City to study railroad quiet zone near lower Rattlesnake

City to study railroad quiet zone near lower Rattlesnake

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Coal trains

A coal train sits in the rail yard in Missoula in this file image from 2015.

If you’ve ever been startled awake in the middle of the night by the shrieking whistle of a coal-laden train rumbling through Missoula, you might be interested to learn the city is looking at ways to quiet the noise.

On Thursday, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board authorized the agency to provide up to $26,300 in Tax Increment Financing to fund a Railroad Quiet Zone Analysis and Traffic Study. The area affected would be generally near the lower Rattlesnake.

Tod Gass, a project manager with the MRA, said Missoula Mayor John Engen, City Council President Bryan von Lossberg and many concerned citizens have brought the issue forward recently. Two Montana Rail Link crossings for vehicles and pedestrians are the main problem: The Madison/Spruce/Greenough crossing and the Taylor crossing, located east of Van Buren Street.

The Federal Railroad Administration requires train horns at crossings because the absence of any noise increases the risk of accidents and fatalities. However, local governments are allowed to establish railroad quiet zones if they take all the steps necessary to mitigate the risk of injury or death if the train whistles are stopped. Some options include the installation of additional signs and center medians, installation of automated traffic and pedestrian gates, and the installation of wayside horns that are localized horns directed downward at the crossing. Those don’t sound pleasant to someone underneath them, but they might not reverberate as much across neighborhoods at night.

“I’ve been hearing about this issue from my very first year on the council six years ago,” von Lossberg said. He added that he surveyed local businesses on Broadway and near the train tracks.

“It’s a real issue for them,” he said. “They’ve made investments in their businesses, and if you talk to any of them it comes up as a big problem right away.”

Neighborhood resident Cass Chinske said he’s been trying to get the problem fixed for two decades.

“The problem has gotten many times more severe over the last five or six years because of the global warming trains that go by,” he said. “With all the coal train traffic, it’s many times more than it was. And the whistles are more powerful. On a bad night it can wake you up six or seven times a night, although a lot of people are better sleepers.”

The money will go to Triple Tree Engineering, which recently worked with the City of Helena to establish a railroad quiet zone there. The money would also fund a traffic safety study to assess how to reduce the risk to jaywalkers near Black Coffee Roasting Co. who are at risk of getting hit by cars.

The railroad crossings are located in the Hellgate Urban Renewal District. Chinske said the MRA’s action would be a positive step for the MRA because it would show they use TIF funding for things that benefit small businesses and working-class residents of Missoula.

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