Although downtown residents working with the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) are moving forward with a Quiet Zone to lessen the well-known nighttime train horns, the project is still many months away from completion. Silent nights for downtown residents, however, may be just around the corner.
Salvation comes in the unlikely form of SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments), the North County Transit District (NCTD) and the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). Nighttime work has been planned and is nearing approval for stabilization to the train tracks on the Del Mar bluffs, during which time no trains can pass though. While SANDAG is still finalizing the process, work is expected to begin as early as January 2007, and take as long as nine months to complete.
"It's expected that they'll do the work from 10 at night till 5 in the morning, and that no trains will run past the bluffs at that time, " said NCTD spokesman Tom Kelleher.
Closure of the tracks would most likely take place at least five nights a week, stretching possibly to seven. This will affect all trains on the tracks riding during these nighttime hours, including Amtrak Coaster and all BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) freight trains, which are responsible for most of the complaints.
While this only covers trains traveling through this spot, in fact a majority of traffic uses these rails which run to Los Angeles. Thus the closure will effectively silence the train horns at night. The Imperial Valley line would be unaffected, but comparatively far fewer freight and passenger trains travel to and from San Diego this way.
However, with regard to passenger trains, officials have planned for a way to get late-night Amtrak and Coaster riders to the train station like normal.
"When we do close the track down, although trains won't be able to go through that area, we'll be bussing passengers around the work zone, " said Ramon Ruelas, senior project manager for SANDAG. "Although service will be interrupted in that area, they're still going to be able to get through. "
The work is designed to prevent the high bluffs above the ocean from crumbling away. This will involve drilling and driving I-beams both horizontally and vertically into the bluffs to stabilize the earth under the tracks, according to John L. Anderson, senior project manager for CCDC and project manager for downtown's Quiet Zone plan. Because the crew is working on the side of a cliff, there is no space on which to work adjacent to the tracks, thus they must close the tracks as they literally drill on a flatbed train car.
The cessation of nighttime trains is not without implications, though, warned Anderson. It will result in more freight trains during the day, possibly complicating many of downtown's intersections which double as railroad crossings.
CCDC also maintained that it continues to make progress in establishing downtown's Quiet Zone, in which safer train crossings will relieve train engineers of their duty to blow their loud horns when crossing each of the downtown area's many intersections. Officials are aiming tentatively for a completion by next fall. CCDC is footing the entire $6.8 million bill on the project, CCDC representatives point out, which is very complicated due to the fact that so many entities either own or have the right of way on different parts of the track. Nonetheless, CCDC spokesman Derek Danziger maintains that most of the work is on the front end in gaining the approval of all these entities and that the actual construction process is not especially time-consuming.
While District 2 Councilman Kevin Faulconer has been active as well in establishing the Quiet Zone, he is also enthusiastic about the upcoming reprieve from nighttime horns.
"The timing on the Del Mar project is fortuitous and good news to everybody sleeping downtown at night, " Faulconer said. "[But] we're continuing to push every single month on moving forward with the Quiet Zone. And in the last month and a half, we've had some pretty positive developments: all agencies have signed off on the design. "
Faulconer said he plans to hold another town hall meeting on Quiet Zone progress within the next few months.
With NCTD, MTS and BNSF all on the table, Faulconer said, the difference this time over past attempts at establishing the Quiet Zone is that "not everybody was in the same room. And with a project of this magnitude, it's essential. This is a quality of life issue for downtown residents. "
According to Faulconer, a quiet zone this large has never been done before in the U.S.
"Let's write the book on how to make it happen, " Faulconer said. "Thousands of residents are rightfully expecting this. We will get this done. "