The Texas A&M System Board of Regents approved a $4.5 million budget for the construction of railroad quiet zones adjacent to the College Station campus at their regular meeting on Thursday, May 14.
The quiet zones will extend along 1.7 miles of the Union Pacific railroad and will incorporate the railroad at-grade crossings of George Bush Drive, John Kimbrough Boulevard, Old Main Drive and F & B Road, said project consultant and President of Mobility Planning and Engineering LLC Gary Schatz.
Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young said the railroad quiet zones are undeniably necessary for the improvement of the university.
“Everyone understands the need for [the quiet zones], so we very much appreciate the Board’s support,” Young said.
Construction for the quiet zones is expected to begin in June and last until August 2021, according to project officials.
“When the trains come to a railroad crossing, they sound their horns, and they start sounding those horns about a quarter of a mile in advance,” Schatz said. “That’s a huge sound footprint if you live nearby.”
In a quiet zone, a train’s horn is silenced, said project officials. To accommodate for this, the Federal Railroad Administration requires certain safety measurements to be in place at crossings. Associate Vice President of Transportation Services Peter Lange said plans are currently in process for a wayside horn at George Bush Drive and non-traversable raised concrete medians in the center of the road at F & B Road and John Kimbrough Boulevard.
“A wayside horn is a specific safety treatment, and it is a treatment that when installed, makes an intersection automatically compliant as a quiet zone. It’s a very focused cone of sound that comes right at the vehicles, and it’s really quite amazing how the sound is so concentrated at one location,” Lange said.
Because the sound is directed only at oncoming traffic, a wayside horn is considerably quieter than a train horn, said Lange. Texas A&M Transportation Services hosted a demonstration of a wayside horn’s capabilities at the intersection of Wellborn Road and George Bush Drive in February.
“Our strategy for the quiet zone is to look for something that is cost-effective to implement,” Schatz said.
According to project officials, efforts will also be made to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the quiet zones. Shared use paths for both pedestrians and cyclists will be built along F & B Road and George Bush Drive, with several improvements to be made at the pedestrian crossing at George Bush Drive. Local residents are encouraged to use the underpass at John Kimbrough Boulevard.
“The project is actually going to take out all of the pedestrian signals, the push buttons, the crosswalks, the sidewalks that lead people to cross the tracks at-grade, and we’re going to channelize everybody to the underpass,” said Schatz.
Complaints over train noise prompted Texas A&M Transportation Services to submit a Notice of Intent letter of the quiet zone project to the Federal Railroad Administration in October 2019. Many complaints have come from guests of the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center on campus, according to College Station Mayor Karl Mooney.
“[The quiet zones] have become necessary simply because of the buildup of the area,” said Mooney.
The train horns also create some difficulty for students and faculty in class, especially to those in the newly constructed 21st Century classroom building, said Young.
“We have had, historically, a lot of disturbance, most of which has been tolerable, but with these new buildings there, [the trains are] going to be much much more disrupting, and we’re trying to provide the best education we can,” Young said. “...Reducing that disruption in a major teaching building seems to make sense. For both safety reasons and educational reasons, it just seemed like a very good thing to do when the time was right.”
Project officials advise students to continue practicing railroad safety and to stay informed about the project during the transition.
“Keeping our students safe is an exceptionally high priority,” Young said. “We appreciate everyone working together with us to that end.”