Wakefield Residents Complain of ‘Blaring' Train Horns at All Hours

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Elected officials in Wakefield, Massachusetts, are responding to complaints from residents about loud train horns causing disruptions at all hours.

Councilors in town will discuss the issue at a meeting Monday night.

Officials say the town needs a federal inspection in order to return to its "quiet zone" status, and that inspection could take five weeks.

"We bought this house knowing that we were next to a train, we'd hear occasional train noise, and we were fine with that," said Tania Roberts of Wakefield. "What we weren't fine with is really loud, blaring horns at all hours of the night and day."

Roberts' infant daughter eats through a feeding tube, and she says the horns can be a safety issue for her.

"There's a cord that feeds her, and when that happens, she wakes up, and she can get twisted around it, and it's a real danger for us as a family," she said.

The town council previously voted 7-0 in favor of permitting the horns to alert workers on the tracks.

Town Administrator Stephen Maio issued the following statement Wednesday:

The temporary reinstatement of horns at all rail crossings in Wakefield is loud and disruptive to us all. The Town Council has been regularly apprised of efforts to resolve the associated Broadway Crossing issue for months, which was first closed for construction and then extended after the FRA conducted a reassessment of public safety improvements and incidents at the crossing. Our goal has always been to open Broadway and preserve Wakefield’s Quiet Zone.

We have resisted opening the Broadway Crossing until we could be assured that doing so would not result in the permanent surrender of Wakefield’s “Pre-Rule Quiet Zone” (Quiet Zone) designation by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Under this designation, we have less stringent requirements to meet the national standard risk-index without horns. Surrendering that status would have mandated horns be blown until we reapplied based on newer safety benchmarks. This would require not only the time for the application and approval process, but also a significant financial investment to design, permit, and construct more intricate infrastructure at several of our crossings.

Town employees have worked closely with the FRA, our Congressional delegation and others to resolve the matter, recognizing that surrender of the Pre-Rule Quiet Zone status would result in horns blowing at all active railroad crossings in town for the foreseeable future. We know that the disruption and frustration to residents and businesses on and near Broadway during the crossing’s closure have been substantial.

At our September 13, 2021, Town Council meeting, the  Councilors learned that we were finally at a point in the FRA regulatory process where we could reopen Broadway immediately without permanently losing our Pre-Rule Quiet Zone status. In short, the Council was faced with two options: (1) to keep the Broadway crossing closed while we await final approval to reopen with the Pre-Rule Quiet Zone status intact or (2) to immediately reopen the Broadway crossing with a temporary suspension of Quiet Zone status, to be restored once the final written approval from the FRA is secured, a likely period of five-to-six weeks. The Council regularly heard from residents and businesses who have asked us to find a way to get this major thoroughfare open; more than an inconvenience, they expressed concerns about financial losses and safety, among others. As a Council, we needed to balance the closure impacts to residents, students, and business owners with the impacts of the horns.

With high confidence that such approval is forthcoming, and seeking to offer some relief to those impacted by the extended Broadway closure, the Council unanimously voted to reopen Broadway. It is by no means a perfect solution and was not taken lightly. We will continue to push for an expedited FRA approval and seek other ways to minimize the horns’ impacts across town. The Town Council will include this item on its meeting agenda of September 27, 2021 and we are inviting representatives from the FRA and Representative Moulton's office. We are in a no-win situation in which everyone in town is impacted to some extent. We ask for your patience and understanding as we work to resolve it.

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