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Caltrain horns getting louder

Original post made on Jul 29, 2009

Locals who have complained recently that horn blasts from Caltrain locomotives have gotten louder aren't imagining things.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 29, 2009, 10:55 AM

Comments (38)

Posted by Ashish M, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm

There's no way that the Federal Government requires Caltrain to give us all a headache at regular intervals throughout the day. The racket they are making is completely out of control. Where do Chuck Harvey and Christine Dunn live? (Obviously nowhere near the train tracks.) I'd like to ride around their neighborhood blowing an air horn every half an hour, and at 1am and 5:30am.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm

I've noticed the train horns have recently become a lot more noisy. I guess this is in response to the recent suicides on the tracks. But, my guess is that those who do that will do it regardless of the horn volumne. I do feel for those who live close to the tracks, it must be very bad.

Posted by Burlingame Resident, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm

What about The 1973 California Anti-Noise ordinance? It is so loud in Burlingame - nobody in our area is getting any sleep. Is it OK to ruin the standard of living and property values for thousands of families in order to warn a suicidal person his train is coming?

Posted by noise phobe, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:28 pm

The noise is making me suicidal.

Posted by Brian, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I can hear them all the way up in Woodside; on the West side of 280!

Posted by Katzwoman, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 29, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Not only is it extremely loud, the length of time this lasts (seems like minutes vs. seconds) is way too long. Especially in the middle of the night. >:-(

Posted by casey jones, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm

that's Union Pacific freight at night and pre dawn, not Caltrain. Probably worried about someone passed out/ sleeping on the tracks

Posted by tristan, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Well, I heard on NPR that California is zeroing out the state budget for mass transit, so at least they won't be running as many trains for the next year or two ;-)

There are two of these must-make-noise laws that should be fixed: train horns and truck backup-beepers (imaging living near a supermarket that restocks at 5am). If green-utopian city planners want transit and mixed-use zoning, they need to address problems that make it unpleasant to live near a transit line or business, including these laws, as well as leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment, and the growing tendency for businesses to use said equipment outside of weekday business hours.

Posted by Jerry, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2009 at 5:41 pm

The noise is not only loud but long. It could cause ear damages especially to children. The conductor told me that it requires the long horn to bring down the passenger gate, but there should be another way to do it. It is not a rocket science!
I am going to call Caltrain (650.508.6200 and 888.558.8661) and email the mayor. I hope there will be enough people to call such that they are going to do something about it.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Caltrain/SamTrans share an 800 number: 800.660.4287

The horn volume and blowing is excessive. Suicidal people do not get hit and killed because the horn wasn't loud enough. Ridiculous. All this macho horn-blowing is one of those only-in-America things. Other countries where they run an order of magnitude more trains all over the place have much quieter horns or bells and they use them very sparingly if at all at grade crossings. The lights and bells and lowered gates are enough to let anyone who cares that a train is coming.

Imagine if cars and trucks were *required* to blow their horns when passing through intersections on a green light in order to "warn" cross-traffic and pedestrians that they're coming through. Preposterous, right? Well just like a simple red traffic light is considered fair and adequate warning at vehicle intersections, why shouldn't a lowered gate across the road with flashing lights and ringing bells not be considered more than fair and adequate warning of an oncoming train?

Oh, maybe we should rip out railroad crossing gates and replace them with ordinary traffic lights that only change from green to yellow and then red when a train is about to cross ...

Posted by ruth, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:49 pm

One can imagine what the noise will be like when the High Speed Rail Authority send their trains down the line.

Since they have not been above board BEFORE and AFTER the election, can we believe what they would say now?

Posted by Tax dollars at work?, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 29, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Why on earth is the federal government entitled to set regulations on the magnatude of sound coming from a train? A little common sense could address the question. This is exactly the kind of story that rightly enrages tax payers. What a sorry situation that our hard-earned money goes to support this kind of action. Unfortunately, there are too many examples just like this.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm

I believe Caltrain should be required to scientifically prove the noise levels currently being experienced by those living near the tracks are safe to hearing. I don't think they are.

