The Huntington Common Council has learned that Huntington residents are divided over whether or not the city should ban train whistles.
Council members have also learned that instituting such a ban could be an expensive and lengthy process.
The ban was proposed in April by Greg Davis, a member of the Huntington Common Council and a retired railroad engineer. Davis maintains that the whistles sound so often that people don't pay attention to what is meant to be a warning. Instituting a quiet zone in the city, he says, would improve the quality of life in the city by ending the noise.
Davis and fellow council members Wayne Powell and Charles Chapman were named to a committee set up to study the issue, and that committee asked for input from community members during a public hearing conducted during the council's meeting on Tuesday, July 10.
Of the 12 people who wrote letters and delivered their comments in person, five said they thought the ban was a bad idea; six favored the ban; and one said he'd support the ban, but only if it proved to be "feasible, affordable and safe."
Safety was the main concern for those opposed to banning trains from sounding their horns at city railroad crossings. Davis, however, maintains that that the crossings would become safer after a ban because the Federal Railroad Administration would require the installation of additional safety measures that would prevent vehicles from driving around the crossing gates.
The cost of installing those safety measures would fall on the city, said Delphi Mayor Randy Strasser, who spoke to the council at the request of Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters.
The community of Delphi, near Lafayette, is in the process of establishing a quiet zone for the eight railroad crossings clustered within a half-mile in that city. Putting that quiet zone into effect, Strasser said, will cost about $2 million and take five years.
Banning train horns and installing alternate safety issues at crossings could leave the city liable for any accidents that occur, Councilman Jack Slusser pointed out. Councilman Paul Pike, too, said he was concerned about liability issues and insurance costs.
Slusser said he favored dropping any further discussion of a ban because of "the cost factors and all the studies that need to be done."
"But we won't know the costs until we study the project," Councilman Jim Long countered.
"We need to find out what the true costs are," Davis said.
Chapman suggested that the study committee investigate the costs, potential liabilities and time frame that would be involved in banning train whistles and submit that report to the full council, a suggestion that was welcomed by Fetters. That report could be presented to council in September or earlier.
In other business:
• Long asked if the council could overrule a plan by the Huntington Park Board to demolish the large stone pavilion at Memorial Park. The pavilion, which Long said was built as part of a Depression-era jobs program, needs extensive repair to the roof.
"It's a historic structure and it should be saved," Davis said.
The park board voted unanimously in May to demolish the building, an action the mayor said he was not aware of. While Fetters said he'd look into the project, City Attorney Mike Hartburg told council members that in establishing the park board, the city had given that board authority to make such decisions without council approval.
• Council members approved on a 6-1 vote, with Davis voting no, grants to three downtown property owners for building repairs. Funding for the grants comes from CEDIT money, and the grants are administered by the Main Street Huntington organization.
Grants were awarded to Deb Day and Bev Weicht for roof repairs to the D.B. & Company building at 47 W. Franklin St., in the amount of $2,842.50; Paul and Helga Johnson for facade improvements to a building at 420 N. Jefferson St., in the amount of $4,200; and to Larry Kreider, for facade improvements to the Z-Place Pizza building at 538 Warren St., in the amount of $2,712.95.
The grants are for half the total cost of the projects.