Train Horns Trouble East Sandwich Residents

The train crossing Atkins Rd in East Sandwich
JEFFREY URQUHART/ENTERPRISE - The train crossing Atkins Rd in East Sandwich

There are loud train horns—and then there are really loud train horns.

Margo J. and Vincent J. Mancinelli contend that the Mass Coastal Railroad trains that pass near their house on Great Island Road in East Sandwich are blowing the latter kind.

But P. Christopher Podgurski, president and chief executive officer of Mass Coastal, holds that his railroad's locomotives are blowing the proper volume of horn as they approach and then cross over grade crossings in the East Sandwich area.

The dispute rose to public attention last month when Ms. Mancinelli came before the Sandwich Board of Selectmen to discuss the matter during public comment.

In the seven years that she and her husband have lived near the railroad in East Sandwich, Ms. Mancinelli said, the volume of Mass Coastal traffic on the line has risen by 200 to 300 percent.

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This past summer, she said, they were enduring in the vicinity of 20 passings per day, with the trains sounding "ear-splitting horns" as they passed through nearby grade crossings.

Ms. Mancinelli said the horn volume was reaching 140 to 150 decibels, which is 30 to 40 decibels over federal regulations.

In contrast, she said, this year's weekend CapeFLYER service between Boston and Hyannis, operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, sounded distinctly quieter at the same grade crossings.

Ms. Mancinelli also said that the loud locomotive horns had reached a point where they were affecting property values for residences near the tracks.

But Mr. Podgurski said yesterday that the horn volume on the Mass Coastal locomotives is checked and regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Federal regulations specify the horn volume must be between 96 and 110 decibels. Mr. Podgurski said regulators would not allow a locomotive's horn volume to exceed the maximum limit.

The railroad president, who himself has worked as an locomotive engineer, further questioned whether it were possible for his engineers to cut the volume of their engines' horns.

But Mr. Podgurski said he is not about to tell any of his engineers how loudly or softly to sound their horns.

He said safety is the prime concern. Even with the installation of safety gates, he said, a number of motorists still will try to "beat the train" and get across the tracks before the train comes through.

As for the possible difference between Mass Coastal and MBTA locomotive horns, John Pearson, chief financial officer at Mass Coastal, stated that "tone or sound of horns on locomotives differ, much as the siren sound on various police and fire vehicles differ.

"It may be that the Mass Coastal locomotives have a tone that is slightly more shrill than the MBTA locomotives (the MBTA trains operate over crossings that are almost always fully protected with gates, lights and bells, while that is very much not the case with the state-owned railroad track that Mass Coastal operates upon)," Mr. Pearson stated.

Mr. Pearson also acknowledged that regulations allow for "quiet zones" where no horns have to be sounded.

But he stated these quiet zones "require at least four gates per crossing (as well as pedestrian gates, if applicable) and can cost from $500,000 to over $1 million to install. I believe the MBTA may have some "quiet zone" crossings; there are none on the state-owned track Mass Coastal operates on."

Mr. Podgurski said those gate crossings also must include mechanisms allowing trapped vehicles to escape from the crossing before they are hit by a train.

He acknowledged that the train horns can be a pain for people who have to hear them all the time. But he said the alternative is to run the risk of an accident at a grade crossing.

Mr. Mancinelli, however, yesterday called for an independent person to measure the volume of the horns on the Mass Coastal locomotives. He said the difference in horn volume between the Mass Coastal and MBTA locomotives on the line were "night and day."

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