Countless folk songs pay homage to the long, lonesome blow of a train whistle, a common note in any city with railroad crossings. But while a distant whistle may have the power to inspire traveling tunes, a train horn sounding right next to your home or workplace could make you wish you were traveling somewhere else.
According to RiverLink and its newly formed Railroad Quiet Zone Coalition, however, it’s distracting. The Asheville-based nonprofit hopes to muffle such sounds someday with a federally approved “railroad quiet zone.”
Executive Director Karen Cragnolin stresses that the coalition—made up of condominium developers, hoteliers, artists, retailers and others interested in the River District—has nothing against trains. “We love the trains,” she asserts. “We have never tired of waving hello to the conductor.” But the loud blasts sounding at least 12 times a day (and night) inhibit growth in the neighborhood, she maintains. “It goes through an area where we’re trying to attract some new infill development. It’s particularly worrisome for people who want to live here. At 3 a.m., they’ll blow you right out of bed.” The developers of the Lofts at Mica Village and The River condos, notes Cragnolin, are particularly concerned that the train’s warning blasts could drive away prospective buyers.
RiverLink and the new coalition are proposing a railroad quiet zone. Federal law requires trains on the Norfolk Southern line that runs through Asheville to sound their horns as they approach crossings. But with some infrastructure changes and the approval of the Federal Railroad Administration, it’s possible to establish an area where sounding the whistle is prohibited except in emergencies. The quiet zone, as they envision it, would extend from Glendale Bridge on the Swannanoa River to Pearson Bridge, just below the Richmond Hill Inn on the French Broad—a roughly five-mile stretch.
Norfolk Southern spokesperson Robin Chapman says the Federal Railroad Administration has approved quiet zones elsewhere. The main requirement is that new gates, or physical medians between lanes, be installed to ensure that cars can’t cross the tracks when a train is approaching. Norfolk Southern has had discussions with both the state Department of Transportation and the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization about the quiet zone, he notes, adding, “We would be happy to participate in any discussions” with the neighborhood coalition.
“Typically, the locality that wishes to establish a quiet zone would have to install those kinds of crossings at its own expense,” he cautions. “It’s not cheap to set these things up.”
Cragnolin, estimating the cost to be “$1 million-plus,” says RiverLink plans to approach the city for funding after seeking public input and hammering out a detailed proposal. “We think that with all the condos and mixed-use spaces that are planned, the return on investment would be quick,” she says.
On Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m., RiverLink will host an open informational meeting about the proposed railroad quiet zone in A-B Tech’s Simpson Auditorium. Visit www.ashevillequietzone.org to learn more.