What Can Be Done About Downtown Trains?
It's the lunch hour in downtown Cedar Rapids. Traffic is steady up and down First Avenue. There is pedestrian traffic making their way from work to lunch as well. Then, the loud blaring of a train horn interrupts everything. The crossing lights flash, cars slow to a stop and the waiting begins.
This was my Tuesday. I wasn't alone. And I know that not every interruption by a train through downtown Cedar Rapids last as long as this one did, nearly 15 minutes, but it gave me time to think. How many other downtown areas are consistently affected by trains like Cedar Rapids is? Am I alone in my frustration?
According to a 2017 survey by the city, train noise is a major detractor to businesses downtown. The city is actually working on a solution to the noise problem, suggesting that an area of downtown Cedar Rapids be a railroad "quiet zone". An agreement between the city and Union Pacific would require the city to install crossing guards at several downtown intersections in exchange for no train horns along that section of track. No agreement has been reached thus far. Noise is one thing, but what do you do about the congestion caused by the trains?
An agreement with UP and the city back in 2007 was supposed to help avoid train traffic during peak hours including 7:45 to 8:15 a.m., 11:45 to 1:15 p.m., and 4:45 to 6 p.m. The train that hit yesterday afternoon was at about 1:05 p.m. But the biggest problem with the trains that go through downtown is the track switch. It's why yesterday's train took so long. They went back and forth three times switching tracks. If the trains could make that switch out of the downtown area, motorists would be saved valuable minutes.
There is no easy solution to trains through the downtown area. It's been a problem plaguing the city for as long as most people can remember. And with Iowa's agriculture business and the need to haul things like grain and ethanol, they aren't going away anytime soon.