At least it's on the right side of the tracks
September 7, 2009 10:18 AM   Subscribe

What are the non-obvious drawbacks of buying a house near railroad tracks?

I just looked at a very nice house that I really love. In fact, it has every single thing on my list of needs, plus everything on my "would be nice to have" list. It far exceeds everything else that I've seen so far. The catch? It's fairly close to the railroad tracks.

The street is actually perpendicular to the tracks. It doesn't have a crossing (so no whistling) so it dead-ends to the tracks. It is about a block and a half away from them.

You can see all this if you look directly down the street, and quite frankly, it's sort of overgrown and ugly looking. On the other hand, you can't really see it that well from the back yard or even sitting on the porch because there are other houses and trees that block it off. The neighborhood around it is nice and well-kept, so obviously this isn't a problem for quite a few other people.

Since this is my first solo home purchase, I don't want to get carried away with emotion over the decision, but I am realistically also not going to find a house nearly this nice for that price.

I can see maybe noise, dirt and structural problems because of the vibrations being an issue. If I made an offer, it would be contingent on the inspection.

I have two dogs and a school aged child. We are of the type who could basically sleep through WWIII and I am not very sensitive to ambient noise. I clean constantly because of the dogs/kid anyway, so I'm not sure how much I'd notice extra dirt. The structural issue concerns me most.

So then, aside from those things, am I missing a bunch of other obvious problems that could come from this?
posted by howrobotsaremade to Work & Money (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You're going to need cable, because any type of satellite/airwaves are going to get disrupted whenever a train passes by.

You're also going to have your windows closed most of the year-which might be annoying during the summer.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:23 AM on September 7, 2009

How often does a train pass?

I would recommend asking the neighbors about the frequency of passing trains. Is the house occupied? If not, ask if you can spend the day and one night in the home to experience the trains passing.

Resale would be the second issue, as you note, the house is really nice for the price.
posted by JujuB at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2009

I hardly doubt you will have structural issues from a train a block away. My warehouse sits next to the train tracks here in Denver. Not only next to the train tracks but next to the main train yard in Denver. I can choose between 20 different train engines, throw a rock and hit anyone of them. My warehouse was built in the early 70's and is still standing, no worse for wear.

I honestly wouldn't even think that the train would add additional dirt to the neighborhood. No more than cars going down the street actually.

My biggest concern would be the noise factor. If you think you can live with the added noise then I would say go for it. Camp out and wait for a train to barrel by. Talk to the neighbors and see what they have to say about the trains also.
posted by Gravitus at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2009

Resale will be tough for all the reasons you're having difficulty making your own decision.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:29 AM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Spillage. (Hazardous materials?)
Diesel dust.

That being said, I grew up next (like, wander out my un-fenced back-yard) to a railroad spur which ended in a factory and I love trains.

Spillage? Yeah, raw chunks of sulfer - I then learned that those were flamable, but quickly learned that they stunk to high-heck. Used to walk the factory spurs constantly - it was the quickest way to get to school. Used to cross railway bridges over the Welland Canal.

(Sigh. Memories :-) )

How busy is the rail-line? You could try contacting the rail company and find out. We live about 2km from a railway and they run most of the traffic at night. I've gotten so used to the 2:55am warning whistle, that I don't hear it and if I do it's pleasant, not irritating.
posted by jkaczor at 10:32 AM on September 7, 2009

The New York Times recently had a piece on dream homes in less-than-desirable locations; one example was very similar to your situation:
That compromise is a freight train that blasts by just a few feet from her four-bedroom 1839 summer house on the Housatonic River in Cornwall Bridge, Conn. It appears at 7:30 a.m. almost every day. “The house shakes,” Ms. Hulser said. “It rattles the pots and pans.” She bought the house last August for $255,000, reduced from $375,000, said her broker, Priscilla Miller of Bain Real Estate, after it had been on the market for 10 months. “Without the train next door,” Ms. Miller said, the house would have cost double. “It made it much more affordable by putting up with that,” she said. ...

