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MWDN: Ashland officials want railroad crossings to be quiet zones

January 12, 2010

January 12, 2010
By Kendall Hatch, The MetroWest Daily News

ASHLAND — U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-3rd, met with town and state officials yesterday to discuss the $600,000 the town is slated to receive to help them stop trains from sounding their whistles in town.

Town officials are hoping the cash will bring Ashland one step closer to eventually alleviating the stress placed on businesses and public safety departments by the trains that frequently bisect the town.

The funds will pay for improvements necessary to make the Cherry Street rail crossing eligible, under Federal Railroad Administration guidelines, to become a quiet zone, where train conductors are not required to sound their whistles as they pass.

The Main Street crossing is eligible or almost eligible to be a quiet zone as it is configured.

McGovern, who included the earmark in the bill at the behest of former selectman Phil Jack, state Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, and state Sen. Karen Spilka, said he would continue to try to secure cash for rail projects in town.

“I hope this helps a little bit and we will continue to work with you to find some money for improvements down the road,” said McGovern. “This is a short-term issue we need to address and there are also long-term issues here.”

Spilka said the $600,000 will go a long way to solving the long-standing noise problem in town.

“Since 1985, since I have lived here, it’s been a huge issue,” she said. “It just permeates the whole area. It wakes me up in the middle of the night, and I live a few miles away.”

Town Manager John Petrin said the state’s purchase of the Allston-to-Boston line from freight giant CSX Corp. will add more trains, further hindering public safety vehicles and putting a chokehold on downtown businesses.

“When the state brought up the issue of adding more trains, that’s when the real concern came up for us,” he said.

The quiet zone improvements, however, will be an important first step and one valued by residents, he said. There are homes, including elderly housing, very close to the train tracks that are frequently disrupted by the whistles.

“The town has pretty much made a decision that it wants to be whistle-less,” said Petrin.

McGovern said that trains, being environmentally friendly, will likely see widespread expansion in the coming years, and it could be easy for the needs of towns like Ashland to be forgotten.

“I think trains are the future,” he said. “And it does have an impact, especially in towns like these.”

He praised town officials and local legislators, however, for being persistent in their efforts to get state and federal funding for rail improvements, which could be a key to downtown revitalization.

“This earmark is a result of your educating me and your persuasion,” he said. “I represent small towns and big cities, and the big cities tend to be louder. …It’s important that the small towns don’t get overlooked.”

Petrin said crews might be able to break ground on the improvements as early as the spring of 2011.

(Kendall Hatch can be reached at 508-626-4429 or khatch@cnc.com.)

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