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Train Whistle Bill’s Next Stop: The Full Senate

A measure that would allow Spokane County to ban the blowing of train whistles at some crossings cleared another hurdle Tuesday.

House Bill 1130 was approved unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee, and now will move on to the full Senate for consideration. It passed the state House three weeks ago.

The bill would allow counties to ban train whistles only at crossings where safety improvements have been made to prevent drivers from getting around gates while they are down. It gives the federal government the power to step in and stop the ordinance if the crossings are not deemed safe enough.

The measure initially failed a House vote, but was approved after amendments were made to satisfy the safety concerns of railroads, who feared it could lead to accidents and lawsuits.

At a hearing Tuesday, Burlington-Northern lobbyist Pat Halstead said the current version of the bill was acceptable. Halstead cautioned that there will still be obstacles ahead, since the railroad and the county haven’t agreed on who should pay for the safety improvements.

The peace and quiet can’t come soon enough for Valley residents who have complained for years that the loud whistles and increased train traffic are driving away business and people.

“The Valley people pay a high price for the noise,” said Tony Lazanis, owner of the Eastgate Motel at Trent and University.

Valley lawmakers have sponsored bills on the issue during each of the last four sessions, but none have gone as far as this year’s efforts. The bill was sponsored this year by Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley.