Angry and frustrated after a recent report showed Caltrain is repeatedly violating Atherton's quite zone, City Council members said they'll work with Caltrain to resolve the problem before going to federal officials to ask for enforcement.
The City Council discussed a report by acoustical engineers Edward L. Pack Associates of San Jose at its Dec. 7 meeting. The report shows 19 of 92 southbound trains, or just under 21 percent, blowing their horns near recording equipment set up by the consultants in the quiet zone over two days.
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 except in an emergency. 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 the consultant hired by the town to document quiet zone violations 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.
The consultant's report also says northbound trains sounded their horns near the recording 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.
"I think there is a disturbing amount of horn blasting north of Fair Oaks," said council member Rick DeGolia. Because the report showed the same trains sounding their horns in the quiet zone multiple times, "there may well be certain engineers who are intentionally ignoring this quiet zone," he said.
"I think the right way to do it, initially is go to Caltrain," Mr. DeGolia said. However, he said "if we don't get these horns to stop blowing" in January the town should go to the Federal Rail Administration "and go as far up as we need to go to get these rules enforced."
All the council members agreed they should work with Caltrain, despite the fact that earlier in the day, the Caltrain engineers' supervisor had told a town official that Caltrain does not believe a quiet zone exists.
"We need to give them time to take corrective action," said council member Bill Widmer. "We should ask them for a status report."
"Let's find out if the agree or disagree with us," said Mayor Mike Lempres, and "why they're blowing their horn."
On Friday, Dec. 9, Caltrain spokesman Will Reisman said "Caltrain does acknowledge that the quiet zone exists."
He said that Caltrain had monitored the engineers' compliance with the quiet zone, and they would continue to do so. Caltrain "will determine if the pattern of violations identified by Atherton is a result of the City’s interpretation of the rules, or if they are violations as determined by Caltrain. If they are violations as determined by Caltrain, steps will be taken to address them," he said.
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.