Uncertainty Over Rail Projects Keeps Train Horns Blowing in Downtown Raleigh


Although not well publicized, the city has received a full report regarding the issues associated with creating a rail quiet zone for downtown Raleigh.  While the DLA was briefed that the city was commissioning a feasibility study late last year, we were only able to get our hands on the report a few weeks ago.  This is what we’ve learned . . .



First, here’s the background.

It was way back in June 2009 that the DLA first got involved in advocating with the city of Raleigh to take steps to mitigate train horn noise in downtown Raleigh.  We talked with residents who lived adjacent to the many crossings that require train operators to blow their horns all hours of the day and night.  We met with the city’s Budget & Economic Development Committee in October that year to promote the use of wayside horns to reduce sound levels, and for working with the various government agencies and rail companies to create a a “quiet zone” through the downtown area.  We believe that the DLA’s early involvement likely contributed to the city’s request for the quiet zone feasibility study.

With the prospect of high speed rail, the conversation shifted.

It wasn’t long before all talk of spending money to reduce noise at crossings came to a halt as the high speed rail (SEHSR project) became the focus of conversation.  The easy answer to the issue of train noise disturbance appeared to be a matter of waiting for the quiet afforded by new tracks and grade separated crossings.

We all remember the sometimes heated debate that went on for over a year at public meetings regarding the high speed train route through downtown, and plans for a new regional transit system that included new downtown routes for commuter and light rail projects.

Though there is uncertainty about the future of high speed rail, the answer is still to wait.

Fast forward now to the new Quiet Zone Feasibility Assessment.  It’s several years later, but the uncertainly about the “when” or “if” of the interstate and regional rail projects has never been greater.  Not surprisingly, the report recommends the city “should strongly consider delaying implementation (of a quiet zone) until the timing and certainty of SEHSR implementation is determined”.

DTR Quiet Zone Feasibility Assessment  Existing copy

click to enlarge

The report does offer some interesting information and recommendations on how each of the seven at grade crossings would be treated to eliminate the use of train horns within a downtown quiet zone.  Each of these crossings currently use 2-quadrant gates that require train operators to sound their horns as they approach.  The options to quiet the crossings include the use of 4-quadrant gates, creating a grade separated crossing, or to simply close the street.  Click on the thumbnail image to see an enlarged map showing the location of each of the downtown crossings.

Harrington Street (8 daily trains)

The Harrington Street crossing is located between North and Lane Streets, running directly adjacent to the West at North condo building.  The study recommends the use of a 4-quadrant gate that prevents vehicles and pedestrians from entering the crossing.  However, the DLA has information included in a Triangle Transit presentation from May 2011 that states that this section of Harrington Street (at Lane Street) may need to close to traffic to accommodate a future light rail station.  The possibility of extending Lane Street from Harrington Street to West Street is identified as a means to mitigate traffic problems.

West Street (8 daily trains)

The West Street crossing is located just a few hundred yards south of the Harrington Street crossing, between North and Jones Street.  The report recommends the use of a 4-quadrant gate, but also notes that due to the skew in the tracks the gates could require the closure of the current entrance to the adjacent automotive business that may require the property to be condemned.

Jones Street (12 daily trains)

The Jones Street crossing is located between Glenwood Avenue and West Street, and directly adjacent to the 222 Glenwood condo building along with many popular Glenwood South restaurants.  The SEHSR route would require this crossing to be closed to vehicle traffic, with the acknowledged need to install a bridge for pedestrians to cross the tracks at this active intersection.  Traffic would be diverted to the grade separated crossing at North Street or Hillsborough Street.

Hargett Street (10 daily trains)

Hargett Street has two crossings, one for CSX trains and the other for the Norfolk Southern.  The crossings are both located within the Boylan Wye, between Boylan Avenue and West Street.  As with the Jones Street crossing, the SEHSR route would require this section of Hargett Street be closed to vehicle traffic, and likewise, the use of a bridge to provide a pedestrian connection to West Street and to the new Union Station.  Traffic would be diverted to nearby grade separated crossings at Morgan Street.

Martin Street (4 daily trains)

There is no public street at the Martin Street crossing, which is surrounded by industrial lots, and property owned by Triangle Transit.  Only a low volume of cars cross the tracks to access a parking lot on the west side of the future site of Union Station.  As part of the Union Station design plans, this crossing will be grade separated.

Cabarrus Street (15 daily trains)

The Cabarrus Street crossing is located between Harrington and Dawson Street.  The report recommends the use of a 4-quadrant gate.  However, plans for Union Station which call for the relocation of the nearby Amtrak Station and the extension of West Street could significantly reduce traffic at this intersection.  The report therefore includes an option to use less expensive wayside horns at this crossing, thereby placing it outside the downtown quiet zone area.

What’s next?  

In the early days of the SEHSR project a time frame of 2015 was talked about for the start of high speed trains traveling through the city, rushing between Washington DC and Charlotte.  Today the time frame as noted in the report is “indefinite”.  Along with the lack of any real progress on the Regional Transit System, the uncertainly will continue to push back the day when trains no longer blast their horns through downtown.

We commend the city for doing the study, acknowledging that the day will come when passenger trains bring needed public transit options to our city, and we will see but no longer hear the freight trains.

But the DLA is curious.  Many of us live downtown and have learned to accommodate noise that at one time disturbed our sleep.  Is the train noise like distant sirens that wake visitors, yet pass beneath our consciousness, having become used to the routine?  We acknowledge that living in a city is sometimes a process of learning to live in close proximity with others, for the good and sometimes for the challenging!

Let us know what you think.  Is this still the issue it was in 2009?  Or have you blended into the rhythms of the city, willing to wait for what the future brings?


  1. I would like to see the issue pushed further. If I read correctly the quiet zone was delayed until high speed. Is it possible to have an interim period from now on. And when high speed comes they reevaluate the zones. I am comfortable with the noise and have grown to ignore however the noise may deter future residents and ill skip the talk on how important it is to get more residents downtown.

  2. My condo community is the only one noted near the Cabarrus Street crossing – and there is not much residential development between it and the RR crossing – and the trains have never really bothered me. They do just sort of become background noise that you rarely notice.

  3. Just learned that the State of Colorado is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to make it easier for communities to implement quiet zones. Here is the link to the article. http://1.usa.gov/19g70QD

  4. I’m sure you’ll delete this comment, but you guys need to get over yourselves and stop trying to waste taxpayer money!

    The trains have been in downtown longer than any of you. You want to live in a city, then embrace ALL that comes with city living, including noise. You’re making a laughing stock of Raleigh with your whining.

    PS – I live less then a quarter mile from train tracks myself.

  5. So you move downtown and are surprised that there are trains and not only trains but streets crossing train tracks. I get that now Raleigh should start to consider this but back in (what?) 2009 when West at North opened and WRAL ran a story about some person complaining about the noise? Seriously? How detached from urban living were you people. I repeat, I get that now this is something to consider as there are more and more projects being built downtown around these rail routes. But, still..

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