If you're among those Wauwatosa residents who heard train horns after the cut-off deadline of Oct. 8, rest assured, you weren't dreaming. After hearing the horn, you probably weren't even sleeping.
City Attorney Alan Kesner said the actual, formal deadline for train horns to stop was Oct. 18, but the railroad volunteered to obey the horn ban earlier, by Oct. 8.
"It takes some time for train horns to stop after the railroad sends word to their operators, so we expected a few days of delay," Kesner said in an email.
Notifying all the affected employees in an operation as sprawling and mobile as a railroad is not an easy job.
Kesner notes that train operators are still required to blow the horns when they spot danger or any other situation in which a warning might help — a person too close to the tracks, for example.
Some operators also could be making a simple mistake, forgetting the policy, he said.
"Finally, there is a private crossing across the border, just east of 60th and State (streets), which is in the city of Milwaukee, and thus not included in our quiet zone," he said. Trains crossing there will still be required to sound their horns.
Hopefully, things will settle down after Friday.
Tracking the history
The train horn issue has a long and tangled history in the city of Wauwatosa.
The city has two railroad corridors.
The Union Pacific corridor runs north and south through the western part of Tosa, with crossings at Wirth and Walnut streets, according to memos by Assistant City Attorney Eileen Miller-Carter, written tor the Traffic and Safety Committee. That corridor is entitled to automatic approval of quiet zone status, she writes.
The Soo Line, a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, runs east and west along State Street, with crossings in Wauwatosa at 63rd, 68th, 70th and 72nd streets; Harwood Avenue; and 115th Street. It does not automatically qualify for quiet zone status.
Approving a ban
The city passed its first train horn ban in 1973, Miller-Carter said.
In 2004, the city prepared to defend its horn ban in anticipation of new Federal Railroad Administration rules, which became effective April 1, 2005. The rules required train horns at all crossings, but grandfathered community quiet zones, some of them limited to a three- to five-year period.
In June, 2008, the city filed a detailed plan for safety improvements, as required, keeping the ban in place, and, subsequently, the train horn rule allowed horn bans for an additional three years beginning June 24, 2010, based on certain filings and funding commitments.
On June 24 of this year, that allowance expired.
City tried, but failed
The city had been working on required improvements that would have kept the ban in place, but ran out of time. A petition for a temporary waiver from the FRA could not be reviewed by the agency before the June 24 deadline, and the ban expired.
The city then decided to qualify for a permanent ban, instead of continually applying for temporary bans. Improvements were made, and a permanent ban on train horns was approved.
Alderman Jim Moldenhauer, a member of the Traffic and Safety Committee, was frustrated that the impending expiration of the horn ban was never brought before the Common Council or a committee.
"We knew that there was going to have to be some augmentation to the crossings, to get them to the new standard. We never heard anything on committee about that. Moreover, this kind of caught us all by surprise," he said.
He wondered what else might be happening that council members weren't aware of.
Kesner responded: "While this committee wasn't kept apprised (since 2005), the actual improvements that were being made went through the capital budgeting process," so those who served on the Budget Committee presumably were aware of the problem.
"The other part of your question, are there other things hanging out there? I don't think so," he said. "This whole area of railroad regulation at the local level and the way the federal government steps in to do this is one of the most unique and strange areas of the law."
If there are other things hanging out there, he said, he didn't know of them.
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