Atherton: Study finds Caltrain violates quiet zone

Wednesday, Dec. 7, council meeting has quiet zone report on agenda

Atherton now has documented something many had suspected -- Caltrain is regularly violating the town's six-month-old quiet zone.

The quiet zone, imposed by the town in June, limits Caltrain engineers from sounding their train horns within a quarter-mile of the Fair Oaks Lane railroad crossing. Caltrain and the town don't agree on whether the horns can be sounded in front of the Atherton train station, south of the crossing, but a consultant hired by the town to document violations of the quiet zone set up sound-recording equipment a little less than a quarter-mile north of the crossing, where all agree sounding the horn is not allowed.

A report by acoustical engineers Edward L. Pack Associates of San Jose will be presented to the Atherton City Council when it meets Wednesday, Dec. 7, starting at 7 p.m., in the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road. (The Wednesday meeting will replace the council's usual third Wednesday meeting for December.)

The report shows 19 of 92 southbound trains, or just under 21 percent, blowing their horns near the equipment in the quiet zone over two days.

The report also says northbound trains sounded their horns near the equipment three times during the two days. "This is a curious scenario as there would be no reason for a northbound train to sound its horn since it had already passed through the Fair Oaks crossing and it is approximately 1.73 miles from Fair Oaks to the Chestnut Street crossing in Redwood City, which is the next grade crossing," the report says.

Regulations say that violations of rules about where and how a train horn can sound can result in a fine of $1,000 for an accidental violation or $2,000 for a "willful" violation.

Caltrain responds

Caltrain has reviewed the report and will dispatch staff to the quiet zone area this week, Caltrain spokesman Will Reisman said.

"Those representatives will report any findings that violate the noise restrictions," Mr. Reisman said in an email. "Caltrain takes seriously the concerns of our community members, and will take all steps necessarily to ensure continued compliance."

'So blatant'

One nearby resident who asked that his name not be used said he reported quiet zone violations to Caltrain several times.

The resident, whose bedroom window is about 100 feet from the tracks, said he thinks the train engineers are intentionally sounding their horns. "It's been so blatant," he said.

Caltrain told him in an email that "there are many reasons why a train would sound the horn. The Atherton station is only open on the weekends so any person seen standing on the platform at that station during the week is considered a trespasser and the horn must be sounded. In addition, vehicles that choose to speed through or go around the crossing arms are also reason to sound the horn."

Atherton, however, has special gates at the Fair Oaks crossing which make it impossible for cars to go around the gates, and the station is usually deserted.

The report found four Caltrain engines, which are identified by numbers, sounded their horns in the quiet zone on both days of recording. Violations occurred from 5:07 a.m. to 10:08 p.m.

Also on the agenda

Also on the agenda Wednesday: the selection of a new mayor and vice mayor; an ordinance regulating drones; and an update on the civic center plans.

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Like this comment
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm

pearl is a registered user.

When is someone going to do something about the southbound Union Pacific train that comes down the tracks every night around 7:40pm? The engineer leans on the horn coming into the station, going through the station, and after leaving the station. I have written to Union Pacific three times about this one particular engineer who loves to lean on the horn, to no avail.

2 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Neilson Buchanan is a registered user.

Here is a future issue for many cities and neighborhoods.

What if?.....

If the solution is to raise the train tracks to solve grade crossings problems, then how many decibels will be emitted when the heavy freight train cars rumble along at tree top level? Maybe someone can let us know that midnight freight epxress service will be terminated and solve this problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Amen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:27 pm

Yes, elevate the tracks. Problem solved.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 6, 2016 at 6:24 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Bury the tracks. Problem solved. Many positives as opposed to elevating the tracks.

3 people like this
Posted by Kevin
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Rider of Caltrain: My car is not on the road because of Caltrain. What are the Federal DOT regulations here, they would supersede any petty city regulations? Just asking the question. I sleep with the horns daily, I have acclimated to them, but do understand their disruptive potential. We have technology to warn crossers that is far beyond the 1858 era horn, why is it not used? 2016 Federal DOT regulations. :)

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2016 at 9:44 am


Rail quiet zones are a federal DOT regulation. It is not Atherton's regulation. Rather, Atherton followed the federal government guidelines to have them put one in place at the rail crossing.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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