But not everyone is charmed. Ms. Hulser said that when her 12-year-old daughter, Kira Baird, had a sleepover, she “tried to spin it as a quaint feature of the site.” When the train thundered by that Saturday morning, though, Ms. Hulser awoke to a chorus of pre-teens shrieking in terror.

Safety can be an issue. Ms. Hulser must remind her daughter’s guests not to leave bicycles on the tracks, which, just 20 feet from her house, are so little used that they blend into the scenery.
Be sure to check out the accompanying photo.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would ask about the schedule--how often does the train come through? Does it run all night? Could you ask to be in the house during a passing? You may think the noise may not be an issue until you experience a great frequency of noise first hand. Do you like to keep your windows open? The noise may be intolerable with windows open.

Will the vibrations unalign pictures, knick-knacks, rattle your dishes? Vibrations from a close-by train or airport can disturb children and animals much more than adults. Vibrations can also be hard on sensitive electronics.

The biggest issue you haven't mentioned is safety for your kid--a train track can be an irresistible draw for a school-aged kid--even if your kid is duly warned, he/she may make neighborhood friends who tempt him/her to play unsafely.

Depending on if the train is cargo or passenger, you are at a greater risk to be affected by derailments--think about what some of these argo trains transfer (chemical transfer, for example). Also, open cargo containers can throw A LOT of debris that even if it doesn't make it to your house, could be another draw for play--and a lot of that debris is not something you want your kid messing with.

I speak from growing up with friends and relatives in this situation and from being the wife of a guy from a railroad family. My husband would never live anywhere remotely close to tracks, even tracks that rain infrequently. Folks we know who have quickly become weary of the constant worry, the noise (turning up the TV or stereo all the time, not able to hear phone calls), and the dirt and debris. And yes, structural issues are inevitable, even if they take a long time to show up.

I hate to be gloom and doom, especially when you love a house--but this is one to take slowly. Talk to the neighbors, find out the schedule, experience it first hand, and yes, get it inspected. Best of luck.
posted by rumposinc at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2009

Resale, resale, resale, resale.

Avoid like the plague.
posted by dfriedman at 10:36 AM on September 7, 2009

I live a few blocks uphill from a train that comes by occasionally, maybe a few times a day. In summertime the train passing shakes my bed, not in a bad way. In wintertime the ground is frozen so it doesn't. The train goes by a few times a day. I usually sleep between the last train [1:30 am] and the morning train [10:30] I don't think this is because of the train, but I did realize that's sort of what I've been doing. The train makes a bunch of whistly noises as it comes through town. I don't even notice it but other people might. The only other slightly weird thing about being near the tracks is sometimes I get in the car to go someplace and wind up stuck in town for ten minutes because I've just missed the train window and the gates are down across the only road.

The train near me doesn't even shake the house enough to rattle my dishes, but if I were you I'd really want to be in the house when the train is coming through to see what the deal is.
posted by jessamyn at 10:36 AM on September 7, 2009

You will have a new method of timekeeping, i.e. "there is the 3:35." I once recorded at a studio next to the tracks. We would be getting ready for tracking and the engineer would say "Take 5, the 6:20 will be coming through before the next take is done."

He was near a siding which had the unfortunate consequence of being a de facto train station for indigents. As freights pulled on the siding, homeless would be hanging out waiting for the train to take the siding and when the train pulled over, it would be a little bit of off and on traffic. The train schedule on the siding seemed pretty common knowledge in this wayfaring community of the homeless. Some of these people are more sketchy than others and brought problems with them. So try to determine if there is a siding near by.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 10:36 AM on September 7, 2009

I live less than a block from railroad tracks and it's not too bad. We don't have a crossing nearby so whistles aren't a problem, and I don't really notice them going by anymore.

My only complaint is that once every couple months a train will stop on the tracks in the wee hours of the morning. The idling train and sounds of the cars clunking as it gets moving again are loud enough to wake me up when we have the windows open (nearly year round here in Oregon).
posted by pb at 10:38 AM on September 7, 2009

Does the rail line carry freight trains or passenger trains?

Is the line near a rail yard or switch? If so, find out if idling trains are an issue.

