So what should be done about the train noise?

I live on the northern edge of Thomas Square here in Savannah. I bought my house in 1996, and several years went by before I even saw or heard a train on the tracks that cut through the neighborhood. Seriously. I don’t know what schedule the trains were on, but I never saw them or heard them.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been awakened by the horns periodically — including a few occasions when the horn has blared continuously as the train makes its way through the neighborhood. I was awakened just a week or so ago at 5:55 a.m.

I live near 32nd and Bull, six blocks from the tracks at their nearest point to me, but I hear the trains when they are as far away as Barnard and Victory, a dozen blocks away. I have a window AC unit in the bedroom, but the noise is so loud that I can still hear it despite the distance and the white noise.

If I’m getting that amount of noise at my house, I can only imagine how loud those super-early morning horns are at homes closer to the tracks and how much more annoying the noise is for those with small children, with serious problems sleeping, and with much more rigorous work schedules than I have.

For me, the trains are an occasional and mild inconvenience, but they’re undoubtedly diminishing quality of life for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of residents who live for blocks on either side of the tracks.

Eric Curl has done a couple of good pieces for the Savannah Morning News in recent days about the issue: Horn blasts prompt call for train quiet zones in Savannah and Residents across Savannah express concern about train noise.

From the former piece:

The issue is not a new problem. Citizen complaints led to a compromise between the city and Rail Link, the train operator, about two years ago.

The company now has a handshake agreement with the city that they will not run trains along that line between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., in addition to not making switching moves over the President’s Street crossing from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m, said Mike Erwin, vice president, Railroads Central, in an email.

But how is 5 a.m. a reasonable time? Who really wants to be awakened routinely by that amount of noise at 5 a.m. — or even 6 a.m.? The neighborhoods around the tracks have lots of service industry workers, college students, and 2nd or 3rd shift workers for whom 5 a.m. is quite literally the middle of the night. Many of us live in older homes too — mine dates to the 1870s — that aren’t exactly well-insulated.

Eric’s second piece discusses the possibility of “quiet zones” at crossings that are fully signalized and gated and that meet federal guidelines, but how about we first push Rail Link to wait until at least 7 a.m. (or, better, 8 a.m.) before running trains through the middle of town?

Of course, there will be a few more drivers delayed by later trains, but it’s hard to compare that inconvenience, rarely more than a five minute delay, with regular disruptions of sleep.

Given the lengthy delays and slow speeds involved with shipping, it would be interesting to hear Rail Link explain how a couple of more hours of quiet would interfere with their business.