by John Aguilar, The Denver Post, via Tribune News Service
The long-awaited tranquility sought by the thousands of people living in the shadow of the University of Colorado A-Line has come with more than a few unwanted bells and whistles.
Since quiet zones were established along the 23-mile corridor connecting Union Station to the airport on March 1, neighbors in Stapleton and Park Hill have been subject to thousands of horn blasts from passing trains. That despite a much-ballyhooed announcement earlier this year by officials from the Regional Transportation District and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock that the cacophony was finally coming to an end.
“They have turned my home into something that is not peaceful — that is not enjoyable to return to,” said Jill Christensen, who has lived in Park Hill Village for nearly three years and whose house is just a few hundred feet away from the A-Line’s Dahlia Street crossing. “At the end of the day, they have me hostage — they have all of us hostage.”
It’s been made worse by the fact that residents were told the horns would largely cease at the beginning of March, only to have them resume at a frequency akin to what railroad regulations mandated before the quiet zones went into effect.
Federal law requires that commuter rail trains sound their horns at at-grade crossings unless those crossings have been granted quiet zone status. RTD’s efforts to silence its A-Line trains were held up for years as the agency struggled to adjust the timing of its safety gates at the 11 crossings along the corridor to regulators’ satisfaction.
“When they said they were stopping the horns, it was like a stress release,” said Robert Leisz, a small business owner whose Stapleton home is less than a mile from the Havana Street crossing.
But within just a day or two of quiet zones being established, Leisz said he heard the horns blaring again as trains rolled over Havana Street. They sounded as early as 4:30 a.m. and late into the night, with few breaks in between, he said.
“Everyone’s just as angry as I am,” Leisz said of his neighbors, who started a robust conversation this week on Nextdoor about the noise and their frustration with RTD.
Pauletta Tonilas, an RTD spokeswoman, said she understands the angst of residents living along the A-Line tracks who have spent the nearly three years since the line first opened in April 2016 putting up with horn noise 21 hours a day.
But the horns went silent again at Dahlia Street on Thursday, after a primary communications trunk, or conduit, that had been mistakenly severed by a contractor laying a giant water pipe for the Platte to Park Hill stormwater drainage projectwas reconnected.
The conduit controlled the crossing gates and lights at Dahlia Street and with it out of commission, RTD had to put back in place human flaggers and order trains to sound their horns as a safety backstop. Tonilas admitted it was extremely bad timing given the start of quiet zones just days earlier.
“On any given day, anything can happen that we can’t anticipate,” she said. “These things are dynamic.”
RTD acknowledged that there has been frequent horn-blowing at Havana Street over the last month as well. While the agency couldn’t provide a detailed breakdown of the causes of those horn blasts, RTD spokeswoman Laurie Huff said the activations were due to a variety of factors both seen and unseen.
Typically, she said, train operators are directed to blow their horns in a quiet zone if safety is at stake. That can include crossing gate timing issues; workers, pedestrians or vehicles that are on or near the tracks; a sudden emergency; or a train that loses the signal linking it to positive train control, a federally mandated guidance technology that helps prevent derailments and other railroad disasters.
A more accurate moniker for a quiet zone, Huff said, is “an almost quiet zone.”
Christensen said she wished RTD had done a better job of communicating with neighbors about the reason for all the noise near her neighborhood over the past several weeks. The fact that she doesn’t know when the train horns might once again go quiet was the worst part.
“Now that the train horns are back they’ve said nothing to us as to why,” she said.
Meanwhile, the metro area’s transit agency is moving forward with plans to open the long-delayed G-Line, with commuter rail service from downtown Denver to Arvada and Wheat Ridge, on April 26. The 16 crossings on the G-Line will be designated quiet zones on Opening Day.
This story has been updated to reflect the resumption of the quiet zone at Dahlia on Thursday.