Whistling for Change

On the right track

In Massachusetts, the state’s highest court must consider a lawsuit that was filed towards the end of March, targeting designated quiet zones enforced in pedestrian crossings.  According to the Federal Railroad Administration, throughout the state, 29 quiet zones are in place.  Five of those listed zones are located in the city of Beverly, a suburb of Boston.  The number of quiet zones in this city may be classified as excessive, as no other community, township, or neighborhood acknowledges more than one quiet zone.  State law and federal train regulations do not require the existence of these quiet zones.

Two plaintiffs have filed the lawsuit to eliminate these arguably hazardous areas to ensure safety of all pedestrians.  Attorney Peter Brown has joined forces with former MBTA commuter rail engineer Mark Layman, both of whom are sympathetic to the possible tragedies associated with quiet zones.  While Brown’s best friend was hit and killed by a train in Beverly, in 1999, Layman was behind the train that struck and killed a 16-year-old.  In Layman’s incident, the train was about 30 feet away from the pedestrian crossing, and despite sounding the horn, was not afforded a large enough gap to perform an emergency stop.  In 2019 alone, the MBTA reported 21 train crashes, which resulted in 17 deaths.

Although the plaintiffs, as well as others who are seeking stronger railroad safety laws, are taking the necessary steps to help prevent similar accidents from taking place in the future, those who are in opposition to the effort have also presented important potential effects.  For example, Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, assesses the need to assure a balance between quality of life among residents and essential safety measures.  Allegedly, hundreds of thousands of people may experience the impact of arguably disruptive train whistles.  Despite the arguments addressed by both parties, the MBTA has already implemented improvements, such as the retraining of signal maintainers and updated railroad signs.