If the trains are mostly freight trains, you may also want to find out what kinds of loads the trains usually carry. In case of a derailment or some other accident, would you have to evacuate?

I would be most concerned about idling trains. A train sitting there for HOURS would be enough to drive any sane person crazy.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:38 AM on September 7, 2009

A big issue in my area with living near railroad tracks is that most of the rail companies spray massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides along the tracks and nearby them. It's in the news a lot here, as it seems to be affecting water/animals/kids/parks nearby. I think they do it to help keep the brush/foliage clear. They've been talking about closing a local park about a quarter mile from the tracks.

Otherwise: I used to live a block and a half from the tracks, and I really did get used to the noise. Even when I lived three blocks from the actual rail yard, the noise was fine (unless I was already having insomnia). It might be helpful to know what line you live near - is it a main line? or is it a local shortline to a factory that might just get worked every other day or less?
posted by circle_b at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

An ex of mine had a house which backed on to railway track, most of the time was fine, but once a month there was an overnight maintenance train which was much much more noisy and rattling than the regular services. Can't remember exactly what they were doing to the rails, but there was two minutes of shaking and rattling in the middle of the night as it rumbled slowly by. Not good at all.

Even though I got used to the regular trains, the maintenance woke me up every time. Perhaps check with the neighbours or train company?
posted by Tapioca at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2009

You should be in the house when the train is passing before making a decision. Speed, weight (freight trains are heavier) and frequency of the trains are all factors, but you should really be in the house.

Once, when the Mrs. and I were looking to buy a house, we visited one I saw on a classified and the deal breaker was the 10 track train hub nearby (with the high-speed rail in the works at the time): everything was fine and dandy, and I know from experience the noise of the trains is something you get used to in a few days.

However, we stringed along the visit chattering with the real estate agent and between us until the first train came along. The floors were shaking, the cupboards were opening and the glasses were tinkling. Out in 30 seconds flat. A new personal record.
posted by _dario at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2009

This is an economic obsolescence. From the link, "Often times appraisers will note some kind of obsolescence which can make home financing very difficult. In fact, some lenders will decline your mortgage application if they find obsolescence on the appraisal report that they feel is a detriment to the value of the property." Note that will be true for you, and for any future buyer.
posted by Houstonian at 10:51 AM on September 7, 2009

Definitely check out the schedule of the trains, how often they run and what they carry.

I used to live in a farmhouse where the backyard backed onto a train line (big back yard - the train tracks were less than a .25 mile away). Every night, the train would come through, blow a whistle and chug past. During my second month living there, my parents came to visit. After their first night, they asked me how I sleep with that "blasted train" running past; I gave them a blank look and asked, "Train? What... OH, right, the train!" In just a month, I had gotten so used to the train that I never heard it anymore.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some of the houses in my neighborhood back up to some low traffic railroad tracks. While the tracks do not carry many trains, they are used as a thoroughfare for vagrants and criminals. A lot of these homes have been broken into because criminals can watch the homes from the railroad tracks to determine when people are home or away. Since the criminals are entering and exiting through the backyard, they're not easily detected.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 11:06 AM on September 7, 2009

I rented a house 1.5 blocks from some tracks, with a similar dead-end street situation. I rarely heard the train, and never really felt vibrations, but the trains were infrequent and slow-moving. Resale was no problem in that neighborhood - we wanted to buy there, but the houses were out of our price range!

It seemed to me that once you got off the block that was right next to the tracks, no one really cared.
posted by cabingirl at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2009

When I was a kid, my dad lived in a house situated near tracks, like the one you're looking at. The street was a dead-end, which was awesome for all the neighborhood kids. After maybe a day, I stopped being aware of the train - shaking and such never woke me up. I never noticed any soot or dust, but I was a kid, so take that with a grain of salt.

