'Quiet zones' considered for rail
crossings in Oceanside
By Michael Burge
June 30, 2005
OCEANSIDE – The City Council
directed its engineering staff yesterday to begin the process of
establishing railroad crossings where trains would not have to sound
New federal regulations that took effect last week allow cities to
establish such crossings, called "quiet zones," by improving the
safety of the crossings.
Residents near the tracks have
complained about the repetitious noise of train horns, which must be
sounded at a quarter of a mile before each crossing.
About 50 trains daily operate on the coastal tracks between San
Diego and Oceanside, resulting in hundreds of horn blasts a day in
City Transportation Manager Frank Watanabe said improvements
required to establish quiet zones generally consist of erecting gates,
called "quad gates," that block all vehicle lanes at the tracks and
building medians that prevent cars from entering an opposing lane of
traffic to cross the tracks. Other measures, such as closing streets
or converting them to one-way routes, also are possible.
Watanabe told the council it could cost $100,000 to $500,000 per
crossing to install the safety equipment, an expense that is not in
the city's budget.
The council agreed with about 30 residents who attended yesterday's
workshop that quiet zones at five crossings on the coastal rail route
are desirable. Those crossings are Surfrider Way, Mission Avenue,
Wisconsin Street, Oceanside Boulevard and Cassidy Street.
The council was concerned, however, that by improving the
crossings, the city might assume liability for accidents.
Under current conditions, the railroad operator is generally liable
for such accidents.
The question of shifting liability has caused some cities, such as
Carlsbad, to hesitate before considering quiet zones.
Some residents who addressed the council yesterday said the city
should go forward with the quiet zones, regardless of that risk.
But Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said the council had to be
"We could lose millions of dollars on one accident," Sanchez said.
"That would come from our general fund."
City Attorney Pamela Walls said it was not explicit from the newly
adopted federal regulations that liability would shift to the city if
it improved the crossings, but she suspected the owner of the rail
line would require that.
In addition, establishing the quiet zone does not guarantee that
engineers would not sound their horns. Engineers still have discretion
under the new regulations to sound the horns if they believe danger
Despite the concerns, council members decided to start the process
of establishing quiet zones, and grapple with cost and liability as
One resident, Brett Anderson, submitted petitions bearing nearly
140 signatures of people requesting the quiet zones. He also
distributed a letter from the city's prospective beachfront hotel
developer, S.D. Malkin Properties, that said a quiet zone near the
hotel "will be vital to ensuring the economic success of our hotel
The city of San Diego also is considering quiet zones at 13
Michael Burge: (760) 476-8230;