A new horn system promises to reduce train noise along the Hartford line, but those who live and work along the line remain skeptical.
The state Department of Transportation announced Thursday that the state is the first in New England to utilize automated horn systems known as wayside horns. These are installed along at-grade railroad crossings to help lessen noise.
The horns were put in place Monday at the Cooper Street crossing, located between Cherry Street and S. Colony Street in Meriden.
In the coming weeks, wayside horns will be installed at the Pent Highway railroad crossing, located between N. Plains Industrial Road and North Colony Road in Wallingford. The DOT plans to continue the installation of wayside horns for at-grade crossings along the Hartford Line.
Any improvement in the noise would be welcome for those who live or work near the trains.
“My two concerns are the gate controls and whistles,” said Wallingford Town Councilor John LeTourneau, who operates a lighting shop on Center Street. “The whistle starts in North Haven and ends in Meriden.”
LeTourneau has said residents have complained about both issues, and the whistle has become more annoying since commuter rail service jumped from six trains a day to 17 with the addition of the Hartford Line commuter rail service. The new service began in May.
“It was worse in the summer,” LeTourneau said. “It was really annoying. They were not installed when (DOT) said they would. But that’s the way this project moves along.”
At the Coooper Street crossing in Meriden, the wayside horn has only exacerbated the noise problem, according to Walter Paluszewski, owner of Czapiga’s kielbasa market.
Paluszewski also owns a multifamily home next to his business. The home and meat store are within close proximity to the crossing.
He frequently hears from parents who live in the multifamily home, especially after the new horns were installed Monday.
“The horns blow two or three times when they blow on the train,” Paluszewski said. “But the ones on the poles (wayside horns) blow eight to 14 times. According to the state, they minimized the noise, but it’s still an outrageous amount of time that horn is blowing.”
Wayside horns are designed to limit loud warning sounds to a 250-foot perimeter. Outside the 250-foot perimeter, the noise produced by the horns is reduced. The horns take the place of train-mounted horns, which can be heard at distances as far as a half-mile from a rail crossing.
A 2012 environmental assessment prepared for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project required noise associated with the increased rail service to be mitigated near “sensitive noise receptors” such as residential neighborhoods, educational institutions and recreational areas, according to the DOT.
Paluszewski’s tenants live less than 100 feet from the gated crossing. Other homes in the neighborhood are also within 250 feet.
“Cooper Street is particularly challenging because of the close proximity and position of houses near the crossing,” DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said in an e-mail. “We are working with Amtrak to make adjustments to the speakers at the crossing to limit any inadvertent nuisance noise to neighbors.”
LeTourneau also expressed concerns about traffic backing up because the gates remain lowered long after the train has left.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” LeTourneau said. “I hear residents complaining about both issues.”
Everhart said it’s possible residents are unaware that one train is approaching from the opposite direction as they watch another one depart, resulting in the gate staying down.
“If crossings malfunction for any reason, Amtrak maintenance is dispatched immediately to restore it to normal service,” he said.
Everhart reminded motorists not to attempt to go around gates that are down at crossings.
LeTourneau said he’ll continue to monitor concerns about the rail project, including construction cleanup on Toelles Road, set to begin in spring.
“It’s a project I am extremely interested in,” LeTourneau said.