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Seeking peace and quiet: Moline looks to create 'Quiet Zone' for train whistles

Moline City Council on Tuesday voted to hire an engineering firm to determine what changes would have to be made at 11 crossings in order to silence train whistles.

MOLINE, Ill. — The train whistle could be silenced in Moline. The city is looking to install a "Quiet Zone" along the Iowa Interstate Railroad from 44th Street in Rock Island to 55th Street in Moline.

The city council voted on Tuesday, May 24 to hire the engineering firm, Fehr Graham Engineering and Environmental, Inc., to study the potential for creating a Quiet Zone.

The 2005 Federal Train Horn Rule requires that train horns be sounded in advance of all public highway-rail crossings for a minimum of 15 seconds. The horns are sounded in a standardized pattern of two long, one short and one long.

"We all know that there's a significant amount of train traffic," said City Administrator Bob Vitas. "It's deafening and yet it's required because we don't have the added gate protection that's necessary to remove the whistle stops and then that in turn, the engineers are required then to use their horns as they approach and go through the intersection."

Vitas said Moline had a preliminary study done in 2018, and this one will now pick up where the 2018 one left off.

"The last study kind of did a high-level overview of Moline and our ad grade rail crossings," Vitas said. "This will get down more into the details that are necessary in order to take it to the preliminary engineering and design phases."

Upgrades at 11 railroad crossings will have to be made in order for the train horns to be silenced. Each crossing already has crossing gates and signals, but it's only two gates.

"A lot of the suggested alternatives were for four-quadrant gate sections to go in," he said. "People can run around the bars, and they do, they try to beat the bars. Four quadrant gates really prevent that from happening. Instead of having just two gates, you have four gates, and when they come down, they basically seal off the area."

He also said this new study will give the city a better idea of what creating a Quiet Zone would cost.

Moline has set aside around $3 million from its ARPA funds for the Quiet Zone. That was the minimal requirement based on the 2018 study. Vitas added that the Quiet Zone is a project that is included in Moline's strategic plan for fiscal years 2022-24.

"The people who have businesses (downtown), obviously, it's advantageous not to have the nuisance whistles," Vitas said. "If you're staying in the Element hotel, they're blowing the whistle literally right next to the building, so there can't be peaceful enjoyment in an environment like that. As we look to future development downtown and residential specifically, having a 'Quiet Zone' would make it more attractive too."

Fehr Graham Engineering and Environmental, Inc. will be working with IDOT to determine the status of the Amtrak plans and how it may affect the Quiet Zone. It will also be coordinating with the Iowa Interstate Railroad to gather data, including train volumes, average speeds and constant warning time at crossing gates, to calculate the Quiet Zone risk index.

Vitas believes the Quiet Zone is at least a year or two away from reality.

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