The last two railroad crossings in the North Valley have been silenced. May 27 ended eight months of construction as the project that created quiet zones in the area was completed.
Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, reports that all six crossings between Menaul and Osuna cost the city more than $1.5 million. Most of the money went into the Montaño crossing, where the city implemented flood gates that completely block all directions of traffic. This construction prevents people from performing a risky "S" maneuver: driving around the barriers when trains are coming down the tracks. Other crossings, such as the one on Osuna, did not demand as much funding since the existing medians already met requirements, and only signs and paint were added.
Quiet zone safety is a concern for Rael. He emphasizes the need to educate drivers and for pedestrians to never park or stop on the tracks. A man was struck and killed by the Rail Runner Express in the North Valley on May 14, but preliminary investigations indicated it was a suicide attempt. Rael says train whistles are needed mostly to warn transients walking along the tracks. Only once was the whistle blown to warn a vehicle parked on the Montaño crossing, he adds.
In the absence of the traditional train whistle, Rael reminds people to be extra cautious near the railroad crossings and notes further efforts should be made to ensure people know these are now quiet zones. Such efforts are visible particularly at the Montaño crossing, where signs and lights were installed to warn people when a train is approaching the corridor. The train operator still has the right to blow the horn if safety becomes an issue.
One Alibi reader spoke of her nostalgia for the occasional romantic train whistle when the project was proposed in 2006. Rael says, "there is an overwhelming response from those who are happy" with the quiet zones. This positive reaction has led to future plans for further reducing noise from trains, he says. Additional quiet zones will be installed at railroad crossings north of Osuna and potentially at those in the South Valley as well.
Quiet zones are also being built on the Sandia Pueblo. This project, funded by the state Legislature and pueblo residents, is almost complete but is waiting for PNM to install electrical wiring.
Rael says the quiet zone project was proposed with the intention of reducing noise for neighboring residents, but he stresses the additional measures—such as lights, signs and larger medians—have actually improved the safety of the area. "We're trying to make this a safer corridor and trying to make a safer crossing to save lives. And if we can make it quieter in the process, then that is good, too.”