WALLINGFORD — Train noise is an impediment to bringing mixed residential-commercial development to downtown, say advocates who are hoping to bring the issue to the attention of town officials.
At a town Economic Development Commission meeting Monday evening, members discussed complaints from residents and businesses near the downtown railroad tracks about loud train horn blasts at grade crossings.
Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development coordinator, said Thursday that the complaints are anecdotal, meaning no formal record of a complaint was made to the EDC office.
Ryan did say that at Monday’s meeting, one commissioner said that he’s “friendly with a number of people at Parker Place and (noise) is the biggest complaint that they have.”
The Parker Place apartment complex, 53 Parker St., has 313 studio and one-bedroom units and borders the railroad tracks. It is touted as a transit-oriented development project since it’s across the street from the North Cherry Street train station.
There’s more than anecdotal evidence that loud train horns are having an adverse effect on bringing mixed-use developers to town.
“I had a developer, who I cannot disclose the name of,” Ryan said, “who was looking at some downtown property but then pulled away … This particular developer said, ‘I’m not going to build residential this close, because these train noises are way to loud.’”
Ryan and Mark Gingras, the EDC vice chair, attended the Wallingford Center Inc. board of directors meeting Wednesday hoping to get the group on board with approaching Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and town administrators together about the issue.
Kathy Lilley, WCI executive director, said that the WCI board agreed Wednesday to co-sign a letter to the mayor with concerns about the horn frequency and volume, stating that it’s a problem with economic development downtown and along the railroad tracks.
Gingras, who ran Monday’s EDC meeting, said Thursday that the goal of transit-oriented development is to make it more enjoyable for people to live near the train station.
“We thought it was counter-intuitive to have a transit zone,” he said, “where we’re trying to get people to live near the railroad and then be able to take the train to their work or (for) pleasure, and not live
The North Cherry Street train station, which opened in 2017, was the first new station to open as part of the state Department of Transportation’s CTrail Hartford Line, which brought more frequent trains to Wallingford.
The train horn timing, sounding patterns and decibel volume is mandated by Federal Railroad Administration regulations, which do provide for local “quiet zones.”
Wallingford has seven grade crossings, and historically has seen more deaths at these railroad crossings involving motorists or pedestrians on the tracks statewide.
“Obviously the horns are important from a safety standpoint,” Gingras said, “but we’re not sure they need to be blasted as long as the are, or as loud as they are.
“If that’s an impediment, it’s really a deterrent to having a transit (development) zone to begin with,” he added.
There wasn’t decibel level information immediately available at the EDC meeting, but the commissioners hope to have the information when they contact Amtrak and the state DOT.
John Bernick, DOT assistant rail administrator, said Thursday that noise mitigation is ongoing and has been a slow process, but one the DOT “continues to be committed to.”
The state has made train noise mitigation efforts in Wallingford and Meriden with federally-funded wayside horn systems.
The systems have directional speaker placed at crossings to mimic the sound of the train horn to warn motorists and pedestrians of oncoming trains, instead of having the train conductor sound the horn further away from the grade crossing.
“In Wallingford and in Meriden, with the number of grade crossings that we have there, it’s almost a continuous sounding,” Bernick said.
Pilot wayside horn systems have been installed at grade crossings at Pent Highway in Wallingford and Cooper Street in Meriden, which the DOT temporarily shut off in 2019 after residents complained that the noise was worse than the train horns.
System hardware is being installed at other locations along the Meriden-Wallingford portion of the line, Bernick said.
“What’s slowing down the process is that all of this is heavily regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, and we need their approval to continue adding locations for the wayside horn system.”