Feb 2, 2014
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Councilman Tom Butt wants the volume turned down on train horns in Richmond, particularly at night, saying they are loud enough to cause hearing loss.

He hopes City Council on Tuesday will call upon state and federal lawmakers to address “conflicts and inconsistencies” in rules on train horns so that locals can get some relief.

In May 2011, Richmond City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting noise in the city to exceed 85 decibels at daytime, as repeated exposure to anything above that level can causing hearing loss.

That ordinance, however, comes in conflict with the Train Code Rule in the California Public Utility Code, which requires locomotive engineers to sound horns at public and private grades that are not in a designated “Quiet Zone” at a minimum volume of 96 decibels, and a maximum of 110, according to city documents.

That kind of noise not only causes hearing loss but stress and sleep disturbance, and studies from the European Union reveal that 3-percent of fatal heart attacks are noise-related, according to a proposed city resolution.

Butt wants state lawmakers to sponsor legislation that would:

•Clarify that the states have authority to regulate the sounding of train horns within privately-owned yards for the purpose of signaling during switching operations.

• Provide the states with authority to enforce train horn violations in Quiet Zones.

• Provide a funding source for local jurisdictions to implement grade crossing improvements required to establish Quiet Zones

• Authorize and require the CPUC to approve Quiet Zones at private crossings using the same process and criteria utilized by the Federal Railroad Administration for approving Quiet Zones at public grade crossings.

•Provide cities and counties with authority to require railroad companies to use “other forms of communication …in place of whistle (and horn) signals between sunset and sunrise in urban areas in privately-owned owned rail yards for the purpose of signaling during switching operations, except as exempted by the General Code of Operating Rules.

• Provide the cities and counties with authority to enforce violations of non-federal horn use rules.

•Provide legislation similar to 48 other states that eliminates the requirement for horn sounding at private crossings as the favored alternative to allowing Quiet Zones at private crossing


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.