Posted by Harry, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 29, 2009 at 10:59 pm

No one who lives near enough the train tracks for this to bother can honestly say that they are surprised that *shock* trains are noisy. Come on. The only way to eliminate the horn noise would be complete grade separation. I think this would cost zillions of dollars (citing a fictitious amount is perfectly reasonable since the State is broke and even if it weren't, no one would be willing to put their money where their mouth is and pay taxes to help improve their allegedly sound-damaged property values). Oh, and you can't say "have the Federal government pay for it" and then say you don't have to follow their regulations. Grow up, people.

Posted by late for the train, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 30, 2009 at 12:54 am

Come on Harry - no one's asking to eliminate the horns we just want reasonable levels, but CalTrain horn levels of 98-110 decibels is deafening. Also we don't need grade separation all we need is to establish a quiet zone as provided for within the Federal Railroad Administration regs. The crossings already meet most of the requirements. Closing a couple crossings such as Watkins and Encinal would also help.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

HSRA and Caltrain share a vision of fully grade-separated operation -- so there will be no horn-blowing, except for rare instances of a trespasser or suicidal person at risk of being hit.

Electrified HSR at 125 mph on a rebuilt and modern track bed using standard continuously-welded rail will be quieter than today's diesel-powered, horn-blowing Caltrain rattling its old battle-worn clunky cars along the tracks at even modest speeds.

This is not a matter of the HSRA being above-board or not -- it's easily observable in Germany or France or Spain or Japan or China or Korea or Taiwan or England or Belgium or Italy or Sweden or pretty much anywhere outside the US where modern, electrified 125 mph (or faster) train use is common and/or growing fast.

Posted by Ann, a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:56 am

The Peninsula does not have transportration systems in place for people to get where they want to go. This is not France, Spain, England, etc.

It is impossible to compare our system to theirs. We should consider that factor, also.

Posted by jp, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:59 am

It's interesting that, after a decade, Cal-train has "discovered" that it is not in compliance with federal laws and must increase the frequency and volume of horn blowing up and down the Peninsula. It's also interesting that its statement on the subject ends with the consoling assurance that, when high speed rail is here, the horns will stop. I believe that will be in another decade or so.

Is it possible that the horn blowing--which is inconsistent in volume, length and location from train to train but is definitely very loud and very frequent--is a little "gotcha" to all those HSR nay-sayers on the Peninsula who think it would be nice if their cities had something to say about that project and are
making life more complicated for the people who have it all figured out already?

Posted by Ray Schenk, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 30, 2009 at 11:46 am

There is no question in my mind that this increase in horn loudness and frequency is no coincidence, but is Caltrain's way of retaliating for the growing opposition to the ill-conceived plan for the high speed rail system.

Posted by Elevate the train line, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Elevate the train line and there is no more horn blowing.

I have family in Menlo Park and in Belmont. The Belmont home is closer to the tracks, but the train noise is less because the tracks are elevated.

Most of all, the elevated tracks are much safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars.

There are pros and cons to elevating the tracks, but speaking from personal experience it was worth it in Belmont. We have the same access to both sides of the community that we had before. And there are additional pedestrian/bike passages beneath the raised tracks. No one that I've heard here is complaining about a "wall dividing our community" (there are residential neighborhoods on both sides of the tracks in in Belmont and in San Carlos, where the line is also elevated).

I know I won't change the mind of the small vocal minority in Menlo Park and Palo Alto that oppose raising the tracks, but those in favor of elevating the tracks should speak up and be heard.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 30, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I'm in favor of elevating the tracks and I live in Menlo Park, so there's my bid to be heard. I don't mind the sounds of a train.

The more European we can make the Peninsula and California in terms of train service, the better. It's a great way to travel and can only get better as technology improves it.

Posted by Catherine, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 30, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Heard it today while leaving the library. Ears were ringing afterwards. Really - this can't be ok?!