Later, in college, I lived with a family friend for a while in Paris. She lived on the top floor of a building that backed right up to an extremely busy train station (Gare du Nord) - trains came and went frequently, at nearly all hours. The building shook whenever they did. Again, after a day or so, I stopped noticing, and slept through them without trouble. It was an old building, and it didn't seem to have any structural problems.
posted by rtha at 11:19 AM on September 7, 2009

I lived about a block and a half away from the railroad tracks in midtown Sacramento, which is bisected by a cargo rail line. The noise was negligible from that distance, and I soon got used to it. This rail line is highly trafficked and goes for miles through neighborhoods filled with homes, shops and restaurants. I have never heard of any problems, except for when a train would stall for whatever reason and block traffic. Midtown is also filled with houses that have been standing for 100+ years, including some right next to the tracks.

A lot of people are talking about resale value, but I think its more important to consider your house as the place you are going to live in, rather than something you will sell later. That's important, to be sure, but you're going to be living there for the foreseeable future and if you love it and can afford it then resale value should be relatively low on the list of considerations.
posted by apricot at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I live about a block and half from a set of tracks and then a quarter of a mile from a crossing. The noise isn't that bad, they only blow the whistle a couple of times and at night you don't even hear it. I think the noise can be rather soothing, hearing the clank clank type of noise. The one thing that we take into account is traffic when the train crosses the road. It happens everyday at 5 PM and traffic backs up for half a mile, so that's the only downside for us.

One thing to think about is that they do spray chemicals to kill all the weeds and plant life around the tracks so they don't start fires. That could be a downside for plants and kids who wander to far.
posted by lilkeith07 at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2009

I grew up in a house (lived there for 12 years) that was 1 1/2 blocks from the train tracks--commuter trains and freight trains went by several times each day. If you love the house--you will truly get used to the noise and will not even hear it after a while. The only annoyance I remember after all these years is when I would be talking on the phone in the summertime when the windows were open--yes, it was a bit hard to hear then. But that's it!
posted by bookmammal at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2009

I live 300 metres away from my town's train station (29 trains a day with more commuter trains coming soon!) My best friend's house backs on to the tracks. So I have experience with how it affects a house. Your best bet is to stay in the house several hours to see if there is rattling, vibration and noise and how frequent. My house is one hundred years old, my friend's is around 80 years and none of our local homes have fallen down because of trains. My sister also backs onto train trains in a grimy part of town (multiple rails and constant freight traffic both fast and screechingly slow) and the tracks there are definitely drawing in the criminal element. Passenger or Freight trains? Freight are the noisy ones that cause far more vibration. I have not noticed dirt being a problem.

Personally, I love living near the tracks (and houses here go for half a million) BUT you can buy a not-so-great house in a great location and upgrade the house but you are basically always stuck with your location. As others mentioned, resale should also factor into your decision.
posted by saucysault at 11:33 AM on September 7, 2009

You're going to need cable, because any type of satellite/airwaves are going to get disrupted whenever a train passes by.

Wait...what? No. This is false.

I lived 80 feet from the CN main line -- and a crossing -- in our small town for 10 years, running all hours of the day. (I thought the railroad was a dying industry -- how wrong I was.) I'm guessing we were less than a third the distance away that you would be. Here is my take:

-Yes, you'll hear it from inside. After a week, you won't notice it. Heavier trains are felt more than lighter ones. AT that distance, I would guess you'll feel a little vibration, but not too much. After a month, the only times we noticed it were when talking on the phone, and someone would hear it coming through the phone.

-Yes, get a structural check done, but you're not likely to run into issues in a decently-built house. We had probably more than your average number of minor drywall cracks/split seams, but it's a toss-up whether that was a result of the trains, or the fact that it was a new house settling issue, or even heaving from the frost in the winter.

-It also doesn't sound like you're right near a crossing (?), so the largest noise issue (the whistle) is a non-issue for you.

-Houstonian brings up an interesting point about economic obsolescence, but I think if the tracks have been there for a long time, the external impact on the price/value of the house has stabilized by this point.

The most important thing is what others have said -- be there when a train goes by, and talk to the neighbors about their experiences with it. These are far valuable than any advice others can give you on here. Unless there are dealbreaker issues, I'd say go for it.
posted by liquado at 11:35 AM on September 7, 2009

I have had experience with this twice.

