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City of Springfield to Host Meeting About Rountree 'Railway Quiet Zone'

The City of Springfield says it has received many complaints about loud train whistles at all hours of the day and night in the Rountree Neighborhood. Later this month, the city will host a public meeting to talk about possibly creating a so-called "railway quiet zone" in the Rountree area.  In that meeting, the city will present suggestions on how to improve the situation. KSMU's Rebekah Clark has more.

The city also says it's sent letters to 459 citizens living within 500 feet of the railway track, asking for their opinions and input.

By federal law, the trains are required to blow their whistles. They do that to keep pedestrians safe in the neighborhood, and because the rails are not separated from the road by any structure, like a bridge. Mike MacPherson, principal planner for the city, says the main reason for the meeting is for safety, and not just so people can get a better night’s sleep.

“The primary focus in all this project is to improve safety and reduce exposure from trains to vehicles and pedestrians. The Federal Rail Administration, which governs railroads across the country, has a national focus and set of goals to reduce the number of at-grade crossings as they can.”

Several suggestions have been made regarding how to improve these intersections. Some, like closing or relocating a rail line, or silencing all train whistles, don’t appear feasible by either the City of Springfield or FRA.

Instead, the city, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway--which is the train company that runs through the area--and the Missouri Department of Transportation have done joint research on other options. To create a quiet zone in this neighborhood, some safety improvements would have to be made to the existing crossings: Walnut, Elm and Cherry Street Crossings would have to add a few safety measures like gates and a raised median. Weller, Delaware and Madison Street Crossings would have to be permanently closed.

“I think a very justifiable level of concern is when we make those closures, we want to know how that is going to impact traffic on the other streets that remain open and whether that overloads any of the other streets, or creates any unsafe situations.”

In the meeting, different parties will discuss these options with the public.  One resident in the neighborhood is Thomas Bieker. His house is about 50 yards from the train track.

“These trains come through multiple times during the day, but they try to avoid cutting off traffic on Glenstone a lot of times. They try to not schedule it at the busy times, which means these trains come through a lot of times in the middle of the night. So, three, four o’clock in the morning, midnight, is not uncommon to have these trains blaring their horns as they drive by.”

Some people, he says, may not have an issue with that. But as the new father of a 12-month-old, Bieker says a lot of sleep is lost in his household due to the noise.

Bieker also says that he supports the proposal to improve and close certain intersections. He thinks that the property value of many of the homes in the neighborhood would drastically increase because of these changes.

MacPherson says if the city ends up closing some of the intersections, different things can be done to make the closures look nice.

“Some of the things that we’ve talked about adding to it as we do these is some green spaces, including rain gardens and decorative pieces with shrubbery and landscaping at the closures, as opposed to just putting up a cement block out there.”

A project like this, according to MacPherson, is close to one million dollars to complete. The railway signals are very expensive, coming in at around $250,000 a piece.

“But the good news is is that MoDOT and BNSF Railway is picking up an excess of 80 percent of the funding of the project. The City’s exposure is less than $200,000.”

The meeting is Tuesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. in the Rountree Elementary School Library. Representatives from the City, MoDOT and BNSF Railway will be attending to hear concerns and answer questions.

For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.