Annoyed By Whistles

Conor Berry | September 23, 1999

Robert Weisberg of Amagansett does not recall exactly when the distant cries of trains passing in the night began to lose their charm.

But at a recent morning "coffee klatsch with some friends at the Farmers Market," he said, he was relieved to discover that others in the group noticed that the once plaintive wails had become louder and shriller in recent weeks.

"There's a different pitch or shriek to the whistle," said Mr. Weisberg, who lives on Atlantic Avenue, a half-mile south of the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

Projecting Sideways?

The Amagansett group was not imagining things. In recent weeks, people from all across Long Island have complained to local representatives and to railroad officials about sleepless nights because of new, louder train whistles that, they contend, project sound sideways rather than in front of a locomotive.

The L.I.R.R., which has been steadily updating its aging fleet over the past year, said it is not sure whether the new trains are actually any louder than the old ones. Residents disagree.

"It shocks you out of bed," said Joan Tulp, also of Amagansett, who raised the issue at a recent session of the hamlet's Citizens Advisory Committee.

"I loved the train whistle the way it was," said Ms. Tulp, who lives with her husband, Robert, on Gan sett Lane. "The old ones had this mournful sound," said Ms. Tulp. "I loved it at night. But this . . ." she said, her voice trailing.

Chris Long, an assistant to L.I.R.R. president Thomas F. Prendergast, deferred all whistle inquiries to Brian Dolan, a spokesman for the railroad. Mr. Dolan did not return several phone calls but did fax a statement on Tuesday reiterating the Rail Road's position on the issue.

According to the release, the railroad is fully aware of peoples' concerns and is presently "conducting a study on the sounding of train whistles" at the request of Gov. George E. Pataki. Though it does not specifically state when the study will be completed, according to reports, Mr. Dolan has said he expects the results to be made public sometime in mid-October.

Meeting Requirements

The release did not mention if the new whistles threw sound in a different direction than the old whistles, as residents have contended. The whistles are standard equipment on 46 new diesel engines in the railroad's fleet.

The release said the new whistles met "the minimum Federal requirements of 96 decibels" measured from 100 feet in front of an advancing locomotive. The new whistles had been measured at 96 and 98 decibels, according to the statement.

Even so, groggy residents hope officials will listen to them before it's too late and the entire fleet is upgraded.

"Good Neighbors"

In a letter to the Rail Road, East Hampton Town Supervisor Cathy Lester wrote: "I must say that even I can hear the whistle at night now and I live about seven miles from the train station."

"On behalf of the town," she continued, "I'm requesting that you try to address this problem."

The issue was a hot topic at a meeting of East End Mayors and Supervisors last month, said Supervisor Lester, when everyone in attendance shared similar complaints.

But for Mr. Weisberg and other East Enders the issue is not only about noise pollution, it's about respecting the quality of life on the East End.

"All we're asking of them is to be good neighbors," said Mr. Weisberg.