Does a Riding Scale Railroad
make a good Neighbor?
Written by Rick Henderson
As if railroad owners do not
have enough to be concerned about with the cost of materials just to build
railroads, labor to help build and maintain it, insurance issues to cover
visitors, they also have to consider the neighbors and how their railroad
impacts them. While most everyone reading this article is a riding-scale
railroad enthusiast, not everyone living around a railroad may be as enthused
about the railroad as we are. There are a number of cases where railroads have
had some nature of problems with their immediate neighbors for various reasons.
While most have been settled with adjusting their operating and work habits, at
least one very recently ended in a lawsuit in which the railroad was found to
be in conflict with property covenants and ordered removed completely. This
despite the fact that it had been there longer than the neighbor. The basis for
the judgment centered around the fact that the railroad grew over the years and
became a nuisance in the eyes and ears of the neighbor(s). What we find as
intriguing about the hobby, may be viewed as irritating to those that live
close to it.
I actually started research on this topic over two years ago but it was not
until the recent survey on Discover Live Steam that I had enough data to give a
well-informed commentary. That survey revealed that, while close to 60% of the
neighbors near railroads seem to enjoy the railroads presence, especially if
they get to ride on it, 4% had problems with the railroad, the owner or both.
How the issues with the 4% are resolved, may determine if the railroad will
survive. While it is rare that a railroad could be forced to close, the
precedent has been established in court.
One question stood out with an unexpected higher result. Surprisingly 39% of
the respondents reported they have to impose or follow some restrictions to
operate and get along with the neighbors. Some were done out of a sense of
courtesy without asking while others conferred with the neighbors to find out
what would be acceptable. Talking with the neighbors beforehand and actually
listening solves most all problems. Inviting them to ride is a big negotiating
point. One respondent summed it up very well, "Being proactive rather than
reactive with your neighbors goes a long way".
Two factors stand out as the most prevalent irritants for neighbors, noise
and growth in both railroad size and crowds. While railroaders want to capture
the realistic environment of railroad operations, some forget to scale down
their horns and whistles. While these are an important part of real railroading
where you may have only a couple of trains go through a rural town each day,
having train after train after train sound off all day as they start and stop
or cross over a crossings on miniature railroads can soon become irritating to
those not participating. You should ask neighbors if the noise is a problem; if
they indicate yes, it is time to tone down. Rather than set a time in the
evening to stop using them, consider "NO horns or whistles after dark". There
are also some reports that the gasoline engines on some locomotives are too
loud. While one lawn mower running in the background is not usually a problem,
having multiple loud engines running all day can be irritating to neighbors.
The crowd factor is the second big issue dear to the hearts of some
neighbors. A problem a few railroads have encountered is growth through
popularity. As a railroad becomes increasingly popular in our riding-scale
community, more people want to visit, often with their trains of course and
frequently during "run-days" or more increasingly, for "card-order operations".
The neighbors may have issue if the crowds are too large or too often and
disturbs their peaceful living environment. There are no easy answers here. The
railroad owner needs to recognize and set limits, and visitors need to respect
those decisions. A good marker to show your crowds are getting out of hand is
when you need to bring in Porta-Potties for an event. If you let the neighbors
know ahead of time when you are expecting a large crowd and even invite the
neighbors to come ride, it usually removes tensions before they build.
Additionally, if the neighbor is having a function and asks you not to run or
reschedule an event, you should make their request a high priority to honor.
Parking for visitors is not a widespread issue but visitors need to
understand that the owner needs to live all year with the neighbors and if you
block up the streets or worse, park in on the neighbor’s property; there may be
It is not always the owner of the railroad that may stir up problems with
the neighbors; it may be some enthusiastic visitors that feel they should run
as they wish or do on their home railroad. As visitors to other railroads, we
should always ask about operating restrictions before visiting and never apply
home rules to the tracks we visit.
In the US, about 45% of the riding scale railroads are in areas zoned rural-
agricultural while 40% are in areas zoned residential. In our hobby, the best
neighbors may be the more distant neighbors, such as found in rural areas. This
is, however, not feasible for every railroad owner and we have to adopt to fit
in at times. As the population grows, residential neighborhoods creep in and
existing railroads may have to adapt with changing neighborhoods to survive.
Riding Scale Railroading in the US is actually a very, very small hobby with
about 6,000 to 8,000 people loosely in the hobby in a country of 305 million
people. So it behooves us to get along and be really good neighbors ourselves.
Invite the neighbors to join in, keep the noise down and inform your visitors
when necessary about any restrictions to avoid problems. As we grow, and we
will, we need to take more time to consider our growth and how to blend in and
stay on the good side of our neighbors.
Written by Rick
Be sure to visit Rick Henderson's web site PC Rails