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Originally published Friday, September 25, 2009 at 12:11 AM

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Sound Transit calls light-rail noise a public-health problem

Noise from Sound Transit's light-rail trains is a public-health problem, the agency said Thursday in an emergency declaration meant to more quickly get contractors fixing the trackway.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Noise from Sound Transit's light-rail trains is a public-health problem, the agency said Thursday in an emergency declaration meant to more quickly get contractors working to quiet the trackway.

The emergency order will accelerate work by at least a month, said spokesman Bruce Gray. Otherwise, it might take six months or more to install lubricating devices on the trackway near Mount Baker Station, where trains screech as they round a curve. Neighbors thanked Chairman Greg Nickels, the Seattle mayor, and other agency board members for listening.

"We can't have the light rail be more of a pollutant — with the noise, you've canceled out the carbon reduction," said Libby Clark, who lives on a hillside near the station.

Various spots on the 14-mile line from downtown to Tukwila exceed federal transit standards, said James Irish, light-rail environmental manager.

New agency studies in July found that, in Tukwila below the Duwamish River train bridge, test trains produced 83 decibels, compared to 73 dB in earlier studies. A 10 dB increase equals a doubling of perceived loudness.

Other loud spots include the south Tukwila curve at Highway 518, track switches in Rainier Valley and intersections along Seattle's Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, where train bells or clanging alarms annoy some neighbors. Bell volumes were recently lowered, but transit officials warned traffic safety will be compromised.

The agency has received 60 to 70 noise complaints, as well as 100 petition signatures from people in the Duwamish area. At least three senior managers visited homes last week, Gray said.

Sound Transit's public attitude has evolved since early summer, when Gray said the sounds fell within federal limits, and speculated that Duwamish neighbors weren't yet used to trains. "I don't think we downplayed anything," Gray said Thursday. "We've said that where there are issues, we'd go out and take a look and try to address it."

Normally, contracts of more than $200,000 require a formal request for proposals, an open bid competition and a vote by the transit board. Thursday's order allows the staff to award noiseproofing work of up to $1 million, to apply biodegradable lubricating oil and a retrofit of loud track switches.

Irish said noise walls will be added to elevated trackway in the Duwamish area next year.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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