Posted by ruth, a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm

The opposition is not a 'small' minority that lives near the tracks. I live 40 miles away; the HSR board would like to say it is local. If so, why do they need 9 millior dollars for PR?

Posted by easy fix with engineering know how, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 30, 2009 at 8:46 pm

I'm surprised our MP Mayor, a Materials Science expert, hasn't picked up on Morris Brown's post of rail expert Clem Tillier's quick fix to reduce the high pitch with a simple air valve relocation to the original bottom horn location. It's not rocket science, acoustics engineering has been managing this problem for decades.
What's Caltrain's problem with getting competent engineering solutions?
Appears Caltrain PR is shilling for HSR grade separations.
The cacophony of complaints needs to go to Congress reps. Eshoo and Speier fast before they leave for summer recess and FRA hangs a "Gone for Vacation" sign on its door.

Posted by Burlingame Resident, a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2009 at 9:48 pm

We live a quarter mile from the tracks, much further than hundreds of our neighbors. The horns are deafening, awaking us and our children multiple times in the middle of the night. Every day has been torture since the horns have been "repositioned." This needs to be fixed NOW. There has been no response indicating this is going to happen any time soon. Dunn and Harvey need to try living near the tracks for one day-- maybe that would do the trick

Burlingame High School can not be pleased with the effects the horns will have in their classrooms.

It blows my mind that something like this is "authorized" without any backup plan to address the effect the noise is having on the community, forcing us to go through weeks or months of sleepless nights, affecting our health and well being.

What can we do, who can we contact to end these sleepless nights?

Posted by Bleeding Ears, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:28 pm

It amazes me that Caltrain was able to make the decision to raise the noise level to what has to be a harmful level with complete autonomy. What is wrong with this picture? This is a PUBLIC agency, able to screw the PUBLIC without any accountability to that public, which of course Caltrain is supposed to be serving.

I live nowhere near the tracks, but my experience walking to the library, and eating in a cafe near the tracks, over the last week was shocking. The noise level is horrific. Someone posting earlier joked that the new level of noise makes him/her suicidal. I'm not sure it would be a joke for me if I lived near the tracks and had to endure this intolerable level of noise day and night -- especially at night, when it would be impossible to sleep.

What is wrong with these decisionmakers at Caltrain? This noise level is absolutely unacceptable. Someone should be held to account.

Posted by they did it because MP council is on vacation, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Makes sense. Screw the plebescites when there are "on vacation" "out of office auto responder" non responses from our local government apologists.
Try the Tehran protest method, picket the Caltrain offices, with air horns to piss off their employees. Revenge is sweet, when best served cold.

Posted by ann, a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2009 at 10:18 am

It looks like the HSR Authority is adopting another tactic in order to get their way. Many of us, not locals, feel that Diridon and Kopp don't care about those neighborhoods. It will take an act of Congress to stop them.

Like Iran, stop protesters with force, guns or horns. Both assult the senses and cause bodily harm. I was in the area yesterday and was shocked at the sound of those horns. What will schools do?

I hope that everyone calls their representives befoe hearing loss becomes permanent. This is a real threat, especially to children.

Posted by concerned citizen, a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2009 at 1:37 pm

I'd wondered why I'd been hearing the trains so much lately and I live over 2.5 miles from the tracks. It's unbelievable that Caltrain decided to move the horns now...I really feel for those folks living and working near the line and this makes me very worried about a HSR traveling on the Peninsula.

Posted by Katzvrouw, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 31, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Yup, raise them train tracks! Great idea. I grew up in Europe and never had much of a problem with trains. It really works that way!

Posted by lived in Chicago, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Sorry - but raised trains still make a lot of noise due to metal on metal. Fast trains also make a lot of noise. Raising the tracks is not the answer. The real answer is to put the tracks underground.
The land around here is among the most expensive in the world and it makes no sense to put a bunch of train tracks at or above grade. Future generations will thank us for the foresight to do the right thing now.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 31, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I love Chicago and all its noises. I doubt that this straight shot through the Peninsula by Caltrain, even if elevated, will make anything like the noise made by the El, Chicago's elevated rial system.

