Train Noise Finally Gets Attention

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Last month, the Town Council gave the nod to a study, to be funded by the Commonwealth, that will put hard cost numbers around the steps needed to free Franklin from a federal mandate that sometimes leads MBTA trains to sound their defeaning horns continuously between the Forge Park Station and the Union Street grade crossing.

While Franklin has had train service for more than 170 years, the practice of mandatory use of 150 decibel train air horns, is much newer, dating to a 1990s federal mandate imposed in the wake of deadly train-vehicle crashes in other parts of the country, usually where crossing gates and warning lights are nonexistent.

In the recent past, the complex path to freedom from the federal mandate, and the sleep-destroying sounds of MBTA trains has been navigated by communities as far afield as Orange County, California and Edgemont, Florida.

But the local experience of tony South Shore communities like Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate may be most relevant.

There, residents who had done without commuter rail for nearly two generations put their collective foot down when the MBTA planned to bisect towns with traffic-clogging trains and their mandated horns on the refurbished planned Greenbush line.

They just said ‘no’ until the MBTA agreed to spend some $25 million dollars putting tunnels under sensitive areas (like the densely packed business district of Hingham), and helping to fund the extra safety systems at grade crossings elsewhere needed to satisfy federal regulators.

While horns don’t sound routinely on the South Shore anymore, they do anytime a train operator feels it is appropriate, for example when work crews are in the right of way or when anyone or any vehicle is potentially in the path of the train.

According to Franklin Town Administrator Jamie Hellen, the $70,000 earmark through the MBTA came courtesy of State Representative Jeff Roy. “The Town Engineering Department is leading the project,” said Hellen.

“We should have a consultant on board in a couple months and we expect the study to take FY23 to complete,” he added.

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