Sound of silence won’t be heard

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Farwell City Councilors are opposed to creating a quiet zone at railroad crossings in fear the city would be liable for collisions at the crossing.

Councilors voted 4-0 this week against the zone, according to Wayne Gruben, a Farwell city councilor and a chief deputy at the Parmer County Sheriff’s Office.
“We just didn’t want to be responsible if there was an accident,” Gruben said. “We are not going to put ourselves in that position,” he said.

A small group of residents, Citizens Against Train Noise, lobbied for the zone in an attempt to silence train horns that blare day and night as BNSF Railway trains slice a path across the New Mexico-Texas border.

“It is a constant harassment,” Farwell resident and Citizens member Marshall Formby said of the horns. “Ultimately, it’s an assault on my life and my peace. It’s analogous to a rock ‘n’ roll band playing loudly in the apartment next door.”

Texico city councilors have also snuffed the grassroots effort to stop train honking, citing liability issues.

Every day, about 90 BNSF Railway trains rumble through a railroad crossing on U.S. 84 that divides Farwell and Texico, according to BNSF Railway spokeswoman Lena Kent.

“In other cities with quiet zones, liabilities decreased because safety ratings of crossings increased,” Citizens Against Train Noise member Don Gunter argued.
“The citizens do not feel we are being represented properly by the representatives in Farwell. They weren’t even interested enough to find out if there was a liability issue,” he said.

A federal regulation passed in 2005 requires locomotive horns to be sounded as a warning to highway users at all public highway-railroad crossings. The regulation mandates train engineers blow their whistles for at least 15 seconds as they approach the crossings, unless communities near tracks establish quiet zones through the Federal Railroad Administration.

Gunter and Formby said they will continue their effort to silence trains if they receive additional support from the community.

Fast facts
—What is a quiet zone: Exempts a stretch of track from horn
blowing from trains, except in emergencies. Only the government entity with jurisdiction over a road with rail crossings can establish a quiet zone, according to the Federal Railroad Administration Web site.
—Establishing quiet zones: Communities must implement safety measures such as gates and lights near crossings and get approval from government entities. Government entities that want quiet zones often purchase additional liability insurance for protection.
—Who’s liable: Liability issues surrounding accidents at crossings are ambiguous and controversial, with some arguing those who fail to heed warnings at crossings are at fault when accidents occur.
—Cost: Implementing additional safety measures falls on the
government entity.