The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
  NUMBER 120


© November 11, 2008   

©Discover Live Steam and Rick Henderson (PC Rails).  This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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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 problems.

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 Henderson

Be sure to visit Rick Henderson's web site PC Rails


©Discover Live Steam and Rick Henderson (PC Rails). This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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