San Diego Quiet Zone
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The San Diego Union-Tribune

'Quiet zones' considered for rail crossings in Oceanside

STAFF WRITER

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 their horns.

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 Oceanside alone.

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 cautious.

"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 exists.

Despite the concerns, council members decided to start the process of establishing quiet zones, and grapple with cost and liability as they arise.

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 project."

The city of San Diego also is considering quiet zones at 13 crossings downtown.


Michael Burge: (760) 476-8230; michael.burge@uniontrib.com

source: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050630/news_1mc30quiet.html

 

Last modified:  Saturday, May 15, 2010 03:52 PM Copyright 2006