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Residents angry with train noise in Martinsburg

December 11, 2004|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Boyd Avenue looks like a quintessential American street, with a strip of trees running down the middle of the road and stately homes with neat lawns and large front porches.

There's a problem rumbling nearby, though.

Train engines that shuttle commuters to Washington, D.C., in the mornings and back to the Eastern Panhandle in the evenings are idling overnight at a layover facility behind a portion of Boyd Avenue, a couple of blocks west of Queen Street.

Since the layover facility - a former train station renovated by CSX - opened in the summer, Virginia Pledger has found life at night to be more and more difficult.

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At first, she slept at a friend's house. Then, she decided to stay home and document what she heard.

Now, she needs a prescription just to be able to sleep.

Pledger and other Boyd Avenue residents have become regulars at Martinsburg City Council meetings, with four voicing their frustrations during Thursday night's meeting.

On Friday, Pledger described the noise as comparable to that coming from a teenager's car with the stereo turned up.

"There's a beat to it, so to speak," Pledger said of the noise caused by the idling trains. "It's throbbing away. It's mainly a loud, deep sound to me."

Earlier this summer, officials with the Federal Railroad Administration ordered a noise study to be done around the layover facility. The conclusion reached was that noise levels were too high, City Manager Mark Baldwin said.

CSX and MARC officials agreed to use only auxiliary power units from 11 p.m. until 3 or 4 a.m., which was supposed to reduce noise levels, Baldwin said.

Pledger said the noise never ceased and is, if anything, worse.

A second noise study was finished in November, but the results are not in yet, Baldwin said.

Pledger, 69, moved to Boyd Avenue from Annapolis seven years ago after she retired.

She thought she bought a house on a quiet street that would enable her to paint and have a garden.

"Well, now I can't garden very well unless I want this din knocking me in the ears," she said.

Her house also shakes.

"When I touch the windows, I can feel them shivering," she said.

Lately, the highest noise levels start around 6:45 p.m. and continue until about 6:30 a.m., with as many any six engines idling, she said.

Claudia Bentley, the city's attorney, said federal law governs train noise and, for that reason, CSX has claimed it is exempt from the city's noise ordinance.

The city now is trying to determine all of the facts, including what the appropriate noise levels are and whether they are in or out of federal parameters, Bentley said.

James Koliopulos, one of Pledger's neighbors, agreed that the noise seems to have gotten worse.

Plus, he added, he sees a cloud of blue smoke in the air when he walks his dog at 5:30 a.m.

Plaster falling off of his walls seems to have no other cause than the low rumbling.

"Who do I send my bill to?" Koliopulos asked city officials.

Although Boyd Avenue resident Charles Connolly lives farther away from the layover facility than others, he, too, hears noise, he said.

"We can sleep with no trouble, but it's an annoying sound," he said.

Connolly said the noise is ongoing, but seems to peak between 4 or 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.

He gave City Council members a letter about the matter.

"As an owner and operator of a printing business in downtown Martinsburg for 23 years, I understand the need for and appreciate the benefits of business investment in our fast-growing and dynamic area; however, it is necessary for our local companies to be 'good citizens,'" Connolly wrote in part of the letter. "We don't allow chemical pollution of our air or water and we must not allow noise pollution either."

Connolly said the noise is threatening to destroy a street that was not always such a pleasant place to live.

"People have been trying to upgrade the neighborhood and this could drag it down," he said.

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