San Diego Quiet Zone
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006 12:11 AM PDT

The 11:05 Coaster train whistles at the intersection of Carlsbad Village Drive.
JOHN KOSTER For The North County Times
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Transit district 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 able.

"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 train accident.

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 insurance arrangement.

"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 around them.

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 the crossing.

"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 Cleveland Street.


Last modified:  Sunday, December 13, 2009 07:45 PM Copyright 2006