Joe Henderson Columns
Henderson: Train noise rules lead to headaches
There are all kinds of regulations about noise around here. If your car radio is too loud, the cops might write you a ticket. They had to tone it down at the worst-name-for-an-amphitheater-EVER following complaints about rattling walls whenever there was a rock concert near the state fairgrounds. It's common for airline pilots to use noise abatement procedures during takeoffs over residential neighborhoods. Having your cell phone go off at a bad time can get you dirty looks from lots of people. But the folks at the Federal Railroad Administration and its partner in noise, CSX, like to keep it loud.Did I say loud? In Sunday's Tribune, ace reporter Ted Jackovics detailed the plight of South Tampa residents jolted from slumber by a rumbling CSX freight train five nights a week. That's five nights with dawn-of-the-dead screeching from the train's horns whenever the choo-choo chugs near a crossing. I have news for the good people of South Tampa – it's not just you. Sleepus Interruptus is a widespread malady around here. My house in that beautiful oasis known as Brandon is bracketed by tracks – one about a mile away, the other a little closer. It's not unusual to hear trains at any hour, even from that far away. CSX says it's just following rules made by the Federal Railroad Administration, which requires trains approaching a crossing to make between 15 and 20 seconds of eardrum-shattering noise. The agency makes exceptions with so-called "quiet zones" but, as the Trib reported, it can cost cities between $30,000 and $1 million to meet the requirements for that designation. I have a suggestion that may speed the process. It's the same one I propose for merrymakers who feel compelled to choose 2 a.m. to disperse birds with fireworks on New Year's or other holidays. In case you missed that reference, our legislators decided it was OK to use certain types of fireworks so long as the buyer promised to use it to shoo birds. Seriously. One of these years, I may decide to scatter birds at 6:30 a.m., right under the bedroom windows of anyone firing off M-80s at 2 a.m. With that in mind, perhaps the leaders of CSX and the choo-choo regulatory agency just need encouragement. I'm thinking some sustained whistle blasts right outside their doors. I think 3 a.m. would be a good time. If that doesn't work, perhaps our leaders open up a can of legislative misery on them. Memo to congresswoman Kathy Castor, who represents many sleep-deprived voters: Time to channel your inner Sam Gibbons and get this done with a single phone call. You can do this. Trains are vital to commerce and the economy. If it means being stopped at a crossing while a long, long, long string of boxcars makes its way through, that's a price we have to pay. But blasting people from their beds just because some archaic regulation says they should crosses the line. We can lip-read what they're really saying to the public when they hide behind that kind of nonsense.It's a good thing, too, because we sure couldn't hear them.