New downtown group sounding off on train noise

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 16, 2008

An embryonic downtown action group has its eyes – and ears – seton a possible project that could free downtown businesses andresidents from the hassle of having to deal with the horns ofpassing trains, members said.

The Brookhaven Downtown Association is a group recently begun bylocal residents and business people with the idea of presenting aunified front in communicating with the city about issues they feelare affecting area residents.

“A few of the things that have happened, we’d talk about thingsand we’d call an alderman, but there’s always so much going on thatit’s hard to get anybody focused on a specific issue,” said JayPerkins, one of the founding members of the group. “We realized ifwe were a group, we might be able to have more of a voice with thecity.”

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The first cause the association is targeting is trying to get a”no-blow” zone for the trains that run through the downtownarea.

“We’ve all been in a conversation when the train is coming by,and you have to stop talking,” Perkins said. “And if you have adowntown business, you have to make one of those train jokes. Butyou have to wonder what the image of your office is that is beingportrayed to whoever is on the other end of the line.”

Fellow group organizer Terry Pappas said the train horns arebasically what amounts to a nuisance.

“Anybody that’s been downtown in Brookhaven and walking in thestreet or inside a business, when the train comes by you’ve got tostop talking, and you can’t hear on the phone or whatever,” hesaid. “It’s hard to conduct business, it’s hard to walk and talk topeople, and it’s just a nuisance.”

Downtown association members say they have not approached thecity government with their idea yet, as their first priority isjust getting the group organized. But the time is coming.

“We’re trying to get the downtown association going; that’s ourmain priority right now,” Pappas said. “The quiet zone would justbe one of our first projects, because anyone that’s been downtown,it affects.”

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes said she had been given someof the research done by association members, and that as a memberof the city board, she’d be happy and interested in hearing theirideas.

“I know there are always issues about he railroad simply becauseit’s in the middle of town, like the speed of the trains, and thecondition of crossings. I know the city deals with those all thetime,” she said. “I think it’s certainly something I want to listento, because the property owners should certainly have a voice.”

Ward Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson, whose ward encompasses alarge part of the downtown area, said she hadn’t been told aboutthe association or its goals yet.

“I’m not familiar with that but I’d be interested in hearingtheir ideas,” she said.

Perkins said his research shows that in places like Houston,Texas, property values near train tracks went up as much as 50percent when the area was switched to a quiet zone. Pappas saidwhile the association would be asking the city to pay the $13,000 -$100,000 it will take to upgrade the crossings so they will be safeenough for trains to go through without blowing their horns, theextra tax dollars the peace and quiet would bring would make theexpenditures worthwhile.

“The property values go up, it will increase business and retailsales, and the taxes and everything else goes up,” he said. “Youhave to spend money here to make more money here.”

Perkins said the Federal Railroad Administration has guidelinesthat must be met by a city before it will allow a quiet zone.

If Brookhaven were to meet those standards, it would be thefirst city in Mississippi to have a quiet zone. There are about 300others nationwide, he said.

Some of the safety precautions that would have to be added inBrookhaven would include installing lane medians or channelingdevices so people cannot circumnavigate the crossing guards. In itsliterature, the association estimated the city could be looking at$40,000 worth of upgrades.

But at this point, association members said, the emphasis is onforming their group. The train project is secondary.

“Our main project is getting the downtown association up andrunning,” said Pappas. “We have people still joining prettyregular. The whole reason of the downtown association is to be apositive way of communicating between us and the city.”

Estes said the city encourages all its citizens to communicatewith the government.

“I think it’s always good when people with a common cause andcommon purpose can share that with us,” she said. “I am hopefulthat the city as a whole will always try to work together with anygroup of people. I think the city always takes the position thatlet’s look at it and see what it can do for the city, for downtownand for the community as a whole.”