San Diego Quiet Zone
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Information and Contacts regarding Train Horns & the Railway Quiet Zone in San Diego
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History of the Quiet Zone

From: Gary Smith, President
San Diego Downtown Residents Group (SDDRG)
Please bear with me for a bit of history and the latest.
Prior to the merger of ATSF and BN, Santa Fe used small eight axle diesels with the horn mounted over the cab and not much louder than a Semi's. After the merger, BNSF disposed of most of their smaller diesels and started bringing twelve axle monsters into Downtown.  These engines were designed to run seventy miles an hour over the great plains and the horns were designed to reach out ahead of them in areas with no guarded crossings...they are so loud that the engineers required them to be mounted back in the middle of the engine so they wouldn't become deaf. 
About this time, those of us living downtown vowed to get some peace and quiet...with the help of our then councilman Byron Wear (1994), we besieged city hall, and within a couple of months got an ordinance passed preventing, except in the case of emergency, the blowing of horns between 7 PM and 7 AM. When we tried to enforce it, the BNSF, backed up by the PUC, said only the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) could make rules.
We lobbied our previous set of congressional leaders to pressure the FRA and the then Sec of Transportation, agreed to require rules allowing quiet zones to be established.  After years of work that regulation became a final rule. At the urging of Downtown Residents and Council Dist 2, CCDC hired consultants in 2004, and in consultation with FRA, PUC, BNSF, Amtrak, NCRTD, MTS and the local short line, examined the intersections we desired to include in the proposed quiet zone (Laurel to Park Blvd (old 8th Ave). From this consultation, plans were produced for making these intersections compliant with the new Rule. These plans were basically approved in 2005 and $13 million was included in the 2006 CCDC budget for implementing these measures. 
The first step was to eliminate the "non standard" crossing at Kettner and G by changing G St. to one way eastbound. This was to go to the City Council in Aug of 2005 but was delayed by Council Dist 2 not having a council person.  Then the new city attorney, in their review of docketed items, decided that this was not covered by the existing Master EIR.  CCDC then had to staff and prepare a "negative declaration" which is currently out for public review, and will be submitted in Mid June 2006. Once this is submitted for final action it will be docketed with the Mayor/City Council for approval.  Upon approval, CCDC can begin the actual construction of the improvements. 
A final agreement over maintenance, liability, etc will also need to be approved and public support will be essential. With this agreement, it is hoped that the PUC and BNSF (and their engineers union) will not file objections when we apply to the Sec of Transportation for a "quiet zone". We will keep the pressure on CCDC to expedite the construction. 
FYI, the proper signal for a crossing is long, long, short, long. and is to begin about 15-20 seconds (about 300 ft at 5 mph) and end at the crossing.  Since our blocks are 200 x 300 and about every second one crosses the tracks you can see it can be almost constant. THAT IS NO EXCUSE for playing a symphony at 2 AM. That said, there is no example like a video/audio tape to convince non-believers. Last time it definitely persuaded the City Council that it was a problem. So try to get the worst on tape. 
BNSF still does not believe that their engineers are not playing by the rules...some are not in the other direction as well...they move by with scarcely a toot.  That also is not permitted by the new rule. Blowing the horn is now mandatory, not discretionary. The new quiet zone will not prevent the engineer from blowing the horn if in his opinion it is required.  Enforcement will probably require someone with a video camera catching them in the act from a high rise with a picture that shows no one any where near the crossing.
Please spread this information to those new residents who may not have the history and current plans.  See Timeline for the Quiet Zone Project.
Gary Smith
San Diego Downtown Residents Group 
PO Box 124715 
San Diego, CA 92112-4715 
(619) 232-0110


Last modified:  Tuesday, May 27, 2014 01:24 PM Copyright  2006 All Rights Reserved