Feb 5, 2014
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San Pablo is joining Richmond’s effort to convince state and federal lawmakers to lower the volume of train horns.

“Our city is only 2.6 square miles and it’s heard all over town,” San Pablo Vice Mayor Paul Morris said at Tuesday’s Richmond Council meeting. “It does disturb these people’s sleep, the kids especially who have developing brains.”

On Tuesday, Richmond’s Council adopted a resolution requesting state and federal assistance, the latest in a long-running effort to make the trains passing through the city daily quieter.

Over the last six years, Councilman Tom Butt said, Richmond staffers have done “a really outstanding job” of establishing quiet zones at grade crossings to ward off the far-reaching blare of train horns. The city has the most quiet zones in the state, Butt added, but he said the effort hasn’t been enough to keep train horns from disrupting lives.

In May 2011, 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 the resolution passed Tuesday.

“We are sort of getting to the point where we have picked all the low-hanging fruit…there’s still problems with train horns in Richmond and the only way to address them fully is with state and federal legislation,” Butt said.

Communities in other states are working on this same issue, the councilman said.

“At some point there is going to be enough political interest” to convince lawmakers to act.

A Richmond resident who spoke at Tuesday’s Council meeting agreed, saying not only children but seniors are having trouble sleeping because of horn volumes.

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.