My mother in law bought a house where her 20 foot garden ended at the railway line. It was a good house in a nice, family development. The mail rail line from London to Edinburgh. A high speed train raced past twice every hour all day, and then less at night. She had triple glazed windows and it didn't bother her; as an occasional visitor it drove me insane because I liked to have a window open, but I honestly think it was the suddenness that threw me.

Her house sold for a very nice sum of money upon her death.

My husband and I lived in East London in a rented flat with a large concrete deck/courtyard thing that backed onto the tracks. We had something like 25 trains an hour go past - overground, freight, London underground - and it bothered me less because a) the trains were slower and not so WHOOMP scary, and b) there was a lot of ambient city noise that made it less dramatic.

That flat sold for a city fortune when we moved out.

Having said that, these properties were both adjacent to their railway lines. Your property is a block and half away. That is not the same thing. I no longer live in the US but I'm sure you can check the neighbourhood and find out how houses were doing a year and two years ago - did the property values rise steadily, and how long the houses stayed on the market. Use that as your criteria.

I would also like to say that conventional wisdom does not always rule. We bought a house nobody else would buy, people thought we were insane, and we have no regrets. We also, to be fair, have no plans to sell - ever.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:35 AM on September 7, 2009

Figure out what travels on the train tracks, if you can.

Our house is about half a block from train tracks, but it's an interior route, used to transport acids from a local chemical manufacture. We found this out one fine day after a train passed and leaked a bit of acid, which left the grass around the tracks smoking, though luckily not catching fire.

The tracks also became a harbinger of the down turning economy. As things slowed, so did the number of trains, as the chemical plant slowly laid off workers due to a drying up customer base.

The house is just over a hundred years old and has been standing just fine, despite vibrations. The most annoying thing is that when the train goes through and you're on the phone, you can't hear or say anything for about 10 seconds as it rumbles by.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:39 AM on September 7, 2009

Don't worry about the resale value. You are getting a discount on the price of the house because of its proximity to the tracks. You will give up the same discount when selling. If you like everything else about the house, the railroad probably isn't a deal breaker. I lived within 100 feet of tracks for several years and it wasn't a problem. But you probably should hang out for a few train passings and judge for yourself if the noise is enough to disturb you or disrupt conversation. It is important as noted that your street isn't a whistle crossing, but there are probably other whistle crossings in the vicinity. You should be there to hear it yourself.
posted by JackFlash at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

On the one hand, I have lived very close to heavily-used railroad tracks as an adult (before I had kids) and hardly noticed it.

On the other hand, when I was Kindergarten-aged in the late '70s, I knew a kid who wasn't much older than me who had his leg amputated by a train running over it because he and his brother lived by the tracks and were playing on them without their parents' knowledge. Knowing him instilled in me a deap-seated fear of train amputation, and I will never, ever live anywhere close enough to railroad tracks to worry about my kids being in reasonable danger of that. Also, Torts class during the first year of law school should be enough to scare anyone away from rairoad tracks and railroad yards forever.
posted by The World Famous at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2009

I once lived near rail tracks - the train came through twice a day. I got used to it and it was even kind of nice, like the surf noise if you live by the beach. I was on a fairly straight portion of the track, though. Once I stayed in a motel that was over a mile from the tracks, but right at a tight curve. The flanges of the wheels making that screeching sound while the whole mile-long freight train went around the bend was not something I think I could ever sleep through or enjoy.

The two things I'd be concerned about would be kid safety, and what kind of people hang around the tracks in the evening. Do lots of teenagers hang out there shouting and laughing and breaking beer bottles? Homeless people? I would drive by at several times of day and night, weekday/weekend, and see.
posted by ctmf at 11:44 AM on September 7, 2009

Just keep in mind that whatever use the rail line gets now could change dramatically. It might be a spur line serving an industrial area that has all but switched to another use. Indeed, it may already be slated to be turned into a trail. It might be a line that gets upgraded and ends up with 4x the amount of traffic as fuel prices start to climb again and more freight switches from trucks to trains.

