Trains have traveled through Gilbert since the early 1900s — the town itself grew up around the tracks of Arizona Eastern Railway.
But 100 years and 170,000 people later, the warning horn blasts that accompany those trains aren’t so welcome. New federal regulations that could take effect this month might make sure the horns go the way of hay in Gilbert.
A rule from the Federal Railroad Administration scheduled to take effect June 24 would require the use of locomotive horns at all public crossings.
But communities with certain safety measures in place at their crossings could be eligible to establish "quiet zones," crossings where horns would only be used in an emergency.
Gilbert Town Manager George Pettit said town staff has been researching the possibility of making all of Gilbert a 24-hour quiet zone. Research is preliminary at this point, Pettit said, because the rule could still be delayed and Gilbert would have to meet federal standards before being designated a quiet zone.
The investigation into making the town a quiet zone was inspired by complaints from residents living along the Union Pacific Railroad’s route through town from Baseline Road near McQueen Road to Power and Pecos roads.
"Anybody moved in next to the railroad doesn’t like the whistles," Pettit said.
Union Pacific sends about five trains through Gilbert every 24 hours, said John Bromley, a railroad spokesman.
Michelle Brown, who lives near a crossing on Lindsay Road between Warner and Elliot roads, said the horns don’t bother her in the daytime, but at night they’re "very disturbing."
Last week, she woke up at 2:59 a.m. to a blaring whistle, she said. The sounds of the horns seem to vary in intensity based on the engineer, and one engineer in particular invades her dreams, she said.
"It’s almost like he’s saying, ‘Hey, I’m awake and all the rest of you can wake up, too,’ because he just lays on it, I swear, for 30 seconds at a time," Brown said.
Bromley said that now, without the rule, engineers sound the horn a quarter-mile before each crossing. A standard pattern requires two long blasts on the horn, followed by one short and one long, but engineers can vary it at their discretion.
Even if Gilbert doesn’t become a quiet zone, the new rule might help residents sleep a little better — it would allow trains traveling 45 mph or less to sound the horn only 15 to 20 seconds before reaching a crossing. Most trains through Gilbert travel about that speed, Bromley said.