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$3 million project could silence train whistles across Columbia

Phase One would establish quiet zones across Greene Street, Assembly Street, and Hampton Street.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia City Council Tuesday voted to move forward with long time efforts to silence train whistles across the city. 

For residents living near downtown like Aiden Perkins and Tia Richardson, the whistles have become white noise. 

"I got pretty used to being woken up at about 3 in the morning every night," Perkins said. "Very loud, sometimes I could even feel the rumbling of the train."

"It’s been really annoying." Richlardson said. "It’s just like constant loud noises." 

More than a dozen trains chug through Columbia every day. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, those trains are required to begin sounding their horns 15 to 20 seconds before reaching a street crossing. 

Trains can bypass this if local governments make certain improvements. City leaders are looking to silence trains by establishing so called "Quiet Zones," where horns are used only in emergency situations.

RELATED: What the government is doing to help with trains blocking roads

Council members approved an agreement with Norfolk Southern to get the project started. 

"It is more than just annoying. It is a quality of life issue. It's a sound pollution issue," said Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who has been leading the efforts to silence the trains since 2017.

He said the city has about $1.8 million available to get phase one of the project started.

According to Harpootlian, the State and the City have appropriated $400,000, while the University of South Carolina has allocated $1 million. The project is estimated to cost $3 million. 

"We have enough money to do quiet zones from Assembly Street across Green, up to Hampton Street, and that’d be phase one," Harpootlian said. "And next year, we’ll hopefully be able to get state money to finish it up to Colonial Drive."

Phase two would include crossings between Hampton Street and Beltline Boulevard. 

Harpootlian said the project would also include constructing raised medians to prevent drivers and pedestrians from trying to beat the approaching train.  

Harpootlian tells News 19 construction could start early next year and take about four to six months. 

News 19 reached out to Norfolk Southern Railway Company for more information and did not hear back. 

RELATED: SC working through $6B federal investment to address roads, bridges

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