City should look for peace and quiet

Published 10:27 pm Monday, March 7, 2016

I know what a battle it can be to fall asleep — and that’s without a train rumbling past 50 or 100 feet from my house.

Most nights, even when I’m visibly exhausted, I struggle to fall asleep. The moment I lay down, my eyes open and my mind gets “busier” than it has been all day.

So when I finally do drift off to sleep, I would be angry — and consequently, awake even longer because I’m fuming — if a passing locomotive sounded its horns in the middle of the night.

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Last week, when I met with Olde Mill Creek residents who live near the train tracks, they described the impact the train whistles used to have on their lives before the Federal Railroad Administration declared their crossing a quiet zone in 2014.

Under federal law, trains are required to sound their horns at all public crossings — with the exception of designated quiet zones that meet specific qualifications. For safety reasons, I understand the need for such a law.

But I also understand the need for quiet zones in some areas, particularly close to residential communities whenever possible.

Pam and Jim Gish, whose house is next to the tracks, said their 2-year-old granddaughter used to be petrified whenever she spent the night and the locomotive seemed to explode through her bedroom window. Although she has now gotten used to the trains and is a little older, apparently she went through a spell of being scared to visit her grandparents.

Brooke Schaab, who led efforts to get the quiet zone in her neighborhood, lives two houses from the crossing. The trains kept her awake and were loud enough to make her vacate her backyard if she was outside when one passed.

One neighbor became so frustrated with the noise — and her inability to sell her property — that she turned her keys over to the bank and walked away from her house.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently implemented the city’s second quiet zone, at the crossings on Nansemond Parkway and Shoulders Hill Road. The railroad slices through the Suffolk Meadows neighborhood, with homes backing up to within feet of the track.

Schaab said she would like the city to find the resources to implement more quiet zones around tracks in the city. While I imagine it isn’t always a feasible or even possible option, I agree the city should make that investment whenever possible.

I do love the sound of a locomotive — from a distance. And with the Panama Canal expansion set to open soon and a surge in container traffic anticipated through the Port of Virginia, the rail traffic is only going to increase in Suffolk.

I hope the city takes Schaab’s advice on this issue.