New ‘wayside horn’ system that will reduce train noise pollution in Merriam expected to go on line in early December

Jay Senter - November 21, 2017 8:13 am
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.

Residents in the Merriam neighborhoods near the railroad crossings at Carter Avenue just west of I-35 should be sleeping a lot better starting early next month.

One of the new wayside horns mounted on a pole. Photo via city of Merriam.
One of the new wayside horns mounted on a pole. Photo via city of Merriam.

Two years after the city first began working with BNSF Railroad on the idea, the rail company is planning on switching over to an automated train horn system that will drastically reduce the reach of the thousands of horn blasts trains make when heading through Merriam.

Federal law mandates that conductors must blast a horn at least 20 seconds before the train comes to an intersection with a public road. Traditional train horns are sounded from the train itself, and send fields of noise 80 decibels or louder more than a third of a mile.

But the safety benefits of the train horn are limited to motorists traveling the roads that intersect with the railway, meaning that thousands of people living in the vicinity of a railroad intersection are subjected to disturbing blasts for no benefit.

Now, BNSF has installed new “wayside horn” towers at the rail crossings at 65th Street and Carter and 67th Street and Carter. The wayside horns are mounted on 14-foot poles, and direct a concentrated horn blast directly down the streets that intersect with the railroad. Instead of a blast that spreads more than a third of a mile, the reach of the sound from a wayside horn tower is just 500 feet.

The wayside horns will be automatically triggered when trains approach an intersection to comply with federal law. Signage ahead of the intersections will inform conductors that they should not blow their train’s horns when they approach the Carter intersections (though they are still permitted to use their horns at their discretion).

BNSF has informed the city of Merriam it intends to active the Carter intersection wayside horns Dec. 6.

The company has also installed a wayside horn tower at the Johnson Drive rail crossing, though it most likely will not have it functioning until early 2018.

There are more than 38,000 train horns sounded in Merriam each year, and the noise pollution from the horns has been among the most frequent complaints residents have about living near the train tracks.

A diagram showing the spread of noise from a traditional train horn versus a wayside horn.
A diagram showing the spread of noise from a traditional train horn versus a wayside horn.

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