Railroad "Quiet Zone" Program to Begin in Tempe on January 25 After Six-Year Wait; UPDATE: Program Cost About $175,000

Tempe residents who live near the Union Pacific rail line just north of Tempe will sleep easier this year after a "quiet zone" program takes effect later this month.

Chandler and Phoenix are among the Valley cities that already have such programs, under which the railroad agrees that train operators will blow their horns less frequently.

Starting January 25, conductors along the line north of Broadway Road will supposedly be blowing the train horns only in certain situations, such as when they see a pedestrian or car too close to the tracks.

The agreement should mean far less of the incessant and loud horn-honking that occurs at all hours of the night. Currently, train conductors lay on their horns almost at random, with some of the Casey Jones wanna-bes seeming to take perverse pleasure in long wake-up calls at 3 a.m.

The city's been trying to get the agreement with the railroad for at least six years, according to previous articles about the effort.

We're not sure what took so long. Tempe officials haven't yet responded to a message we left this morning; a Union Pacific rep hasn't called us back, either.

We'll update this post when we hear from them.

One question we have is about the cost. Phoenix spent tens of thousands on its quiet zone, which has to be re-certified each year.

The price-tag shouldn't be too big for Tempe -- after all, the city's considering plopping down $36 million on a permanent metal dam for the Town Lake.

UPDATE: Still haven't heard back from Tempe or UP, but we did find (thanks to one of our alert readers) an interesting side-story about Flagstaff's quiet zone. The state Court of Appeals has upheld a trial-court ruling that allowed the Arizona Corporation Commission to approve the installation of some equipment for a quiet-zone program.

UPDATE 4 P.M.: Jeff Kulaga, assistant city manager for Tempe, called us back with additional info.

He estimates the quiet zone program set back Tempe about $175,000. That includes a $120,000 safety analysis performed two years ago, a $45,000 raised median installed at the RR's 13th Street crossing, and a few extra bucks for signage.

Residents may have already seen some of the signs, which emphasize that trains may not use their horns.

Safety is the main priority, Kulaga says.

"This still does allow for the train engineer's judgment," he says. "They will blow the horn for safety purposes."

Kulaga began working on the project about two years ago and couldn't comment fully on why it took Tempe so long to obtain the quiet zone. Part of the reason, he surmises, is the number of bureaucracies working on it, from the railroad to state and federal agencies.

UPDATE #3 -- Union Pacific says quiet zones compromise safety.

We just received an e-mail from Union Pacific, which says, among other things, that:

The railroad Union Pacific believes quiet zones compromise the safety of railroad employees, customers, and the general public. While the railroad does not endorse quiet zones, it does comply with provisions outlined in the federal law.

The e-mail from Aaron Hunt, a UP spokesman based in Roseville, California, then goes on to describe the various types of quiet zones that can be established under federal regulations. Hunt's e-mail points out that besides the added risk to safety, quiet zones can be expensive for taxpayers due to engineering and other costs.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.