The Sound of Silence

A resolution to quiet Albuquerque’s trains passes the City Council

by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, October 12, 2006

For some, the sound of progress is the sound of nothing at all.

A resolution to install quiet zones at the nine railroad crossings within Albuquerque city limits passed the City Council unanimously last Wednesday, Oct. 4. The proposal, which aims to modify rail crossings to be safe enough so train whistles are no longer necessary, has garnered some controversy since it was first discussed this spring [Re: News Bite, “Minor Chords,” June 1-7; News Feature, “Quiet the Trains,” Sept. 14-20].

Some have spoken out against the quiet zones—claiming the sound of the trains is romantic, comforting and a symbol of Albuquerque’s past. Others say the train whistles are bothersome to residents living close to the tracks and are an increasing concern as the new Rail Runner system picks up service.

The legislation requires that all quiet zones be installed within three years. The cost for the infrastructure is dependent on the treatments used at each of the nine crossings—one option is installing four gates at a crossing that would close off all sides of traffic and the other is installing a 100-foot median in both directions of a crossing—but is estimated at $2 million.

City Council President Martin Heinrich, the sponsor of the legislation, says three of the nine crossings are already nearly compliant with the requirements. Heinrich says he first started working on the quiet zone legislation four or five months ago as a result of suggestions brought up in meetings with the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG). “I see this as the beginning of having a real, viable transit system,” he says.

Funding for the project is still uncertain, says City Councilor Debbie O’Malley, the legislation’s cosponsor, but multiple entities, such as MRCOG, the New Mexico Department of Transportation, and city and county representatives, are working together to create a plan. O’Malley says the goal is to use state funding as much as possible, as asking for federal funding could potentially slow the process.

Some funding may come from state legislators. Sen. John Ryan, whose district covers several of the crossings, already put $150,000 toward the crossing in his district that intersects with El Pueblo earlier this year, before the idea of citywide quiet zones was even introduced. Ryan is hopeful that a study and cost evaluation for the project will be finished by the start of next year’s Legislative Session, which begins in January.

Chris Blewett, project manager for the Rail Runner with MRCOG, says so far no other communities have asked for quiet zones, and adds that there have been mixed reactions among area residents. “I’ve talked to people who don’t want the whistles to go away,” he says. “They say, ‘It comforts me, it let’s me know the world is still out there.’ But you would probably find a correlation between those people and where they live.”