Plaquemine Mayor pushing to implement railroad Quiet Zone

Andrew Green agreen@postsouth.com
An average of 23 trains per day roll through Plaquemine, according to a study with average decibel levels of 97.6.

Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves reopened plans to incorporate a “Quiet Zone” in city limits, something that late longtime Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta entertained several years ago but was put aside, according to Reeves.

Now that the state is asking for the closure of eight crossings in the area, Mayor Reeves is seeking to implement the “Quiet Zone” for the railroad redesign.

The QZ installation will require the closure of some train crossings and upgrades at others and is really about 1.5 years away from becoming a reality, according to city spokesperson Ellie Hebert.

An average of 23 trains pass through Plaquemine each day, according to a months-long study done in the city that blow horns at an average decibel level of 97.6.  According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) long or repeated exposure to sounds at or about 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.

“These levels exceed all of our set decibel levels in the city ordinances,” Reeves said.  “This is a major noise issue and a safety factor.”

“They want to close eight of our twelve crossings, and that’s unheard of,” Reeves said.  “It would be very difficult to get around.”  Ten of those crossings are within city limits while two are just outside, but still within Iberville Parish.  Reeves and his council asked the state to limit that number to four and help them implement a QZ in the city.

Four of the potential railroad crossing closures are at West St. (outside city limits) and Plaquemine St., Labauve Ave. and Desobry St.  West St. is one of the most dangerous crossings in the area, Reeves said.  The plan also includes the installation of warning lights and crossing arms at the remaining crossings.

The crossing closure plans also include the installation of one-ways on three major Plaquemine streets: Main St., Meriam St. and Fort St.

“It’s going to be a mindshift and an adjustment for the people if we do anything,” Reeves said, “but it’s very, very noisy.”

Reeves hopes to schedule a public hearing on this matter in June to give citizens the opportunity to voice their opinion on the change.

“The Quiet Zone is going to be lagniappe,” Plaquemine Public Works Director Richard Alleman said.  “There’s no guarantee we’ll get a Quiet Zone.”  The closing of the crossings will only assist the city’s argument in the installation of a Quiet Zone in city limits, Alleman said.  Alleman also assured that the closing will not change the current speed limit of about 20 miles per hour.

“This would be a total redesign for the railroad if this would happen,” Reeves added.  “The railroad is committed, the state is committed and we agreed to work with them.”

Reeves said the estimated cost for the proposed project would be about $1.5 million, and implementing one-ways would cut this cost in half.

“For the state it’s a safety issue, for us it’s the Quiet Zone,” Reeves said.  “I asked the railroad if we agreed to all of this if they would insure us a Quiet Zone and they said yes.”

There are currently only four Quiet Zones implemented across the state, two in West Monroe, one in Monroe and one in Jefferson Parish. According to Jeff DeGraff, spokesperson for Union Pacific Railroad, some communities will apply for a Quiet Zone after certain railroad safety measures are installed and that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will determine if the measures are significant enough to warrant a new Quiet Zone.

According to the FRA website, “locomotive engineers must begin to sound the horn at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.  If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within a quarter mile of the crossing, even if the advanced warning is less than 15 seconds.”  

The maximum volume level for the train horn is 110 decibels and the minimum level is 96, according to the FRA.

“I think it’s a worthwhile project if we can get it done,” Reeves added.  “I have a big push for redevelopment downtown and I think this would help tremendously because it’s so loud and nobody wants to be around that.”

There are still a lot of details to be worked out, but Reeves hopes the Quiet Zone and increased safety around the railroads will help in the city’s endeavor to bring new businesses into the area.