San Diego Quiet Zone
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North County Times

Quiet zones praised in several California cities

By: PAUL SISSON - Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 12:00 am

Amtrak zooms by honking the horn at the railroad crossing
on Surfrider St. in Oceanside Thursday night.
While several San Diego County cities, including Oceanside, Carlsbad and Encinitas, are trying to silence train horns by creating quiet zones, several other California communities have already cut the "woo woo" from the choo-choo -- and residents there say the hush has been heavenly.

Six California cities -- Sacramento, Richmond, San Jose, Campbell, Placentia and Pomona -- have created, or are in the process of creating, quiet zones, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The zones mean train conductors sound warning horns

only in emergencies. If no quiet zone is in place, trains must blast their horns as they approach each railroad crossing.

The push for quiet zones along North County's coastal rail route has been going on since the Federal Railroad Administration decided in June 2005 to allow communities to create such zones, provided certain safety guidelines were met.

Now, local interest in quiet zones is growing as the Sprinter light-rail line prepares to open in December, sending commuter trains from Escondido to Oceanside several times a day. The trains would cross roughly 36 intersections along the route.

Still, several issues remain unresolved, including how to convince cities to implement quiet zones and how to pay for them.

Residents praise changes

The city of Richmond, with four established quiet zones, is at the forefront of the nation's new experience with quieting trains. Residents and government officials there said persistence has been the key to silencing train horns.

Dr. Louis Hagler, who used to live in the city's tony bayside "Point Richmond" neighborhood, said that he and his neighbors began putting pressure on the local, state and federal governments in 2001 to silence horns at nine railroad crossings throughout the city.

That prodding included writing letters, calling the city and even recording the number of horn blasts each day to establish a "base level" of noise that policy makers could use in making a decision.

Similar levels of activism in North County have had fewer immediate results.

In Carlsbad, Max Rabii, who manages an apartment complex next to the railroad tracks, has tried his own prodding of the local city council. Despite a petition to create a quiet zone, there has been little action so far. He said his tenants often flee the loud horns.

"It shakes the building," Rabii said. "People, they put their earplugs in their ears when they sleep and it still wakes them up."

Years of lobbying eventually worked in Richmond. In April 2004, the Richmond City Council passed a quiet zone resolution. It took more than a year of coordinating with rail companies and federal agencies for the zone to take effect.

Hagler, who refers to trains' warning horns as "noise pollution," said the silence was worth the work and the wait, though horns still sometimes blow in the area.

"The quiet zones have helped; there is significantly less horn blowing than there was before," Hagler said.

David Moore, who still lives in the Point Richmond neighborhood, said the quiet zone has brought serenity to his life.

"The noise during the day when I was working was irritating, but the noise at night was insufferable," Moore said. "When the quiet zones were first implemented, people were in a bit of a daze to grasp the idea that it could be so quiet at night."

Richmond City Attorney Carlos Privat said public reaction to the first quiet zone, the one near the city's most expensive and sought-after bayfront homes, has been the most dramatic in the year since horns stopped blowing.

"Its helped immensely. I don't hear their complaints. I don't get their e-mails. I don't get their angry telephone calls about the horns anymore," Privat said.

Paying for improvements

Farther down the bay, San Jose also has a quiet zone in place on a 5.3-mile extension of a light-rail line that connects downtown with some of the city's suburbs.

Amy Olay, San Jose's senior city engineer, said that citizens living along the tracks called for the quiet zone and that the cost of the extra railroad equipment necessary to silence train horns was rolled into the cost of building the rail line extension.

"It has been up and running at three intersections since late 2005," she said. "Generally, there have been no complaints."

Officials in Richmond and San Jose, and also in the city of Pomona in Southern California, said they have paid relatively little to institute quiet zones.

That would not be the case in Oceanside, where the city is considering a five-crossing quiet zone on the coastal rail line through the city's beach neighborhoods and where residents would be asked to foot the bill.

City documents state that four-way gates and taller medians would need to be installed at those intersections and that the improvements would cost between $7 million and $9 million. A special assessment for 1,000 properties closest to the tracks would cost property owners between $320 and $725 per year for 20 years to finance a bond that would pay for the improvements, city officials have said.

It appears unlikely that residents are willing to pay. In a recent city survey, 11,000 residents who live west of I-5 were against a special assessment for quiet zones by a margin of three to one.

In Richmond, Privat said that most of the improvements necessary for that city's quiet zones were already in place. He said the cost to get the zone up and running had more to do with back-and-forth negotiations with railroads and regulators than it did with installing more equipment.

Though he did not have to pay extra for his newfound quiet, Moore said he would be willing to pony up for silence.

"I would pay $700 a year for the serenity that quiet zones offer," Moore said.

Likewise, Hagler said the cost would be worth it if he found himself again living in an area where train horns regularly blast.

"I would be happy to pay $300 a year. It would be a wash in terms of what I would save in paying for blood pressure medication," Hagler said.

Contact staff writer Paul Sisson at (760) 901-4087 or Comment at


Last modified:  Friday, June 25, 2010 04:47 PM Copyright 2006