The City of La Grande is one step closer to having a quiet zone after Wednesday night’s nearly unanimous city council decision.

Participants at the council meeting applauded the affirmative decision to initiate the process by sending notice of intent letters to establish a quiet zone. The letters will be sent to Union Pacific, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Not everyone was in support of the decision, though.

Lewis Batty, who said he has driven trains for 46 years, told the council, “Don’t make a quiet zone. I’ve had teenagers playing chicken with my train before.”

Batty claimed he can’t hear the trains at night and said those who say they can are lying.

City Manager Robert Strope clarified during the meeting that the quiet zone wouldn’t be a “whistle-free zone.” If there is danger near the track, the engineers will blow their horns.

Resident Charles Jones said he talked to several motel owners in the vicinity of the train crossings who said the trains drive away business. Jones read several negative motel reviews aloud that complained about the noise from trains. He asked the council to embrace the idea of a quiet zone and figure out a way to expedite it.

“It’s affecting the economy,” Jones said.

Councilor Justin Rock said he read those reviews too, but a lot of the other reviews complain about the high motel prices in La Grande. It’s not all about the whistles, Rock said.

Local real estate agent Ashley O’Toole told the council the trains are impacting his business and the real estate market in general.

O’Toole said he has had problems selling homes within a couple of blocks of the railroad tracks because of the loud whistles.

“These are real people dealing with these real issues,” O’Toole said.

Councilor Gary Lillard, who said he has been working on this quiet zone off and on for 15 years, made the
motion to send a required notice of intent.

After the notice of intent is sent to the three agencies, they have 60 days to respond with any questions or concerns about the quiet zone. Then the city council will hold a public hearing to take comments from the community, and an application for approval will be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration.

See complete story in Friday's Observer