FOLLOWUP: Terminal 5 ‘quiet zone’ not expected to be ready before next year

With windows open on warm summer nights, more people are noticing train horns. Several recent reader notes led us to check on the status of the “quiet zone” that’s part of the Terminal 5 modernization project – and while we were working on it, a mini-briefing turned up as part of a T-5 update at the District 1 Community Network‘s July meeting (WSB coverage here). The “quiet zone” is a package of crossing-safety improvements aimed at making it less likely that train operators will have to sound their horns at crossings along a six-tenths-of-a-mile stretch of track between T-5 and Riverside Mill.

The port’s project manager Curtis Stahlecker talked about it at D1CN’s meeting last week, and brought the rendering shown above. The track will have fencing on both sides, and two of the five current crossings in the “quiet zone” will be permanently closed, he said. Changes to the three remaining crossings include that #1 will be gated, and only pedestrians will be allowed to cross it; #5 will be a private, one-way-only crossing. Stahlecker was careful to remind everyone that train horns won’t be prohibited in the “quiet zone”; it’s hoped the changes will render them unnecessary, but if operators think they need to sund horns, they will still be able to.

Now the question is – how soon will the “quiet zone” be ready? At one point, it was expected to be ready before T-5’s first berth opened. That didn’t happen. Then back in February, SDOT told the West Seattle Transportation Coalition that the project would start after the West Seattle Bridge reopened. Just a few months before that, a port contingent had told HPAC it was expected to be ready in early 2023. But now it’s looking like construction will have barely begun by then, according to SDOT spokesperson Mariam Ali‘s reply when we asked for a status report (SDOT is responsible for getting the “quiet zone” built):

The project is currently at 95 percent design and expected to reach 100 percent this summer. The project team is finalizing design comments related to the rail crossing, which requires communication and approval from partner agencies, including the Port and BNSF. The project is estimated to advertise early this fall and issue notice to proceed for construction before the end of the year.

One more important reminder, the “quiet zone” won’t address all local train noise – it’s aimed at Terminal 5 rail traffic; trains you hear in our area may also be serving other facilities, such as industrial businesses along the Duwamish River. But this is the most progress that has been made in efforts related to reducing train noise, which date back many years (we first wrote about one community effort in 2008).

17 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Terminal 5 'quiet zone' not expected to be ready before next year"

  • Flo B July 11, 2022 (5:17 pm)

    Are there any federal laws dictating when, where and how long trains must sound their horns?? 

  • Robin July 11, 2022 (7:04 pm)

    Does anyone know why they have to use their train horn full blast? These things are loud and designed for instances when the train is going full speed. Would a normal (car horn like) do the trick? Just curious.

    • Apperson July 11, 2022 (7:52 pm)

      Trains horns are loud for the simple fact that no matter what speed a train is going, someone is always going to try to beat the train to a crossing. The loud horn is Intended to warn, and initiate a fear factor in whoever might try to do so; it’s also designed to be easily identifiable as a train horn. As someone with lots of experience with and knowledge of the railroad industry, I can confidently say that a car horn sound at low volume without completely preventing drive-arounds, would be insufficient, and possibly cause deadly confusion. Even at total control crossings in true quiet zones (the kind you can’t drive around the gates), there are often still pedestrian-audible speaker horns mounted on posts, that make an identifiable facsimile of a train horn, albeit directed very specifically towards pedestrians and at somewhat reduced volume. Train operators can choose to shorten the duration of blasts, but they’re also required by federal law to blow a long – long -short – long pattern at grade crossings.

      • Jay July 12, 2022 (11:17 am)

        This thinking is outdated by like a century. We have electric and data throughout the city and can have all sorts of signage, warnings, and localized sounds. If it needs to be ear-splitting and as loud as it is where the train crosses, directional speakers could localize that sound. We don’t need 19th century solutions to 21st century problems, especially when they are extremely disruptive to humans and animals.

