Residents push T to slow commuter rail trains

Group concerned about noise, safety

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2009

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North Abington residents are renewing their push to have the MBTA slow down commuter rail trains they say are whizzing through their neighborhood at excessive speeds.

The group, which contends the trains’ high velocity makes them unusually noisy and jeopardizes public safety, recently appeared before the Board of Selectmen to ask for its help in addressing the issue. The board agreed to seek a meeting with T officials.

“If you are standing on the sidewalk and viewing the train as it comes through, it’s breathtaking. It comes at you really fast and really big and really loud,’’ said Rich Little, spokesman for Concerned Abington Citizens Against Excessive Train Noise.

Last October, in response to a petition from the group that was focused on train noise, selectmen convened a meeting with MBTA representatives. But Little said the T never reported back to the town on the results of a study it promised on the issue.

Lydia Rivera, a spokeswoman for the MBTA, said the transit agency has no plan to reduce the speed of the Kingston/Plymouth line commuter trains traveling through Abington, which are allowed to run as fast as 70 miles per hour. But she said the T has made some preliminary observations, and starting at the end of this month plans to take measurements of the ambient sound of train engines at different speeds.

“We will share those results with the selectmen and the town of Abington,’’ she said.

Commonly referred to as the Musterfield, the north Abington neighborhood is close to the Weymouth line and about a mile north of Abington’s train station.

Little, a retired high school math and science teacher, said measurements he took with a sports radar gun in late May found that 59 percent of more than 100 trains passing through the neighborhood were moving in excess of 60 miles per hour, and as high as 72 miles per hour.

He also took sound measurements and found that “as speed increased, so did the decibel level.’’ Trains traveling more than 60 miles per hour produced readings of 82 to 108 decibels as recorded from his house about 25 yards from the tracks. He said prolonged exposure to noise at 85 decibels or more can cause hearing loss.

Little said the group also worries about the safety risk posed by trains moving at high speeds through a neighborhood with five road crossings in a 7/10-mile stretch, and which includes a business district, a park area, and a school.

“If there is an incident at that speed, it could be devastating,’’ said Little, adding there have been close to a dozen train-related accidents in that area over the past 12 years, including one in 1998 when a 15-year-old neighbor of his was fatally struck by a train at a street crossing.

Little said his group would like to see train speeds reduced to 30 miles per hour in the 7/10-mile area, a change he said would address its noise and safety concerns.

Rivera said the trains that pass through that area are “traveling at the appropriate speeds,’’ which she placed at 65 to 70 miles per hour. While “safety is paramount, ’’ she said, “we have no cases of speeding’’ in that area.

“Changing the speed of the trains would definitely impair their scheduling and on-time performance,’’ she added. But she said the agency wants to continue with its sound measurements “and to work very closely with the town.’’

Little said his group would also support having the area designated a “quiet zone,’’ a stretch of railway where trains do not sound their horns at road crossings except in emergencies. He said that with five grade crossings in close proximity, train engineers tend to blare their horns almost without stop. He said if trains were to slow down, routine horn soundings would not be needed.

Little added, though, that the group has not made that goal a priority given the time and potential costs involved to the town in securing federal quiet-zone designation.

Rivera said the T is “not entertaining the option to stop the sounding of horns in that area’’ because it is federally required as a precautionary measure.

John R. Buckley, Abington’s representative to the MBTA Advisory Board, said he believes the residents’ concerns about train speed and its possible noise impact “have a great deal of merit,’’ though he is less convinced of a connection between train speed and safety.

Selectmen Chairman Thomas Corbett said he wants to hear from MBTA officials what they have learned regarding speed and noise, and what would be involved in seeking quiet-zone designation.

“I have no doubt there’s merit in what they are saying,’’ Corbett said of the residents. “On the other hand, they do live next to railroad tracks, so you have to expect something from that.

“It’s a give and take, so now we’re asking for the T to give a little.’’

John Laidler can be reached at