Oh, and something that I don't think anyone has mentioned: Bears, cougars, coyotes etc. Rail right of ways can provide corridors for wild animals. I would worry too much about it, but it does happen. This summer Seattle has had both a black bear and a cougar, both are suspected to have travelled into urban Seattle via rail right of ways.
posted by Good Brain at 12:26 PM on September 7, 2009

I live about a quarter of a mile away from some very active tracks (about 30 coal trains per day).. as you can probably tell by the responses so far, it really does depend on a lot on the exact circumstances. Is the track straight? Is it on a grade (louder engine noise for the uphill trains)?

In my case the track is raised, so there isn't much of a problem with people hanging out in the easement (too steep), nor do we have any at-grade crossings... so no traffic issues or whistles. The only time the trains blow their horns is if there are workers along the track.. since I love trains, I look forward to this.

I can definitely hear the engines, but just as a pleasant background noise.. If I have the TV on at all, I can't even tell. Some days (especially nights) you can hear them better than others, but nothing that wakes up even the light-sleepers in the family. Even outside, it's nothing that would stop a conversation to wait for the train to pass. Because of this, it doesn't seem to affect sales in the area.

One thing I did before I moved here was stake out the area at night (when it's quiet) and just sit outside and listen.. If you do that a few times you'll definitely get a feel for how it will be. There's really no other way to tell.
posted by everybody polka at 12:45 PM on September 7, 2009

I live a block from the (mostly freight) tracks and 1/2 mile from the airport. I don't notice the noise at all. My house is 100 years old with single pane windows and very little insulation. The only time anything rattles or falls off shelves is when the damn kids from the high school have the bass booming (but I just shake my broom at them and tell them to get off my lawn). Pre-mortgage crisis, houses in my neighborhood sold for $800k-$1m. Now the low-end is about $450k. The only "bad" thing about living near the tracks is the homeless. I bag my bottles & cans seperately from the rest of the recyclables so it's easy for the homeless guys to take them, but sometimes they dump the contents of the neighbors recycle bin on the street looking for cans and just leave the rest on the street. It drives the neighbors crazy. But even that only happens about once every 6 months or so. My house is a rental, and if I could buy it, I would in a heartbeat.
posted by dogmom at 1:00 PM on September 7, 2009

You never know if the rail schedule is going to change, either. My in-laws had a house where the train tracks ran literally right behind their backyard. Little trains tootled by every once and a while. It didn't really bother them, though, because they had a really nice house with lovely soundproofing.

Then the railroad line was sold to another company and all hell broke loose. The new company decided to run several mile-long "super trains" on the track several times a day. My in-laws were incredibly lucky, in that they were able to sell the house at a profit. To an executive of the train company. If it hadn't been for that guy, they may have never been able to sell it.
posted by sugarfish at 2:25 PM on September 7, 2009

I grew up 2 blocks from a train track and really would only notice a train on occasion. We never had a problem with having to keep the windows closed.

My wife didn't grow up near train tracks, but doesn't seem to notice the big freight trains that go by a few blocks from our house now.

There are lots of good points raised above. The absolute worst case would be spillage or derailment. I think derailment at least has to be pretty rare.

Also, as mentioned above, the train track is probably already factored into the price of the house.
posted by drezdn at 3:21 PM on September 7, 2009

My house is on a dead-end street 1/2 block from a two-line raised track (for freight trains). It was built in 1915 & has the usual cracks in the plaster walls & ceiling, but that's probably due just as much to age as train proximity. No other structural issues, even though the house shakes whenever a heavily-laden train goes by. I rarely notice it anymore, but guests have woken up screaming because they thought the house was falling down. Our dogs, cats, & toddler haven't had any issues because of the trains.

The noise doesn't bother me, other than the first night or two of summer when we sleep with the windows open for the first time after winter. But it never drowns out phone or tv. (We're lucky that they don't blow the whistle in our neighborhood, either.)

The cars on these lines are pretty much all enclosed, so I haven't noticed any garbage or debris falling off. We don't have hobos or vagrants or other people causing problems.

I have noticed that we have a lot more trains going by than we did just a few years ago. I assume it's because of the downturn in the economy & the higher fuel prices last summer causing companies to stop using semi trucks as much.

