Train horns to keep blaring

Despite plan by McAtee Tire to move, city has no desire to create quiet zone


The movement toward a train quiet zone in Jefferson has momentarily been derailed, again, with no completion date in sight.

Enthusiasm for a quiet zone has essentially evaporated, said Jefferson City Administrator Mike Palmer.

Residents close to the tracks are forced to endure as many as 75 trains each day.

Many locals became fed up with the noise over the years and voiced their concerns, but have nearly given up hope due to lack of progress.

Larry Turner, who lives on West Washington Street and has spoken out in the past, has faith the quiet zone will eventually be completed, but when that happens is anyone’s guess.

“I’m disappointed that it hasn’t moved any faster,” he said. “I know they are still working on it, but it doesn’t seem like it’s on their front burner.”  

After significant progress reduced noise at two of the city’s six crossings in 2012 and 2014, little progress has been made in the last three years.

Originally, the city of Jefferson had planned to close four of the town’s railroad crossings, moving forward with a quiet zone initiative, but Palmer said that plan has lost significant traction as of late.

“We talked about it at the last committee meeting, to see if there are any options and what could be done as far as a quiet zone,” he said. “But we just haven’t had a lot of public push for it.”

Quiet zones came to the forefront as a result of a 2005 federal statute when trains are required to sound their horns.

The Federal Railroad Administration laid out a set of criteria for how communities could create quiet zones, essentially eliminating loud horns at intersections.

Quiet zones consist of installation of medians at each crossing and placement of special permanent horns near each intersection to reduce noise.

The city of Jefferson had — slowly — planned to close crossings at Wilson Avenue and Maple Street while installing the special medians at Cedar Street and Grimmell Road, discouraging drivers from attempting to maneuver around the crossing arms.

The $9 million Elm Street overpass jump-started the project, which was later followed by the permanent closure of the Pinet Street crossing in 2014.

Since then, the city has been at a stalemate, with opposition of the Wilson Street closure, in particular. McAtee Tire, one of the biggest opponents of the closure, is now scheduled move to a more visible location along Highway 4 this winter.

Even that, Palmer said, has not reignited previous plans.

“There hasn’t been any appetite to close the Wilson intersection,” Palmer said, citing several other businesses near the area still fighting a potential closure.

Del Zmolek, 78, who lives on the north side of town next to the tracks, has been a supporter of a quiet zone for years.

“I think it’s critical to the quality of life in the community, it’s very disruptive and disturbing,” he said. “I’m older and hard of hearing, but I still get woken up at night.”

He continued, “I am disappointed, and I don’t quite understand the rationale of the city council not taking an aggressive approach.”

The most basic option was to install the special medians at several of the town’s crossings, Palmer said. The Union Pacific Railroad pays cities a one-time payment per crossing closure, which Jefferson had planned to use for development of medians and stationary horns at Cedar and Grimmell.

“We looked at what it would cost to move the crossing arms back, if we were to install medians,” Palmer said.

But even then, no movement was made on the project. No medians have been built and the city remains without any stationary horns.

The city does not have any immediate plans to close any of the four crossings left in town and discussions have slowed to nearly a halt.

“Not right now,  there’s not much interest in it,” Palmer said. “It’s on hold, that’s the best way I can put it.”   

The city does not know when it will seriously consider a quiet zone again, Palmer said. The project will come up as an item of discussion at next month’s planning and zoning committee work session, but the city administrator doesn’t expect it to garner much attention.

“It’s always on their list,” Palmer said. “But they rank it in order of importance, and it’s not very high right now.”  

The railroad has been a mainstay in the Jefferson community for nearly two centuries. It dates back to 1866, when the first completed rail — the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad — cut through town. An additional line was added by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in 1901.

“I think the best option would be to pour the medians at Grimmell and Cedar Street,” Turner said. “That way, they wouldn’t have to close any crossings. It’s disappointing to see that other towns have done it but we haven’t.”

Zmolek, a 53-year resident of Jefferson, said he’s tried sharing his peace, but he’s nearly at the point of giving up as well.

“I guess I’m all out of ideas,” Zmolek said, agreeing with Turner’s bleak outlook. “I kind of feel that way too, I don’t know why they can’t be more proactive as a council.

“I can’t believe they’d have a total disregard. It’s almost humorous at this point.”

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Jefferson, IA 50129

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