Quiet Zone receives loud support
by Adam Elder
July 11, 2006
It’s not just you: many downtown residents have noticed an increasing number of loud train horns passing through downtown in the middle of the night. In an effort to accelerate the adoption of a downtown “Quiet Zone” that has been in the works by the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) in response to the enforced insomnia, several downtown residents have started www.sleeplessinsandiego.info . It features information on who to contact, how to properly record and report incidents and has room for comments.
“We’re just acting as a conduit to provide people with an opportunity to send their information on through to the CCDC, the DOT (Department of Transportation), et cetera, and providing with as much information as possible, all in one spot,” said Patrick T. McArron, founder of the Web site.
According to residents, while nighttime train and trolley whistles have become an unavoidable annoyance, the noise has gotten much worse in recent weeks.
“What they suspect changed was that one of the engineers was getting a bit careless with their horn,” McArron said.
Due to this, residents have had to hunt around the Internet for information on the Quiet Zone. In sharing stories of insomnia over coffee in the morning in recent weeks since train whistles have escalated, the need was recognized for one comprehensive site where residents could sound off, express their frustrations and find the proper people to communicate their frustrations.
All are further invited to attend a public workshop hosted by the CCDC on establishing an official public “Quiet Zone” in downtown San Diego on Monday, July 17 at 6 p.m. in the Silver Room of San Diego City Concourse, 202 C St. in establishing a quiet zone over 13 railroad crossings, from Park Boulevard to Laurel Street.
Along with District 2 Councilman Kevin Faulconer, representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration will be on hand to listen to concerns and answer questions, explain the city’s progress in updating grade crossings, address the recent increases in train noise and explain the legal requirements that the railroad engineers have to follow.
It’s these legal requirements that have train engineers caught somewhat between a rock and a hard place. Safety laws dictate how long they blow their loud horns as they approach grade crossings. But the length and the intensity of the blasts has many residents asking how much is too much.
The solution lies in establishing a quiet zone in the city. Already several years in the making, much of the plans are drawn up, and CCDC hopes to have the construction completed by late summer of 2007.
Quiet zones in effect “create an extra layer of safety and protection that prevents vehicles or pedestrians from crossing at intersections,” according to CCDC spokesman Derek Danziger, “so the hope is that that extra layer of safety then negates the need for a train whistle at every intersection.”
Danziger was quick to add that should somebody actually be on the tracks, railroad engineers are still legally required to blow their whistles.
A quiet zone would go a long way toward letting residents sleep through the night, though McArron was quick to point out that a lot of people might think that means no more horn blowing. According to him, that’s not necessarily the case, and they need to know that. A quiet zone won’t mean no horn blowing, but rather a reduced number of horns.
The process for planning, gaining approval and construction of these specialized railroad crossings is far more complex than one might imagine. Currently the CCDC is finalizing design contracts for both north- and south-running lines, which is necessary as different rail entities use different rails. The result is a nearly endless array of commissions, authorities and committees that must approve different steps for each crossing. Additionally, even construction bids and actual construction on different rails and parts of crossings are done by different entities.
Also on hand will be representatives from the fire department. Their concern lies in the railroads sometimes blocking crossings for more than 10 minutes at a time while cars are switched, loaded and unloaded in the nearby rail yards.
Aside from being good for the residents of downtown, businesses will stand to gain as well. A visit to the hotel comments page on McArron’s Web site reveals that hotel residents and certain convention have chosen to no longer hold their events downtown due to the strain that nighttime trains put on overnight guests at the bayside hotels.
While McArron and others act to install downtown’s Quiet Zone, their purpose also extends to attempting to change FRA rules. As McArron said, engineers have to follow one rule, whether the train is in the city or country. But downtown has intersections extremely close to one another, which means horn blowing will happen much more frequently. He said as well that the horns don’t need to be that loud, as you only need to hear them for a block or two in the city but can hear them from a mile away.
But though he and others are looking for change, McArron insists they don’t view BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) as an enemy and that BNSF recognizes this. “We want to cooperate with them as downtown residents and vice versa,” he said.