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Ordinance change needed to address night train noise in Salisbury

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Chris Borre says he’s a sound sleeper, but these days he shocked awake by banging noises he can hear from his Main Street home.

“Boom, boom boom,” Borre said. “It’s again and again and again.”

Borre’s house is about 150 yards away from train tracks that sit between U.S. 29 in Salisbury and Spencer and Long Street in Salisbury and East Spencer. Borre said he has not measured the decibel level, but the noise coming from the tracks at night sometimes shakes his house. He can feel it inside his brick home and says he can only imagine what it feels like in wood-framed homes around him.

“It goes on all night, and it’s virtually every night, since May,” Borre said.

Borre’s story is one a number of residents say they’re experiencing. After a Norfolk Southern yard closed in nearby Linwood, locals say the train sounds migrated to Salisbury and have sought answers about the cause. Residents say loud, mechanical-sounding noises begin sometime in the evening on most nights and go on for hours.

Nancy Martino says she first started to notice the noise about two months ago and is troubled by the lack of information on the change in operations for Norfolk Southern.

“I would say that maybe five out of seven days, it’s pretty loud,” Martino said.

The city of Salisbury says modular units associated with Norfolk Southern have been hooked up to water and sewer within the Salisbury city limits. And in response to multiple requests for comment, Norfolk Southern confirmed that it’s assembling trains in the area.

“Norfolk Southern is performing flat-switching operations at its rail yard to build local and road trains. Norfolk Southern has implemented recent operational changes and is working to serve our customers in North Carolina and throughout our network,” the company said.

In May, the company laid off 85 employees and idled operations at the Linwood hump yard, citing the impact of COVID-19. There, the company had previously assembled train cars.

As for recourse for Salisbury residents, city Code Services Coordinator Michael Cotilla said the noise ordinance only pertains to construction and animal noises during certain hours, but it would be within the city’s power to enforce an ordinance if it was expanded to apply to railroad operations.

Cotilla said he has cited Norfolk Southern before for issues on railroad property, but those were for dumping where someone not connected to the railroad left refuse on the property. Cotilla said the city holds property owners responsible for things left on their land, and each time issues with Norfolk Southern properties were abated without issue.

“We typically don’t have issues with Norfolk Southern,” Cotillo said.

If the ordinance was expanded to classify rail-related noises as a nuisance, the town’s normal citation structure would apply. It would start with a warning and, if not abated, the city could levy a $50 fine. After 10 business days with no abatement, there could be a $100 fine. After another 10 days, it would rise to $250, with an additional $250 added to the fine every day for 90 days until it would be sent to collections. The town could also go to court over the issue.

“We’ve been lucky enough during my tenure we have not had to drag anybody through the court,” Cotilla said.

An amendment would require action by the city council.

The city did put a “quiet zone” in place a few years ago, but Deb Young, who works for the city’s engineering department, said that only covers trains blowing horns as they pass through. She said it is discretionary. However, most engineers do not blow when they pass through railroad crossings downtown because they are aware that is the city’s preference.

Young said she has heard from residents about the noise issue and spoken to Norfolk Southern as well. She said the railroad verified to her that there is no intention of returning operations to the Linwood hump yard.

“All we can do is appeal to them to be conscious of it,” Young said.

For his part, Borre said he would like to see the operation move elsewhere. He said it should not be difficult to place train-assembling operations outside of a residential area.

“It angers me that these people think they have the right to ruin my quality of life,” Borre said.

Martino also said she thinks the railroad should move its operation outside the city limits.

“It’s ridiculous,” Martino said. “I can not believe that this operation is so close to downtown Salisbury.”

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