Here's a scene from The Blues Brothers. Would that we could bring such sensibilities to Atherton and Menlo Park.

Old Man: Did you get me my Cheeze Whiz, Boy?

Elwood tosses him a can of Cheeze Whiz, and Jake and Elwod proceed to Elwoods room at the fleabag hotel. Outside the window are the tracks of Chicago El, the elevated railway. Trains are going by continuously.

Elwood: Well, it ain't much, but it's home.

Jake: How often does the train go by?

Elwood: So often you won't even notice it.

Posted by Pete H, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 1, 2009 at 1:27 am

I live directly next to the tracks (Glenwood Ave. Grade Crossing). The volume increase is so ridiculous that we now keep our windows closed, even in hot weather.

The air horns used to be sheilded from us by the parking structure in our apartment complex. With the horns on the roof, they have a direct line to my kitchen window.

I've noticed different whistle patterns by different train engineers. Perhaps the heavy-handed ones could be weeded out, or retrained. I'll try to track the engine number and time of the worst ones.

Posted by Next-to-Tracker, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 3, 2009 at 6:29 pm

The trains have plainly gotten to loud -- it is likely illegal and I have sound recording equipment and access to OSHA, etc. to submit a law suit if needed. The loud noise is simply not necessary and with 86 trains a day too much -- interfering with work, etc. Folks that do not live near the track (I live less than 100 feet away) simply do not know what it is like.

Solution, getting modern sensing equipment -- other safety features that all (other) modern trains have. Or, stop running the trains! Yes, it is that irresponsible and that dangerous at this point to people's ears. No it cannot wait. Tone down the noise now or a class action law suit is what CalTrain will have.

Posted by Sad-About -Noise, a resident of another community
on Aug 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

I live about 10 houses from the tracks in south Palo Alto and I agree with all of those that are complaining about the terribly loud train horns. Like someone else said, there are times when it feels like my ears are ringing afterwards! I wanted to mention that the timing of this change in the horns happened shortly after a series of two high school students in Palo Alto committing suicide on the railroad tracks. I am wondering if all of this is a way of trying to derail possible suicide attempts. It's my opinion that a loud horn is NOT going to dissuade someone set upon killing themselves. I am writing to the rail authority to urge them get these horns fixed soon or our quality of life will forever be ruined.

Posted by Kin, a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2009 at 4:21 pm

We quite certainly assume they had increased the horn volume due to the people jumping and dying in front of trains. I am not sure if louder horn is going to derail people doing that, where more than 90% are suicide.

Sure enough, we had another dead person by Caltrain yesterday. It's tragic yet ironic and funny seeing Caltrain's "reaction" to solve this.

The train's horn volume is unbearable like most people have said here (I live in Mountain View near Castro). I say class action lawsuit. It's that or us going deaf and depreciation of our property value. Yes?

Posted by Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 12, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Fence the tracks if you want to keep out trespassers. It's going to be nearly impossible to keep suicides from jumping in front of trains. Really loud horns aren't a safety measure, which may be why Caltrain has apologized and is going to lower the volume.

Posted by Belmont Resident, a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:31 am

The horns are driving me crazy as well, and I live at least 2.5 miles from the nearest level crossing. People, PLEASE don't let Caltrain trick you into falling for acceptance of High Speed Rail due the horns going away when all crossings are raised. I read the High Speed Rail Impact report and to summarize: "Hey, the noise from the high speed trains, even at the reduced speed of 120 MPH through the Peninsula, is going to be REALLY LOUD and TERRIBLE, but hey, no more horns, so its almost a wash, right?" About the only way life won't become a living hell on the Peninsula with High Speed Rail is if its completely buried in an enclosed tunnel. I used to live in Japan and I know what a bullet train sounds like, even at reduced speeds: Like a tornado is rolling through your neighborhood. Now imagine that every 15 minutes, night and day.

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