More than 30 people attended an open house at Baker City Hall Thursday evening to learn more about the city applying for a Quiet Zone designation in which freight trains wouldn’t sound their whistles except in emergencies.
Residents strolled among several tables with information about the potential changes the city would have to make at five railroad crossings to prevent vehicles from getting onto the tracks.
The city would have to revamp those crossings to qualify for a Quiet Zone designation.
The tables also included comment cards for residents to fill out.
City officials scheduled the open house to gather comments from citizens before filing a notice of intent to apply for a Quiet Zone, something the City Council voted in November to authorize.
There’s no cost to file the application, and it wouldn’t obligate the city to take any further action.
Those attending Thursday voiced their concerns about health effects of the train horns for residents and for children at South Baker Intermediate School, which is adjacent to the tracks.
“We started this a number of years ago and we’ve had a new resurgence of a lot of interested community folks with a lot of passion and compassion about this topic which we feel is going to improve the safety within town in terms of railroad crossings but also improve the quality of life and livability here,” said Dennis Dougherty, one of the first members of the citizens committee to bring the subject to the city.
Randolph Tracy, a member of the citizens committee, said he supports a Quiet Zone on behalf of his grandson and granddaughter.
He has had family ties to Baker since 1884 and comes from a family of railroaders.
“I’m very empathetic,” Tracy said. “But there comes a time in all our lives when we’re looking to the future of the community, the health of the community, the well-being of the community, when we have to be prepared to say ‘Okay, a change is good!’ ”
Tracy said he and his wife lived half a block from the tracks temporarily and they “never fully understood just how difficult it was” until living close to them.
“I watched little ones, two years old, wince and jump when the train went through,” he said. “My wife and I couldn’t be more pleased that the community, the people of this community, are coming together to actually, hopefully, change what’s been 130 years approximately of service, but service that changed in an unintentional way for us as a community.”
Peter Fargo became involved with the Quiet Zone campaign when his son was born and the train horns woke the baby through the night.
“We found ourselves in an unsustainable situation and it got us thinking, how many other people are affected by this in their household,” Fargo said.
His daughter will soon be going to South Baker Elementary and Fargo said he and his wife were concerned about the trains affecting her and the other children.
“We’d love to see a healthier environment for the kids and a safer school for them and this is one way to accomplish that,” Fargo said.