Things are quieter in Gillette these days around the tracks, and people can’t be happier.
The massive trains that frequently pass through Gillette at all times of the day and night now can no longer blow their horns except in certain circumstances.
“Oh yes, it has made a difference,” said Dallas Oller, who lives right across from the tracks in the Antelope RV and Mobile Home Park off Garner Lake Road.
Oller, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, said he was out having a cup of coffee Saturday morning and saw a train pass without blowing a horn once.
“You hardly even hear them,” he said. “And they come by here all the time.”
Before, Oller said in the middle of the night or in the afternoon, the sound of the horns was deafening, even though he said he had grown used to it.
“You’d be watching TV and in the middle of an important part, they’d blow their horns,” Oller said.
The city’s quiet zone went into effect Thursday, six years after the efforts had started to make the quiet zone a reality. The city started to work on improvements three years ago.
“We’re quiet now,” said Dustin Hamilton, city engineering director. “We’re just extremely excited that we’re able to get the project wrapped up now and hope that everyone will enjoy the benefits.”
The holdup was due, in large part, to the lengthy bureaucratic process involved with working with the BNSF and the Federal Railroad Administration.
Last summer, the city thought that it had completed all of the requirements needed to get a quiet zone established, but BNSF wasn’t quite satisfied. It wanted a constant warning system for the Burma Avenue crossing. It also wanted to make Brooks Avenue safer by adding medians on both sides of the crossing and removing two crossing arms.
Those final improvements were wrapped up this construction season. After the long wait, the city finally got the OK for the quiet zone to move forward.
“They were very noisy before,” said Jackie Woods, who lives off Foothills Circle. “Even sitting on my porch now, I don’t hear them as much.”
The improvements at the city’s four crossings helped guarantee that each would be safe enough for people without the warning of a train’s horn.
Federal regulations require that trains blow their horns before each crossing, even if there are gates and lights already in place. The citywide quiet zone rule takes away this requirement by beefing up the safety at each crossing.
Special provisions were added such as constant warning systems, which measure the pace of the train and judge the dropping of the arms based upon that speed.
The medians also are required because it keeps drivers from crossing over to the other side of the road to beat the train if the arms have already dropped. Taking out an arm on either side of the crossing also is necessary so that a vehicle doesn’t get trapped on the tracks, explained city officials.
The citywide quiet zone will span from Garner Lake Road to Foothills Boulevard and includes four crossings: Garner Lake Road, Brooks Avenue, Burma Avenue and Foothills Boulevard.
The only crossing not covered by the quiet zone is the Potter Avenue crossing on the east end of Gillette.
Trains still will be required to sound their horns before coming to that crossing, but Hamilton is optimistic that in three to five years, the city will be able to get that crossing up-to-date enough to join the other crossings as being quiet.
In doing that, the city hopes to get some newly available state money that is allocated toward projects like quiet zones. The city had to pay for most of the other improvements out of pocket, which cost it $769,119, Hamilton said.
But while it is quieter in Gillette, that doesn’t mean you’ll never hear a train’s whistle.
All the quiet zone rules are pushed aside in an emergency. Also, trains that are stopping and starting or those that switch within the train yard still are required to blow their horns.
“Sometimes you’ll hear a horn,” said Jorge Chavez, who lives in Antelope Park. “But it’s only been a couple of times. It’s been very good.”