San Diego Quiet Zone
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Bids are in for Quiet Zone work intended to avert railroad whistles

by Sebastian Ruiz

03.05.10 - 11:55 am

Loud train whistles have been waking downtown residents and guests at wild hours of the night because of a federal requirement for train engineers to sound the horn at every street intersection. Residents have been trying to change that requirement for more than a decade.

They may get their wish this year with the establishment of Quiet Zones near intersections where enhanced railroad gate closures, median barriers, and temporary and permanent gate closures would allow engineers the discretion to sound the whistle. Changes will affect 13 intersections throughout the downtown area from Laurel Street to Park Boulevard. These include converted segments of G Street from a two-way to one-way street, according to project plans.

“One of the impediments to residential and hotel development is the noise associated with train whistles. Creating a Quiet Zone to encourage people to live, work and visit downtown is an important thing for CCDC to address,” Derek Danziger, Center City Development Corporation vice president of Marketing and Communications wrote via e-mail.

With added intersection changes, engineers would have the discretion, not a requirement, to sound the train whistle. This means the whistles could continue, just not as often.

Bidding for the estimated $20.6 million project through the city opened Feb. 25, five bids were received and the low bid was under the estimate by CCDC engineers. The project will be funded by local downtown property taxes.

Center City Development Corporation officials expect a contract for the project by June after approval by the City Council expected in April, according to Danziger. Estimated completion dates vary but could be as late as next year, according to CCDC timelines.

Gary Smith of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group has been blowing the whistle on trains for years. He said residents have been dealing with train induced insomnia for more than 14 years as the frequency of trains has increased since then.

“One [train] goes through 2:15 a.m. It’s right at the worst time, when it rolls you out of bed and you can’t get back to sleep,” Smith said.

Resident Patrick McArron also created the Web site, Quietzonesd.info, to disseminate and inform residents about the issue. He added that improvements could benefit residents through increased property values.

“It’s all about improving the quality of life of people living near the railroad,” McArron said.

The changes to the federal requirement were approved in 2005 and vetted by myriad local, state and federal agencies including railroad and transit companies, the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), San Diego Imperial Valley Railway, North County Transit District, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the Federal Railroad Administration. The process took so long because of all the different agencies involved, Danziger said.

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