (the noise).”
Boyd said when they purchased her home, there was already talk of establishing a Quiet Zone, but it didn’t start to move forward until the neighborhood got together with then Councilmember David Medina for a major push.
Historically, homes and apartments close to railroad crossings are cheaper as train conductors are required to signal their arrival for 15 seconds when approaching a track/road crossing with three long and three short horn blasts. “Location, location, location,” as the real estate saying goes. The horn and the barriers that swing down are the most basic safety measures cities have come up with to prevent railway accidents/fatalities.
But both old and new residents of the Lone Star neighborhood are ready for a change and would like to see other supplemental safety precautions implemented in lieu of the horn. It’s way more than simply putting up a “No Horn” sign, and application for a Quiet Zone does not guarantee its establishment. Applications have to prove that street improvements maintain the level of safety that a horn provides.
Quiet Zone crossings can be equipped with updated communication systems, smaller/focused horns directed at traffic, and barricades/medians that prevent cars from forcing through crossing closures. The latter are the most common and have been installed at most crossings.
Quiet Zones also have to be in logical neighborhoods with low traffic (pedestrian and vehicular) – a Quiet Zone on Zarzamora Avenue, for instance, would not likely be approved.
It’s been almost two years since they started the wheels turning towards another Quiet Zone in District 5. Since then, several road closures and street improvements have been made in anticipation of the zone’s establishment, but it’s likely to take anywhere from six to eight weeks for the City of San Antonio’s application to get approval from five different railway stakeholder agencies and companies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, Union Pacific Railroad, the Federal Railroad Administration, BNSF Railway, and Amtrak.
There are 10 Quiet Zones in San Antonio, spread out around the city that affect 60 crossings.
The District 5 Lone Star Del Rio Quiet Zone includes six (6) railroad crossings and is about 1.75 miles long. The crossings include: South San Marcos Street, South Flores Street, Ellis Bean, Probandt Street, South St. Mary’s Street, and South Presa Street.
The crossings at Ellis Bean and South St. Mary’s Street have been closed off to vehicles entirely.
The entire process, from feasibility study to implementation, routinely takes 12-24 months. You can see why: Take a look at the City’s process from the TCI website:
City of San Antonio’s Quiet Zone Establishment Process
- Feasibility Study: A Quiet Zone (QZ) study is initiated by Council Office or citizen’s request. A diagnostic team, consisting of Public Works staff, Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) staff, visits QZ crossings to identify safety improvements.
- Data Collection: UPRR provides train data (including day trains, night trains, switching trains, train speed, etc.), and PW staff collects daily traffic counts.
- Quiet Zone Risk Index (QZRI) Calculation: The collected traffic and train data and proposed safety improvements are entered into the FRA’s QZRI calculator to ensure that QZ can be established.
- Identify Funding: Identify an available funding source with City Council recommendation and approval (NAMP, HUD 108, CDBG Funds, etc.)
- Complete Design: Design plans are prepared to include the safety improvements and signage and pavement markings modifications.
- Notice of Intent (NOI): NOI and design plans are submitted to stakeholders, such as FRA, UPRR, Amtrak, TXDOT, etc. The stakeholders are required to respond within a 60-day timeframe.
- Complete Safety Improvement Construction: Current on-call contractor is used to build the geometric and traffic improvements.
- Final Inspection: An inspection is done by the diagnostic team to verify the safety improvements.
- Notice of Establishment (NOE): NOE application and as-built plans are submitted to stakeholders, such as FRA, UPRR, Amtrak, TXDOT, etc. The stakeholders are required to respond within a 30-day timeframe.
If the Quiet Zone is implemented, crossing bells will still ring, the long closure arms will still come down, and motorists would be hard pressed to worm their way through the medians.
“I think that it’s plenty, it’s sufficient,” Boyd said.
*Featured/top image: Railroad crossing on Probandt Street near Lone Star Boulevard. Photo by Iris Dimmick.