  • Too loud July 11, 2022 (8:49 pm)

    Thank you for the follow-up. The volume of the train horns is excessive and can be heard 1+ miles away. At that volume, if it were any other vehicle or person making that loud of a sound, they would be cited for a noise violation. I can’t imagine how many collective hours of sleep have been lost for such a blatant and unnecessary show of ignorance.

  • Look Both Ways July 11, 2022 (9:31 pm)

    Thank you for covering this, WSB. Many in the N. Delridge area have been wondering why the proliferation has continued, and worsened. This really does need addressing and modernization for so much of the affected community.

  • AD July 12, 2022 (4:51 am)

    It’s 4:40am and you would think the train operator/engineer was in distress or having a health crisis. No consistency, just long repeated horn blasts over and over and over. So loud!!!!!!!!!

    • Jay July 12, 2022 (11:18 am)

      Yeah, I notice they almost never follow the pattern they’re supposed to use. The blasts are too long and there are too many.

  • RW July 12, 2022 (6:59 am)

    Personally I love the sound of the train horns drifting through the night. Very easy for me to fall asleep listening. Reminds me of American industrial might. Plus the horn helps cover the sound of gunshots which are a much worse problem than the sound of capitalism at work.

    • M July 12, 2022 (11:14 am)

      I hear horns from pretty far away.  It is kind of nice when it’s quiet in the middle of the night!

  • seth July 12, 2022 (12:21 pm)

    Im pretty sure this has been the cause of a lot of my health problems since moving to west seattle.  I live pretty close there and can easily hear the train through my bedroom.  As a light sleeper I noticed since moving here I awaken atleast twice in the middle of the night each night now.  I have tried headphones and earplugs to no avail.  Please fix this asap!

    • Bronson July 12, 2022 (1:07 pm)

      I’m with you Seth. We have been here on Pigeon Point since 2015 and never had the volume and frequency of trains as we do now. As Jay mentioned, the engineers rarely follow the pattern that they are supposed to, and strangely enough, it seems to be more so at night. Since T5 opened, I have been consistently awoken in the morning exhausted. So I must be waking up all night long. The Port has been a really poor neighbor in regards to this and SDOT taking their sweet time once again in regards to a West Seattle effort is inexcusable. 

  • KBear July 12, 2022 (9:13 pm)

    “Pigeon Point since 2015”—welcome to the neighborhood! The trains were here long before you, and those horns are the sound of someone not dying at a grade crossing. They are exactly loud enough to keep people safe. Also, trains operate according to national standards, so there isn’t going to be some kind of unique techno-fix for West Seattle NIMBYs who can’t stand the noise coming from the very edge of the peninsula. 

    • Look Both Ways July 12, 2022 (9:30 pm)

      Those horns are loud enough to keep people safe all the way down to Burien. Plenty of nationwide metros have implemented improved crossing technology. Not doing so here would, in fact, be the NIMBY move. Let’s evolve instead of sitting on dated norms.

    • Bronson July 13, 2022 (7:14 am)

      That’s 7 years KBear. Not some minor passage of time and was used to illustrate the change since T5 has come into operation. While the trains have always been here, I clearly called out the increase in frequency, volume, and inappropriate usage (per regulation) of the horns; contrary to what you stated. As Look Both Ways stated, the volume of the horns is so loud that everyone in West Seattle and probably Beacon Hill can hear these horns. That’s unnecessary. I don’t believe an attitude of “well, that is the way it has always been” serves anyone, much less society at large. All of this said to acknowledge that a quiet zone is in progress. The issue is the slowness of which SDOT has operated (per usual) and allowing T5 to open prior to inputting noise mitigation. But don’t worry KBear, my house will be taken by the light rail, since god forbid we force the Port to do the right thing, so I won’t be around to “NIMBY” much longer. 

  • HELP July 13, 2022 (10:12 pm)

    Can’t stand it. Please help. We’re exhausted. 

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