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Douglas County’s railroad quiet zone slows to stop

By Elizabeth Wood West

Four years ago, Castle Pines Village residents submitted a petition to Douglas County asking for help to reduce the daily, loud, conversation-stopping train horn noise from trains traveling along U.S. Highway 85. Federal law requires train engineers to sound their horns at all crossings for public safety.

In response, Douglas County Engineering Project Manager Sean Owens and county staff developed a railroad quiet zone that would mitigate train horn noise at two public and five private at-grade crossings along a two-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 85.

Owens and staff made significant progress on the quiet zone with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Union Pacific (UP), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Owens said, “The County gained approval from the PUC to turn the Atrium Drive crossing from a private crossing to a public crossing, including adding a wayside horn on each approach as a one-to-one replacement for the locomotive horn, in accordance with the requirements for quiet zone compliance.” 

According to Owens, The County has also gained approval from the PUC to add two additional gates at the Highway 67 crossing in Sedalia to make this crossing quiet zone-compliant.  The County has submitted the Notice of Intent (NOI) to create the quiet zone to all parties for review and comment; no significant comments or requests for changes were received.

“The County has bid the construction of the wayside horn at Atrium Drive; we have a contract with the low bidder to install the wayside horn as soon as the agreements with the UP are completed for the Atrium Drive crossing.  The County has also obtained the permit from CDOT to install all quiet zone related warning signs within CDOT’s right-of-way.  This work should be complete over the next couple of months,” said Owens.

With only a few final steps remaining, however, the quiet zone project recently came to a stop. Owens explained, “UP has not given us the agreements we need to move forward.  Arvada is fighting the same fight with UP and may end up in court.  UP is trying to get a blank check for maintenance in quiet zones from the County and Arvada because they claim they are quality of life projects and not something they should have to increase their maintenance cost for.”

Owens continued, “Thankfully, BNSF does not share this same philosophy.  It would take a change of state law for the County to sign a multi-year maintenance agreement without a set cost, so it should be interesting to see where this goes. So for now, we are still in the holding pattern,” he said. For further information, contact Sean P. Owens at 303-660-7328.

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