After years of planning and development, construction finally begun on Fairfield's Quiet Zone Monday.
Seven crossings along the railroad tracks will soon have a two-foot wide, nine-inch tall median that will prevent cars from driving around the gate when a train is approaching. The median will begin at the gate and approach around 100 feet back into the intersection.
The public has been aware of the developing plan over the years, and feedback has been largely supportive. Now that construction is underway and physical progress is being made, residents are especially positive about the coming changes.
"The ongoing dialogue is there, there are some residents and businesses that are near the tracks that will be affected in some ways," said Michael Halley, Fairfield City Council member and one of the leaders of the Quiet Zone project. "Maybe their parking situation will be affected. I like to think it's a small price to pay for having the quiet trains and I think once we have it, they'll agree."
The biggest concern over the Quiet Zone has been safely. However, Halley said towns with established Quiet Zones are statistically safer than those without them. The main reason being that drivers tend to use the train's horn to decide whether or not they have time to cross the tracks, which leads to a lot of accidents.
"Ironically, one of the major reasons that people tend to do that is when they hear the horn coming, they think they can gage how soon the train will be there and that's very dangerous because trains travel at different speeds and you can't really appropriately, accurately gage the distance the train is from the crossing by listening," Halley said. "So the horn actually produces a false sense of security in knowing how far that train is."
Fairfield's Quiet Zone is especially safe. Halley said some towns could do the minimum and only meet the very basic requirements to establish a zone, but Fairfield went all the way and made sure each crossing will be as safe as it possibly can be. After construction, Fairfield's risk assessment at railroad crossings will be cut in half.
Construction is scheduled to wrap up in September, and then the city will submit a Notice of Establishment to the Federal Railroad Administration. The Quiet Zone should be officially established in October.
After that, there will be a periodic review by the Federal Railroad Administration to look at changing risk assessments and make sure the Quiet Zone is still effective.