Gaithersburg is trying out a new plan that could have train conductors blowing their horns less often at night
The city plans to conduct a trial run at using a median barrier to create a quiet zone near the train tracks where they intersect with Metropolitan Grove Road. Called channelization, the trial involves the placement of plastic traffic control stakes on the median of the road to keep vehicles from swerving around the warning gates, reducing the probability that the train engineer has to sound the horn. Tomasello said the test project will cost less than $1,000. The location was chosen because of its low traffic volume.
If the median proves to make a difference, the city then could propose that the Federal Railroad Administration declare the area a quiet zone, meaning conductors should limit the use of train horns from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Tomasello estimated that his office has received a “couple dozen” complaints from residents, all from members of the Parklands community saying that the train horns were waking them up at night. The neighborhood, which is partially complete, comprises about 400 residential units near Watkins Mill Road, between the CSX tracks and Interstate 270.
At a meeting Monday night, the mayor and council agreed to move forward with the proposal.
The barriers would be installed on the southwestern side of the railroad crossing to test the method and see if it will work. Under the federal organization’s Train Horn Rule, a channelization project or median barrier must extend 100 feet back from the crossing or at least 60 feet if a street or driveway is nearby.
One big challenge has resulted from the administration’s rule regarding the positioning of the median barrier, Tomasello said. The location of the State Highway Administration maintenance shop’s secondary driveway at the back of the complex opens out onto Metropolitan Grove Road, slightly less than 60 feet from the crossing. This means that when trucks and other vehicles have to make a left from the driveway onto Metropolitan Grove Road in the opposite direction of the crossing, there might not be enough room to make the turn.
“The 60-foot marker is almost in the middle of the left-hand turning movement,” Tomasello said, adding that the highway administration has agreed to let the city try the channelization first. “However, this has the truck making fairly sudden movement leftbound. Not sure that that’s going to work.”
Because the median barrier will not meet the 60-foot clearance, the city cannot declare the quiet zone on its own and will be forced to gain approval by the Federal Railroad Administration through a public authority application.
“We’re working hard to keep this moving,” he said. “As much as we’d like to just roll this out, there are federal rules involved.”
Should the trial project succeed, the city will install a sturdier, permanent barrier that will cost between $7,500 to $10,000, Tomasello said.
If channelization does not work, city staff will have to go back to the drawing board to determine which types of infrastructure solutions could work, such as widening the road.
Following the update Monday, Mayor Sidney Katz reassured concerned residents in the audience that the city is still dedicated to pursuing a solution to the noise problem.
“We’re still working on this,” he said. “We’re going as quickly as we can. It is not a fast process.”