Trains go quiet in downtown Flagstaff

Flagstaff, AZ – You may notice something missing in Flagstaff today: the sound of the train whistle. Monday was the first day the trains went silent at the downtown crossings (although it could still be heard on occasion). Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this report.

SFX: train passing without horn

That's the sound of the train chugging by Beaver Street on Monday morning.

Train engineer Tom Elzey is typically responsible for blowing the horn. He talked with KNAU on his way to work. He has been an engineer for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad for more than 30 years. And says it will feel strange to go through Flagstaff and not blow the horn.

ELZEY: Actually it's going to be kind of nerve racking going through there without the whistle you know we can get in trouble if we don't blow the whistle and you're just twitching the whole time knowing you're supposed to be doing something.

Elzey says he's happy he won't have to blow the horns in Flagstaff anymore.

ELZEY: I never really liked blowing the horns through Flagstaff. It creates a lot of animosity for the railroad. It disrupts a lot of people's lives especially the businesses by the crossing.

The Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce is just a few feet from the train tracks on the corner of Beaver and Route 66. Chamber President Julie Pastrick says both residents and business owners are excited about the change.

PASTRICK: T9 The noise frequently does impede doing business and comfort levels Many visitors that have come to the Grand Canyon or who have come for conventions have had less than a full night of sleep because of the noise from the train horns.

The biggest concern has been safety. But train engineer Tom Elzey says most train fatalities are intentional.

ELZEY: If they're going to ignore the flashing red lights, the bells and everything, the horns aren't going to do any good.

And studies have shown with added safety precautions quiet zones can be safe. And engineers will still be allowed to lay on the horn in emergencies.

Quiet zones with gates, lights and new signs have been put in place at Beaver, San Francisco and Enterprise intersections. Wayside horns, which are quieter than train whistles but loud enough for drivers to hear, will continue at Fanning and Steves crossings on the east side of Flagstaff.

For those of you who say the train whistle is a part of Flagstaff's charm, here it is one more time.

SFX: Horn

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff