The sound and the fury

Dear Ace: I live within ear-shot of the railroad, so I have to know, what is going on with all of the railroad whistling?—Not Whistlin’ Dixie

Whistlin’: All Ace can say is it’s about time someone asked about these railroad horns! Ace is fed up with late-night train horns unexpectedly interrupting his beauty sleep.

   Puffy-eyed, yet determined, Ace went straight to the City Code, where he found a law that plainly states, “No locomotive engine horn or whistle shall be sounded in the city limits except to warn a person or an animal.”

   Now if this is the law, what’s up with all of the horn blowing? Could Charlottesville just have an overabundance of puppy dogs? Though a puppy dog problem was plausible, Ace thought he should continue the search.

   It turns out that the real reason we’ve had so much horn blowing in this town is a new federal law. Well, it’s not exactly a new law, since the Federal Railroad Administration adopted the rule back in 1994. But the law didn’t take full effect until June 24 of this year. Basically, the newly implemented FRA rule pre-empts all local whistle bans by federally mandating the use of locomotive horns at all public highway-rail grade crossings.

   But not all communities have been suffering through the late-night train horns. All but 13 Virginia localities have been able to avoid the train horns out entirely.

   So, why hasn’t Charlottesville been able to keep its railroad horn ban? Simply put, the City dropped the ball.

   To maintain a municipal quiet zone, Charlottesville needed to file a “Notice of Quiet Zone Continuation” with Federal Railroad Administration by June 3. Since the City did not file its pre-existing ban with the FRA, Charlottesville, along with 12 other Virginia communities, is now stuck with Norfolk Southern’s new round-the-clock railroad serenade.

   But fear not, Whistlin’: Ace is happy to report that the City can still reinstate the railroad horn ban. Provided municipal highway crossings comply with the FRA gate and warning light safety regulations, the Quiet Zone ban can take effect 21 days after the “Notice of Quiet Zone Continuation” has been filed with the FRA.

   Are you listening, City Hall? Or is it hard for you to hear Ace over all the railroad whistle blowing?

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