Merriam embarks on plan to reduce train horn noise at grade crossings in the city

The crossing at 67th and Carter will be one of the three Merriam crossings affected by the switch in warning systems.
The crossing at 67th and Carter will be one of the three Merriam crossings affected by the switch in warning systems.

Merriam is planning to make life a little quieter for its residents who are inundated by the more than 38,000 train horns that can be heard across the city each year.

If the plan works out, train engineers won’t be blowing the warning at grade crossings any longer, but the trains will trigger stationary warning horns at the grade crossings. Those stationary horns will be pointed towards traffic and focus the sound along the street. Since the train won’t be sounding the warning as it rolls toward the crossing, a much smaller area is affected by the sound. Also, the directed warnings don’t radiate over such a large area.

In the new plan, called wayside horns, the train not only triggers the horns as it approaches, but a large flashing red X at the crossing tells the engineer that the wayside horn is working and there is no need to sound the train’s horn.

“Since I have been mayor, I’ve not had one complaint that’s been more pervasive than this one,” said Merriam Mayor Ken Sissom Monday. “This couldn’t be a better present for the community,” City Administrator Phil Lammers said.

Lammers showed a diagram that illustrated how greatly the effect of the sound was reduced, from an area of a 1,500 foot radius down to 500 feet in a more straight-line direction. One vendor estimates a 75 percent reduction in noise, he said, and the noise pollution is not noticeable two to three blocks away. Lammers said it could take six months to a year to fully implement the plan, working with the BNSF Railroad. He said the railroad had “not been adversarial” to the city’s suggestion of changing the crossing warnings.

Merriam has three grade crossings: at Johnson Drive and I-35, 65th and Carter and 67th and Carter. Residents who miss the sound of two longs, a short and a long in the night will still have plenty of grade crossings in nearby KCK to visit.

Converting each crossing is estimated to cost more than $166,000 for a total project of $500,000. All but about $40,000 will be paid from Tax Increment Financing funds and not from general tax funds.

Asked by councilor Al Frisby about defending the value to residents, Lammers said it is not only the convenience of not having sleep interrupted, but the tangible effect on real estate values that makes the change worthwhile.