So I'd say if you love the house & the train schedule seems manageable & they aren't dropping junk all over, you'd probably be just fine buying it. There are some very nice houses just on the other side of the tracks from me that sell for big bucks, so it's not always the kiss of death for resale value.
posted by belladonna at 4:40 PM on September 7, 2009

I'd pay extra to live near train tracks. I love the sound of trains.
posted by beccyjoe at 5:04 PM on September 7, 2009

I have to ditto ctmf. Make sure you are not near a curve in the tracks, THAT noise is not something a person can stay sane listening to.
posted by magnetsphere at 5:47 PM on September 7, 2009

"The structural issue concerns me most."

Any structural issues should be the least of your worries.

Two very obvious things that could affect you and your family's health should. The noise and the smell/dust.

I used to be immune to noise while sleeping too, but then after the kids came along and a few ( make that more than a "few") years later I wake up easier. My fatherly radar kicked in.......thankfully. One time I was sleeping late in the morning and my wife was locked out of the house. She had the neighbor phone me constantly ( the phone was next to the bed) and rang the doorbell over and over. She even threw stones at the bedroom window. Nothing woke me up. But now its different. I wake up easier. You may become more sensitive over time to noise because of concerns for your child. Doesn't the thought of sleeping through a smoke alarm bother you?

Secondly.....the smell and dust on days when the wind is blowing the right (wrong) way. That can't be healthy for you, your dogs and especially your child over time! That "dust" on the coffee table isn't just dust on the coffee table, it's entering your lungs ( and your child's) on a next to daily basis. And thats what should be worrying you!
posted by Taurid at 9:09 PM on September 7, 2009

I've lived next to train tracks in several homes - once, right next to a train station - and loved each and every place. Of course, YMMV; not everyone hears trains on their tracks as lullabies!
posted by Bergamot at 11:14 PM on September 7, 2009

I grew up in a house where the backyard bordered on railroad tracks. The tracks were for a siding that had at most one freight train travelling out and back per day on the weekdays. At that proximity, you could feel when a train was passing, but it didn't cause the house to vibrate in a manner that had anything fall. This line didn't run trains late at night or early in the morning and it wasn't near a grade crossing that required the train to horn or whistle.

You'll want to find out how often the train passes each day, because noise is probably the biggest concern arising from the proximity to the railroad (as opposed to relative to the neighborhoods location within the municipality.) If it's twice an hour as opposed to twice a day, that would make a big difference. You'll need and whether there are any existing plans to change the amount of usage-- if the line is going to be converted from freight to passenger service, or if some new facility is being constructed or zoning is changing along the route that might impact the schedule.
posted by andrewraff at 8:52 AM on September 8, 2009

I grew up in a house that was near-ish to a set of tracks that curved around and intersected with three major roads, so we had three sets of whistles nearby with trains scheduled about every hour and a half. I got married and moved back into that house, and I don't hear a thing. I barely even remember that a train exists so close by. My husband, after living here a year and a half, still complains of being woken up and distracted by it. I never counted on his not getting used to it, so that may be something to consider.
posted by bristolcat at 3:31 PM on September 8, 2009

You may need to use CFL instead of incandescent bulbs, else you might be constantly replacing bulbs and constantly finding areas of the house where some of the lights don't work. (The filament life of incandescent bulbs shortens dramatically when they are regularly subjected to even minor vibration.)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:23 PM on September 8, 2009

I live roughly the equivalent of a half block from busy tracks. I can see the main train station from my dinning room window. Mostly, I quite like it, being goofy. But the regular trains are all passenger lines, so not heavy. These are all electric, so the diesel isn't a big issue. There is some cargo, and the yard locomotive is diesel. The only real issue, you can't continue a conversation on the huge balcony (7th floor), while trains are passing. There is 1 building between us and the tracks, but a gap between buildings channels the noise during that passage. We deal with it okay. The bulk of the trains pass around the same times. (there are 6-8 passenger trains per hour). Fortunately, not going that fast.
posted by Goofyy at 6:49 AM on September 10, 2009

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