Washington residents, business owners and the city must all work together to deter trespassing on railroad tracks at the riverfront.
That is the message relayed from John Nilges, public works director, who warned that if trespassing on railroads gets out of hand, then the quiet zone designation could be yanked.
On Monday, Nilges told the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee that new signs have been placed near the tracks near Sugarfire Smoke House, located at 512 W. Front St.
The signs warn about trespassing on the railroad tracks and were prompted by a Federal Rail Administration (FRA) notification to all quiet zone entities.
“A quiet zone is a privilege and not a right — we all need to work together,” Nilges stated.
Quiet zones are areas where train engineers do not sound whistles.
The zones are established when entities take specific actions at railroad crossings, such as signage and safety measures.
“We took a look at this proactively, so we added more signage,” Nilges said.
Federal rail regulations require train engineers to sound their horns within certain distances of crossings to warn motorists and pedestrians, unless those safety measures and quiet zones are in place.
The railroad tracks, property in between and on either side of the tracks are owned by Union Pacific Railroad and are “strictly closed” to traffic — pedestrian or vehicular, according to city officials.
To mark the private property, no trespassing signs are posted. Trespassers can be arrested if they are found on or near the tracks.
Even if there is a quiet zone in place, Union Pacific sounds train horns when there are vehicles and/or people in danger of an approaching train.
The company also can withdraw a quiet zone designation without notice.
“We respectfully urge all people to stay off of the tracks and railroad property so that the city of Washington can retain the quiet zone designation,” city staff posted on the Washington Facebook page.
City officials urge witnesses of violations to report them to Washington police at 636-390-1050.
Quiet Zone History
In 2006, the city petitioned the FRA, Union Pacific Railroad, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and Amtrak to establish the quiet zone.
The city made safety improvements to qualify for the zone to prevent motorists from driving around a railroad cross arm.
In 2017, city officials began exploring why train horns were again sounding within the city limits, about 10 years after the quiet zone was established.
At the time, Nilges explained that a patch of concrete, which is a pedestrian crossing at the depot, had been triggering an automated mechanism called Positive Train Control (PTC) that caused the horn to blow as a safety measure. Not all trains are equipped with it yet.
Months of investigation and discussions with the Federal Railroad Commission pointed to the proximity of the depot just outside the city’s quiet zone, and the pedestrian walkway, created an “anomaly.”
After finding the solution, the city added signage and installed a push button latch as a safety measure to allow easier access to the depot for passengers getting off the train.
That allowed for the quiet zone to be established again in late 2018.