11:05 Coaster train whistles at the intersection of
Carlsbad Village Drive.
JOHN KOSTER For The North County Times
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policy opens door for 'quiet' railroad crossings
OCEANSIDE ---- The final legal barrier
to creating quiet zones along North County's coastal rail
trail has fallen, clearing the way for individual cities to
silence train horns from Oceanside to San Diego.
The North County Transit District's board of directors voted
7-0 earlier this month, with director Hal Martin of San Marcos
abstaining and member and county supervisor Bill Horn absent,
to finalize a policy for cooperating with cities wanting to
create quiet zones. The new policy is designed to solve the
issue of legal liability that has kept cities from moving
forward with quiet zones in the last year.
A quiet zone is a stretch of rail
where trains can only sound their warning horns if there is an
emergency. Currently, trains must blast every time they
approach a railroad crossing.
Many coastal North County communities from Oceanside south to
Del Mar ---- prodded by railroad-area residents who have
complained of early morning and evening train horn blasts ----
have declared they will silence the trains as soon as they are
"Things like this are never as easy as they seem to be, but I
think it will move forward in pretty short order," said Norine
Sigafoose, a Carlsbad council member and that city's
representative on the nine-member transit district board.
Cities have waited about nine months for the district to
resolve a sticky issue of legal liability in the event of a
The transit district board tried unsuccessfully to pass a
quiet zone policy on Sept. 15, 2005. At that time, however,
the agreement did not resolve the liability issue. Board
members said they wanted some assurance that cities they
represent would be protected if they were sued as a result of
a railroad accident in a quiet zone.
Michael Cowett, the district's attorney, spent nine months
meeting with each city along the rail line and with San
Diego's Center City Development Corporation, which has moved
forward with creating a quiet zone in the city's downtown
core. Cowett said he was able to get the transit district's
insurance company to agree to list each city that creates a
quiet zone as an "additional insured" on its existing policy.
In exchange for the additional coverage, cities would have to
pay an additional $500 to $700 per crossing per year.
Cowett said Monday that he is not aware of any other transit
district in the nation that has been able to broker such an
"I couldn't think of any other way to do it," Cowett said.
In 2005, the Federal Railroad Administration passed new
guidelines that allow cities to declare quiet zones along
railroad tracks, provided that crossings within the zones
have, at a minimum, drop-down protective gates, warning
signals and a relatively low incidence of accidents.
Depending on the type of crossing, some cities may have to
install additional security measures, such as beefy "quad"
gates that would make it physically impossible for cars to
pass into a railroad crossing if a train is coming. Today,
most crossings have more simple, striped, wooden drop-down
gates that can be circumvented by a driver willing to swerve
The Encinitas City Council passed a resolution to create a
quiet zone at Chesterfield Drive. However, while the
resolution stands, Assistant City Manager Richard Phillips
said Monday that the city's budget does not include cash for
"It's not funded in fiscal year 2006-2007," Phillips said,
adding that finding money to create a quiet zone would in all
likelihood mean cutting cash from another city project.
Oceanside has also worked to create a quiet zone in its
downtown area around a long row of expensive "row homes" on