Whistle in the dark

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The issue of train whistles blowing around-the-clock created a push for parts of Ironton to become a “Railroad Quiet Zone” this past February when Ironton City Council member Bob Cleary expressed his discontent with the whistles. At that time it was thought paying the railroad a required fee would establish the quiet zone.

As Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship works to move that project forward, however, he discovered it is much more difficult than anyone anticipated.

Council member Aaron Bollinger asked Blankenship during the June 26 regular meeting if any more progress has been made in regard to creating the quiet zone.

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“I am determined to work as hard as I can, I will meet with whomever I need to in order to come to a reasonable resolution regarding the whistle blowing at all hours at the McPherson Street railroad crossing,” Blankenship said. “It is a very difficult process and I don’t know how else to say it. I’m being told if we want to spend the money, then it will be a quiet zone.”

There is a possibility of being granted a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration, Blankenship said, but that may create yet another roadblock.

“Getting a waiver still may entail the city being responsible for the construction of gates and lights that we would have to pay for,” he said. “The crossing at McPherson is an unusual crossing because it’s not 24/7. It’s only used during emergencies, so we would have to pay around a million dollars for the lights and gates to be constructed and we simply can’t do that.”

Finding a way around the city having to spend money, Blankenship said, is proving very difficult.

“It’s just amazing,” Bollinger said. “I’ve lived in my house for 15 years now and it’s only been within the last year that (the trains) have started (blowing whistles).”

Blankenship said he received a call from a Norfolk and Southern representative in regard to replacing yield signs with stop signs at railroad crossings.

“(Norfolk and Southern) asked if I have an objection to putting stop signs up at crossings throughout the town rather than yield signs,” Blankenship said. “It’s a new law managed by the Ohio Department of Transportation. It is my understanding that they should have always been blowing that whistle. An honest answer is I’m no further along now than I was on day one. I’m getting the runaround and not getting the results that we all want.”

Council president Kevin Waldo said the lack of everyday traffic on McPherson should be a determining factor in establishing the quiet zone.

“If there were 150 cars every hour going down McPherson then I could understand them having to blow their whistle,” Waldo said. “But that street’s not even open but one day every five years or so.”

Blankenship said he’s in total agreement with Waldo and that’s basically why he is trying to get them to establish the quiet zone.

“If we could even invite one of their higher-up representatives to come to a council meeting so we can air out our concerns to them maybe that would help,” Waldo said, to which Bollinger responded, “They can stay the night at my house and see if they can go to sleep.”

The main problem, Blankenship said, is dealing with a corporation as large as Norfolk and Southern and weaving through the associated bureaucracy.

“Every time I talk to someone they are in Atlanta, Ga., Washington, D.C., if it’s the Federal Railroad Administration or Lima,” he said. “I had to send them pictures of the gates they put up. They did not have an updated photo and those gates were put up a year ago.”

Legwork associated with the establishment of the quiet zone revealed another issue at the McPherson Street crossing. Construction going on at the crossing has made it temporarily impassable for residents in the event of a flood.

“There’s no pavement in the middle of the track to allow for cars to cross,” Blankenship said. “(Street department superintendent) Mike Pemberton contacted the railroad’s local construction guy and he said he planned on that construction being finished by the end of the week. If we have a big flood they can’t get out right now. I told the folks I was going to stay on them until they fixed that because you can’t get a vehicle across it in the condition it is in right now.”

The quiet zone would be in effect between 10 p.m.-6 a.m.