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What's wrong with this picture?

September 27, 2009

Editor's note: Each Monday, The Herald-Mail will highlight an infrastructure issue or other problem, and will try to find out what is being done to fix or improve the situation.

We will not tackle situations involving neighborhood or domestic disputes or consumer problems.

The problem: Signs on either side of the railroad crossing on Northern Avenue in Hagerstown say "no train horn," the signage used in railroad "quiet zones," but nearby resident Wilson Shearer said it seems every train that passes the crossing uses its horn, sometimes waking him up in the middle of the night.

"I imagine there are others who live in closer proximity than I who are also awakened and aggravated," Shearer wrote in an e-mail, noting that Coffman Nursing Home and the Western Maryland Hospital Center are within about 500 yards of the crossing.

Who could fix it: The tracks at the crossing are owned by CSX, but the City of Hagerstown put up the "no train horn" signs, Assistant City Engineer James Bender said.

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The Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for enforcing quiet zones, and can take action if a railroad or a particular engineer is repeatedly and unnecessarily sounding the horn in an established quiet zone, according to a fact sheet on the FRA Web site.

What they say: Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Rob Kulat confirmed the Northern Avenue crossing is an FRA-approved quiet zone, which means train horns are not supposed to be routinely sounded in advance of at-grade crossings.

However, CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the quiet zone at that crossing was not on the railroad company's records.

After The Herald-Mail contacted CSX about the issue, the company contacted the City of Hagerstown to sort things out.

"We had a long discussion because there really seems to be a disconnect," Bender said.

Bender said he planned to update the city's information on all of its quiet-zone crossings and their FRA-approved status, and send it out to railroads and other agencies to try to get everyone on the same page.

Sullivan said once CSX received that confirmation, the company would update its directive to train engineers.

"If indeed there is something that shows that it's in the quiet zone, we will do what needs to be done to comply," he said.

Even then, train horns might still be heard from time to time, Sullivan said.

Engineers have no legal duty to sound the horn in quiet zones, but do have discretion to do so during emergency situations, such as the presence of a vehicle or person on the track, according to the FRA.

-- Compiled by Heather Keels

If you are aware of a safety problem, a major annoyance or a pet peeve that one of our governmental bodies, an agency or an organization is responsible for fixing, send the information, and a photo if you have it, to:

What's Wrong With This Picture

c/o The Herald-Mail newsroom

100 Summit Ave.

Hagerstown MD 21740

You can e-mail the information to lindad@herald-mail.com.

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