Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

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Henry Vilas
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Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby Henry Vilas » Sun Apr 11, 2010 9:30 am

The Wisconsin and Southern Railroad Co. is petitioning the state to close the rail crossings at Brearly, Blount and Livingston, supposedly for safety reasons.

The pluses: three less train whistle blasts in the middle of the night. The city saves on maintenence.

The negatives: neighborhood access limited. Plans to develop that corridor might be affected.

Comments may be sent to Douglas Wood, legal counsel, the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, P.O. Box 7854, Madison, WI 53707-7854, or doug.wood@wisconsin.gov. To contact the commission office, call 608-266-0276. Hearings on the petitions are set for 9:30 a.m. on June 29 and 6:30 p.m. on June 30 at the commission offices, 610 N. Whitney Way.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby snoqueen » Sun Apr 11, 2010 11:30 am

Here I go with more detail than anyone wants, but you asked! The late-60's loss of the Edgewater/Wisconsin Ave. right of way to the lake is both regrettable and irreversible, so we need to regard street closings seriously and take our time with this one.

A small addition to the pluses: a safer bike path, due to fewer car-bike intersections, but not safer by a huge amount because these are very low-traffic crossings.

The city's saving on maintenance is not negligible because these crossings tend to be very soft -- it's all landfill -- and the places the rails cross the street pavement need endless patching.

The nighttime whistles might be a relatively minor issue because so few residences are close to the crossings. For instance, there are a few apartments on Blount, but the rest is MG&E. We need to listen to residents' comments in this regard.

Another important consideration is emergency vehicle access. If the fire department or police department has big issues with closing the streets, we also need to listen carefully.

The result of closing these streets could be pretty much like where Few Street would cross -- and Few Street just ends. I don't know of any problems this causes. In fact, it benefits the Central Park by making two whole blocks contiguous.

This one is pretty much a "so what" issue unless you live or work right along one of these side streets. If those people strongly dislike the proposal and work against it, their opinion should count for a lot. If they don't bother, or actually like the proposal (it'll make for quiet peaceful cul-de-sac street stubs or totally closed rights-of-way, which might turn out to be desirable) it should be allowed to pass.

I wouldn't be surprised if the negotiated outcome is to close two streets -- Blount and one other -- and leave the third open. Closing Blount would allow the MG&E property on both sides to be contiguous like the area around Few Street, and that always creates opportunity. Leaving one street open could be important for its businesses, or for public safety.

All in all, pretty much a neighborhood issue unless you let long-term annoyance with Wisconsin and Southern color the discussion. (I'm sighing and rolling my eyes here.) It is good the neighborhood alder is trying to slow things down until sufficient comment is collected.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby green union terrace chair » Sun Apr 11, 2010 6:00 pm

If this is to happen, a lot of thought needs to be put into how the Blair / John Nolen / Wilson / Williamson compound intersections could be improved. I expect it would receive more traffic as a result of those street closures.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby jman111 » Mon Apr 12, 2010 10:51 am

green union terrace chair wrote:If this is to happen, a lot of thought needs to be put into how the Blair / John Nolen / Wilson / Williamson compound intersections could be improved. I expect it would receive more traffic as a result of those street closures.

While I agree that this intersection needs some work, how would closures further east increase volume here? It seems that traffic may direct differently (up Blair toward East Wash more often instead of down Willy, I presume), but I don't see why there would be any increase.

Also, can anyone guess why Paterson and Ingersoll are not under consideration? Just wonderin'.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby chance » Mon Apr 12, 2010 2:00 pm

jman111 wrote:...Also, can anyone guess why Paterson and Ingersoll are not under consideration? Just wonderin'.

I'd speculate that it's because they're both already part of the existing traffic control grid (w. traffic lights). That, in turn, is presumably because of the volume they already carry. Seems pretty clear that if this plan goes through, they'll end up carrying even more traffic to & from the Willy corridor.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby green union terrace chair » Mon Apr 12, 2010 2:27 pm

jman111 wrote:
green union terrace chair wrote:If this is to happen, a lot of thought needs to be put into how the Blair / John Nolen / Wilson / Williamson compound intersections could be improved. I expect it would receive more traffic as a result of those street closures.

While I agree that this intersection needs some work, how would closures further east increase volume here? It seems that traffic may direct differently (up Blair toward East Wash more often instead of down Willy, I presume), but I don't see why there would be any increase.

Also, can anyone guess why Paterson and Ingersoll are not under consideration? Just wonderin'.


I didn't mean to be so absolutist. What I should have said was that this intersection is intended to be redesigned at some point in the future, so these road closures should weigh in on whatever plans they develop. Though in reality, the closures would probably happen long before that intersection is touched.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby jman111 » Mon Apr 12, 2010 3:47 pm

chance wrote:I'd speculate that it's because they're both already part of the existing traffic control grid (w. traffic lights).

wow. my bad. sometimes the most obvious answers are the most-easily missed....

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby iwiw99 » Sat Apr 24, 2010 5:56 am

Sure seems like WSOR is ramping it up. 5 trains in 4 hours this AM (1-4) and the whistle use was completely out of line.

