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West Medford residents blow whistle on train horn blasts

Posted by Matt Byrne  June 23, 2011 05:10 PM

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Local, state, and federal officials reached an agreement today that will end the high-decibel horn blasts by passing commuter rail trains that have rankled residents who live near two West Medford commuter rail crossings since last week.

The whistles -- mandated by a federal regulation that was put into effect this month -- were ordered stopped at 2 p.m. today by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail Company, said Mayor Michael McGlynn in a phone interview.

To comply with the new rules, trains will slow to below 15 miles per hour in the area, he said, while in the coming weeks city workers will go about installing center-line safety pylons that may soon bring Medford into compliance.

"We are willing and able and pleased to work with the city helping them address the issue on both an immediate and long-term basis," said Warren Flatau, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the industry.

Flatau said the neighborhoods around the crossings at High Street and Canal Street had been a designated quiet zone, but like many cities and towns across the country, local governments were required the install and pay for safety requirements to keep the peace.

in a letter dated June 3 from the agency to the city, Medford's quiet zone status was revoked, after a plan to install a safety system proved too costly and the city's extension to come into compliance ran out.

The proposed system would have installed four safety gate arms, one for both direction of traffic on both sides of the tracks, said McGlynn. But the system would have had to be connected to safety switches in Somerville, an infrastructure improvement that drove the cost to $2 million, he said.

"That's when things started to fall apart," McGlynn said.

Since June 17, when the horns first started blaring, more than 40 residents called the city to complain or inquire about the noise, McGlynn said.

The outcry prompted officials to convene a series of last-minute meetings this week that involved a tangle of local, state, federal, and congressional offices, in addition to transportation officials, said McGlynn.

The agreement was reached shortly after noon, and the horns were ordered stopped two hours later.

Although no firm timetable has been set for the city to come into permanent compliance, the rail authority spokesman said regulators are eager to help the city find a solution.

One resident interviewed about the racket, Betty Yee, who lives on Irving Street steps from the rail line, said she was careful to inquire about the disturbance the trains could cause when she bought her home about a year ago.

She was surprised when the blasts resumed last week, she said, and called the city. The messages from citizens were swift but civil, said McGlynn and Flatau.

"There are young children who are being awakened in the early morning hours. Someone who was a cardiac patient said it was bothersome," the mayor said. "They said after a while it gets very annoying."

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