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Train whistles wake up Culpeper
Railroad whistles, not heard in town since the 1960s, are disrupting people's sleep in Culpeper

 A freight train heads south this week through the town of Culpeper--once a 'quiet zone,' passing the National Cemetery.
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Date published: 7/14/2005


Since the days when Simon and Garfunkel rode atop the nation's pop music charts, the sound of silence has been the order of the day along historic South East Street in Culpeper.

Now, it seems, the Orange Blossom Special roars through town at all hours of the day and night at a decibel level that no country fiddle could possibly match.

"It's horrible!" declares Culpeper Mayor Pranas Rimeikis, who lives only a few hundred yards from the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks. "It's 10 times louder than any boom box that passes in a car."

What Culpeper's mayor and the other residents of South East Street are complaining about are the train whistles that suddenly returned to the town two weeks ago.

In the mid-1960s, the Town Council declared Culpeper a "quiet zone"--meaning train engineers couldn't sound their air horns when passing through town.

While that law is still on the books, it was superseded by a recent Federal Railway Administration regulation requiring trains to announce their arrival when approaching every street or highway crossing.

There are three crossings in Culpeper, all within spitting distance of South East Street, and the sudden return of train whistles on June 23 came as a shock to most residents there.

"Sometimes I'd walk down by the tracks and occasionally an engineer would toot, but we didn't know what had happened when the trains started blowing their whistles every time through," says resident Joe Leary.

Neither did town officials.

"We were totally blindsided," says Mayor Rimeikis. "We got a letter from Norfolk Southern on June 24 saying they were going to start blowing at crossings on June 23. Worse yet, the letter said the deadline for appealing [to maintain the quiet zones] was June 3."

"We learned about all this after the fact," says Town Manager Brannon Godfrey.

Godfrey says that town officials are now frustratingly fighting their way through "a voluminous federal document" in order to find a way to get their quiet zone back.

"Somewhere buried in there is the procedure for appealing," he says.

Meanwhile, the train whistles continue.

"They start almost at Inlet [three miles to the north] and at Structural Systems [half a mile to the south] and [it] is just nonstop," Rimeikis says.

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