San Diego Quiet Zone
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The San Diego Union-Tribune

Train troubles

Residents near Carlsbad tracks want horn-free 'quiet zone'


October 29, 2004

CARLSBAD He often misses the punch lines on TV programs because of the noise. He gets up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep. His phone conversations are constantly interrupted.

Living next to train tracks may have been romantic at some point, but now trains and their loud horns just make life miserable, said Richard Rankin, 57, who lives off Tamarack Avenue just east of the railroad.

"The Amtrak will rattle your teeth," said Rankin, a telecommunications professional.

Rankin is one of the more than 150 people living next to the tracks near the Tamarack crossing who signed a petition asking the city to do something about the horns, which they say are getting louder.

More than 15 residents showed up at a City Council meeting Tuesday night, and the group's leader, Max Rabii, asked that Carlsbad study becoming a "quiet zone."

Rabii spent the summer collecting signatures from like-minded neighbors.

City officials in Encinitas and Oceanside are already studying whether they can or should create quiet areas where trains would go through intersections without blasting their horns. In California, only the city of Placentia has a designated quiet zone. Fewer than a dozen exist nationwide.

The Carlsbad City Council took no action this week and at least for now officials are steering clear of such legislation. The council will wait at least until January to see what happens with pending federal regulation changes.

Under new rules scheduled to take effect in January, cities that want quiet zones will negotiate directly with the Federal Railroad Administration, said agency spokesman Warren Flatau.

But Carlsbad officials are waiting to see whether the new rules will address the issue of liability should there be a train collision in a quiet zone.

Flatau said the new rules do not really address liability, and that may be a hang-up for the city and for the North County Transit District, which owns the railroad right of way used by Amtrak, freights and NCTD's Coaster commuter trains.

"I'd suspect we'd object to it if the liability were to remain with NCTD" while the formation of quiet zones was decided between cities and the Federal Railroad Administration, said NCTD spokesman Tom Kelleher.

City engineer Bob Johnson said the possibility of legal blame falling on Carlsbad is a good reason for the city not to explore a quiet zone for now.

Flatau said the goal of the rules is to give cities flexibility in creating quiet zones and to set nationwide rules for how long the train horns can sound and how loud they can be.

He said a chorus of complaints from around the country prompted the changes, with people increasingly calling the horns "excessive."

Carlsbad apartment manager Graydon Dallas-Orr, 34, said he has recorded train horns as loud as 116 decibels over the past year. He said he will hire a lawyer as soon as he has medical proof that his two young children's eardrums are being damaged.

"It's enough to have them fall on the ground covering their ears and crying" when the loudest offenders come by, he said.

"So help me goodness, I want to take an air horn and blow it next to (the conductor's) ear so he can see what he does to me and my family," Dallas-Orr said.

Federal regulations currently require a train to sound a horn that can be heard at a minimum volume of 96 decibels 100 feet in front of the engine, but it can be louder. Engineers are required to sound the horn with a series of long and short blasts when a train is within a quarter-mile of a crossing.

New rules will cap the sound at 110 or 111 decibels, Flatau said, the first cap ever established.

A handful of residents said Coaster train conductors seem to take the neighbors into account when they decide how long to sound their horns.

But Amtrak and freight train conductors "just lean into the horn," said resident Rita Perfito, 58, a real estate professional. Some 52 trains pass by her house daily, she said, and their horn blowing is becoming unbearable.

Like others, Perfito knew the trains were there when she moved in, but she said it is unfair to ask residents to just accept more and more noise.

Perfito and others said they will visit the City Council meeting next Tuesday and each week thereafter until something is done.

City engineer Johnson said staff members plan to return to the council with more information when the new federal rules are implemented, but no sooner than January.

Residents said the sooner the better.

"I love my neighborhood, I love my house," Perfito said. "I shouldn't have to move."

Staff writer Michael Burge contributed to this report.

Elena Gaona: (760) 476-8239;



Last modified:  Sunday, December 13, 2009 02:48 PM Copyright 2006