Another sleepless night prompts me to write this letter. I have always believed in speaking and sharing from the heart. Speaking of hearts, I have a heart condition and other health issues that recently led me to resign from City Council. Good sleep is a key element in healing. We all deserve a good night’s sleep! But the train horn continues to wake me, and many others I have talked with, at all hours of the night. Especially the one engineer who, I believe, opens the horn at full blast at Haines and never releases it till he gets past Durkee, at least that’s how it sounds to me when awakened yet again. Good health is a thing of the past for many of us if we cannot get a decent night’s sleep.

I support the railroad quiet zone and I was a member of the City Council in 2019 that voted unanimously to initiate the process with the Federal Railroad Administration to move forward on the project. We heard from teachers and students at South Baker Elementary School about how the train horns disrupt instruction time. We also heard from business owners who believed their lodging businesses and tourism would benefit from a quiet zone and how they have had cancellations because of the noise of the horns at night. We saw support from the public at town hall meetings.

The drawback of building safety barriers at the railroad crossings that allow a quiet zone has always been the cost. Even in 2002, the issue that went to the ballot was the need to use public money to build the improved crossings. With the fundraising commitment of quiet zone volunteers, there is no reason to waste time and city money on a ballot measure. It can be supported by your comments to City Council to agree to let the volunteers proceed with their fundraising efforts to fund the project. Let’s pull together to get it approved. Email your City Council members to support the quiet zone. You can find their email addresses at: https://www.bakercity.com/Directory.aspx?DID=4

Baker School District recognizes the impacts of the train horns on the health of our children. The people who are most at risk are our children and they don’t get to vote — that’s why we have a City Council who should vote to support the young and the elderly so they can all be safe and healthy.

Regarding cost, the City’s current estimate for the project is $150,000. This can be done affordably because, besides city staff time which has already been invested, the quiet zone volunteer group is committed to fundraising for construction and materials costs. No raised taxes! We send things to a ballot measure when there is a significant cost, and an additional cost to the taxpayer. That’s why it went to a ballot measure in 2002 when the total price tag was much higher than it is now and no one was volunteering to fundraise. Example: The Powder River Pavilion didn’t go to a ballot measure because our Build the Bandstand Committee did fundraising to get it built, with permission of City Council. Once built it was gifted to the City of Baker City. It is the same with the quiet zone, no need for a ballot to confuse the issue.

What is a quiet zone? Train engineers are required by federal regulations to blast their horns four times before each railroad crossing. When quiet zone safety measures are added to crossings, the horn mandate goes away. No more zig zagging through down arms of the train crossings will also save lives. Engineers can still use a horn when needed. At a recent City Council meeting, we heard questions about safety and cost. The Federal Railroad Administration is currently reviewing the City’s plans and will only approve the quiet zone if crossings are deemed to be as safe as or safer than with horns.

Baker City has been blessed with volunteers who have built so many of the amenities we all enjoy today. To name a few: The Museum, the Interpretive Center, Central Park, The Salt Lick statue, the playground, and Powder River Pavilion at Geiser-Pollman Park. The dedicated volunteers working on the quiet zone are people who live here and love the community just like the volunteers of these other projects.

Congratulations to the quiet zone volunteers for seeing a problem and being willing to put in the time and effort to raise funds privately to make Baker City a safer and quieter community for all of us to enjoy. One thing I know is that we must take care of each other and when there is a problem, we need to fix it. Squashing these dedicated volunteers because some of them are new to the community is a huge mistake. All they want to do is improve the community, support the learning and lives of our children, and improve railroad crossing safety for all of us. (Not to mention a better night’s sleep for all.)

I know from my volunteer efforts how much dedication and team effort it takes to make a dream a reality. I also know how much the community appreciates improvements once they are done.

Yes, the sounds of the trains are part of our lives, but we should not minimize the impact on children learning, businesses losing revenue or people suffering from lack of sleep because of constant disruption by the horns. We will still hear them, just farther away and much softer. We’ll also still hear the clickety clack of the train on the rails, which would be more pleasant without the shrill horns disrupting us.

Think back to the time when we nearly lost our electric service and Dick Haynes and Peggi and Glen Timm started the penny pledge campaign, which led to the creation of OTEC and keeping the lights shining. Dedicated people caring about everyone in their community, making Baker City a more pleasant place to live! That is what Baker City and rural America is all about!

Lynette Perry is a former Baker City Council member.

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