These guys don't give a shit what they do. (I'll continue to praise the one engineer who respects people are sleeping and lightly toots), (I'll regret saying that).

Snoqueen, the whistles around MGE impact a ton of people, you are welcome to sleep over sometime. Last night was almost laughable it was so bad.

The intersection at John Nolen is scheduled to be redone in a few years so even if a quiet zone is finally established, there will still be opportunity for WSOR to behave like ASSHATS.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby green union terrace chair » Sat Apr 24, 2010 2:01 pm

iwiw99 wrote:Sure seems like WSOR is ramping it up. 5 trains in 4 hours this AM (1-4) and the whistle use was completely out of line.

These guys don't give a shit what they do. (I'll continue to praise the one engineer who respects people are sleeping and lightly toots), (I'll regret saying that).

Snoqueen, the whistles around MGE impact a ton of people, you are welcome to sleep over sometime. Last night was almost laughable it was so bad.

The intersection at John Nolen is scheduled to be redone in a few years so even if a quiet zone is finally established, there will still be opportunity for WSOR to behave like ASSHATS.


Is that the line that supplies the UW power plant? If so, it's only going to get worse as the number of trains will quadruple when the biofuel conversion is ready.

Come to think of it, that might be part of the reason they want to close those extra crossings?

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby snoqueen » Sat Apr 24, 2010 3:51 pm

I'm >3 miles away and last night *I* woke up and heard all those train horns. Not saying it woke me up, but I remember thinking why the hell are there so many trains on a weekend night?

So OK, I'll agree they are making a lot more noise than usual and it's enough to bother people. Another reason to close all three crossings (except then we'd have to admit their purposely obnoxious behavior resulted in a win).

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby cprailman98 » Sat Apr 24, 2010 5:12 pm

I'm not interested in turning the conversation away from the real point of it to begin with, but I just can't help posting this: I am an engineer and used to work for WSOR. I now work for Canadian Pacific Railway out of Portage. I live here in Madison. I still to this day cannot understand why people believe that train engineers blow the train horn the way they do just to upset/anger people. IT'S THEIR JOB TO SOUND THE HORN AT ROAD CROSSINGS! They will lose their jobs if they don't execute this responsibility properly! In fact, the gentleman who is appreciative of the engineer who "lightly toots" the horn should not just appreciate the engineer for doing that, but he should also put away a few bucks every day for engineer because one day, the guy may be out of a job because he's trying to "be considerate." Get over it people: until a road crossing meets the standards to become a "no whistle" crossing, the horn HAS to be sounded--and yes, it doesn't guarantee that no car/train accidents will happen at the crossing. But, stop lights and stop signs don't prevent accidents either, and even though they are quieter, nobody thinks we should get rid of them because they're a nuisance to observe and don't guarantee collision-free intersections. Why are there SO many people in Madison so ANTI-TRAIN? Just because of the noise and the fact you have to wait at a crossing (sometimes) for a few minutes? Considering what the railroads transport, how efficiently they do it, and how cheaply it gets done, wow........you people just really confuse me to no end..........

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby snoqueen » Sat Apr 24, 2010 7:32 pm

You're just the person to answer a question I've had for a long time. We know there have to be four toots, long-long-short-long.

People living near the crossings have noticed a huge difference in the way the horns are sounded, and many people think there's no reason to believe very long toots are any safer than brief ones. So is there any law or regulation governing this? Is there a standard time the sequence -- or the longest toot -- is supposed to last? Two seconds? Fifteen seconds? Thirty seconds?

It's also worth noting that some people believe once they complained (or asked) publicly about train horns, the engineers purposely lengthened the toots at the intersections closest to their houses. Whether this is true or not, there is a lot of mistrust between some members of the public -- even those who basically favor railroads -- and train personnel.

Information often helps in cases of mistrust and hostility, so maybe you can help this whole situation. I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby chance » Sun Apr 25, 2010 8:35 am

The idea that engineers are intentionally blowing horns longer and louder than necessary in order to retaliate against people who have complained about train noise doesn't seem likely to me. Engineers don't have a lot of discretion about when they start to whistle. The applicable rule requires them to start it approximately 15 to 20 seconds before they are going to arrive at the intersection. Also, the last one has to still be sounding when the engine arrives at the crossing; it's because of that requirement, that the last one often ends up being particularly loooooooong and drawn out. Something else that should be borne in mind is that temperature, and wind, affect the transmission of sound; a train whistle may sound much louder under some conditions than under other conditions.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby peripat » Sun Apr 25, 2010 3:21 pm

Well- you're wrong about that. Anyone who lives within 3 blocks of a crossing on the East side knows the difference between normal train horns and the nasty prolonged retaliatory stuff that happens when people start to complain.

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Re: Should East Side rail crossings be closed?

Postby koshka » Mon Apr 26, 2010 10:26 pm

Will Wisconsin & Southern ever stop sticking it to Madison residents? Given a choice, I would pay more for whatever the freight trains are hauling to eliminate the noise, safety problems and overall decline that came with the increased freight traffic.


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