Train whistles near residential areas can be viewed as charming or a nuisance. The point is now moot in Marana, which has arranged to have eight crossings designated as a quiet zone.
Previously, train engineers sounded their whistles to warn of their approach at crossings. Now the town has posted signs at each crossing, warning that trains will no longer sound horns.
Marana spokesman Rodney Campbell said via email that the town acted in response to complaints from those who live near the tracks.
“We put up the signs that tell people trains don’t honk their horns at crossings. Of course, engineers will still honk if something is on the track,” Campbell said. “They had just been doing it at every crossing out of habit, even the ones that have gates.”
In February, the town paid about $3,000 to place signs at all crossings where vehicles drive over train tracks: Joiner Road, Ina Road, Massingale Road, Cortaro Farms Road, Tangerine Road and Cochie Canyon Trail. There are also signs at two privately owned, unnamed roads at crossings.
“For the most part, calls from residents have stopped,” Campbell said. “Of course, train engineers still have the option of using their horns if they believe there’s a safety issue. Maybe workers are doing maintenance, which happens more often now that Union Pacific has doubled its tracks through the region, or a vehicle is too close to the crossing gate.”
In 2005, Federal Railroad Administration regulations required train horns to be sounded in advance of all public highway rail crossings, and gave local communities the option of silencing them by establishing quiet zones if certain supplemental or alternative safety measures are in place, and also if the crossing accident rate meets the administration’s standards.
“Union Pacific believes quiet zones compromise the safety of railroad employees, customers and the general public,” Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said via email. “While the railroad does not endorse quiet zones, it does comply with provisions outlined in federal law.”
The flashing lights and gate systems at Marana’s crossings allowed the area to be designated a quiet zone.
Warren Flatau, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said Marana acted quickly to establish its quiet zone.
“The town knew what it needed to do and was faithful to the process,” he said. “It did the risk calculations that are required under the rule.”
Campbell said the quiet zone designation improves the atmosphere for residents.
“This was a quality of life issue,” he said. “People who live anywhere near the tracks don’t have to hear train horns several times a day, and we’re still not compromising safety.”
There may also be another benefit for property owners, but that remains to be seen. Mara Mitchell, a real estate agent at Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Tucson, said she believes the lack of noise will help boost home values.
“I would think it would have a more positive impact, only because people do not want noise,” Mitchell said. “At least I don’t, only because I am a superlight sleeper and I hear everything.”
Kathy Mallory, a real estate agent with Long Realty, said it’s too early to say whether home values or sales rates will increase because of the quiet zone, but she expects there to be a positive effect.
“The sound, I’m sure, bothered people,” she said. “A little bit is OK but not constant. It had gotten to be really constant.”
Mallory, who lives close enough to the train stops to hear the whistles faintly, said she would miss the sound a bit.
“I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I liked the train whistles,” she said.