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Menlo Park without the blare of train horns? Study of 'quiet zone' on Caltrain line moves forward

Because Menlo Park's Caltrain crossings are so close together, the Caltrain horn can blare up to 16 times at a maximum volume of 110 decibels over about a mile each time a train passes through the city. The noise is driving residents to urge the City Council to create a 'quiet zone' along the Caltrain corridor within the city. Courtesy city of Menlo Park.

Menlo Park is officially exploring what it would take to establish a "quiet zone" along a section of the Caltrain corridor within and even extending beyond city limits.

On Jan. 25, the City Council voted unanimously on plans to seek contractor bids to study the feasibility of creating a Caltrain horn-free zone along the rail line bisecting Menlo Park.

The idea behind a quiet zone along the Caltrain rail line is to install safety improvements enabling train operators to lay off the horns at each intersection where the rail line crosses city streets. Without extra safety measures, the trains are required to sound their horns.

In Menlo Park there are four such crossings: Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal avenues. In addition, the Palo Alto Avenue crossing just south of the Menlo Park border is close enough to trigger Caltrain horn blasts in the city as it crosses into Palo Alto.

The city wants a consultant to figure out how much extra it would cost to evaluate the Palo Alto Avenue crossing in the feasibility study, although if it moved forward, it would likely be treated as its own quiet zone, according to a staff report.

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Because all four of Menlo Park's rail crossings are so close together, and Caltrain sounds its horn four times every time it is a quarter-mile from its next crossing, the horn can blast up to 16 times over a distance of only about 1.1 miles as each train passes through Menlo Park. And each blast can reach the maximum train horn volume of 110 decibels, according to staff.

Considering that, it's no wonder that residents have complained about the volume, frequency, duration and time frame of the horns for years. There's also been a notable uptick in complaints as residents who live near the train tracks have been increasingly trying to work and study at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some residents have pointed to neighboring Atherton's success in implementing the first quiet zone on the Caltrain corridor and called on city officials to establish a quiet zone in Menlo Park.

A conductor boards a southbound Caltrain at the Atherton station on its last day of scheduled stops, Dec. 13, 2020. Atherton is the first town along the Caltrain line to establish a quiet zone. Photo by Olivia Treynor.

According to the Federal Rail Administration, there are a number of requirements that must be met to permit a quiet zone. Each crossing has to have gates, flashing lights and warning time devices; the zone must be at least a half-mile long; and it must not have a regular (non-quiet) crossing within a quarter of a mile of the first or last crossing of the zone, Associate Transportation Engineer Phong Vo told the City Council.

A number of residents spoke in favor of the council's step toward a quiet zone Tuesday. "The long-term solution to alleviating more of the train noise is grade separations," said Complete Streets Commissioner and Caltrain advocate Adina Levin. "There's no telling how long that will take. If we have a decade of people being able to sleep at night, it is worth pursuing this."

The city has for decades been exploring how to move forward with separating the Caltrain rail line from the places it intersects with city roads. After years of debate, the city is exploring the possibility of a fully elevated grade separation alongside other approaches at three of the city's four rail crossings, at Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues.

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Speaking on behalf of several neighborhoods near the Caltrain tracks, Felton Gables resident Marcy Abramowitz emphasized the willingness of residents to support the project and urged the city to select a consultant with experience that is relevant to the city of Menlo Park. "We are thrilled to be embarking on this step," she said.

Funding for the study includes $75,000 from city coffers and $300,000 allocated from the Springline development under construction at 1300 El Camino Real. More funding would be needed to construct the improvements for the quiet zone, according to staff. Under the proposed timeline, the contractor would be expected to develop the draft implementation plan for the quiet zone by Sept. 26.

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Menlo Park without the blare of train horns? Study of 'quiet zone' on Caltrain line moves forward

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 27, 2022, 11:31 am

Menlo Park is officially exploring what it would take to establish a "quiet zone" along a section of the Caltrain corridor within and even extending beyond city limits.

On Jan. 25, the City Council voted unanimously on plans to seek contractor bids to study the feasibility of creating a Caltrain horn-free zone along the rail line bisecting Menlo Park.

The idea behind a quiet zone along the Caltrain rail line is to install safety improvements enabling train operators to lay off the horns at each intersection where the rail line crosses city streets. Without extra safety measures, the trains are required to sound their horns.

In Menlo Park there are four such crossings: Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal avenues. In addition, the Palo Alto Avenue crossing just south of the Menlo Park border is close enough to trigger Caltrain horn blasts in the city as it crosses into Palo Alto.

The city wants a consultant to figure out how much extra it would cost to evaluate the Palo Alto Avenue crossing in the feasibility study, although if it moved forward, it would likely be treated as its own quiet zone, according to a staff report.

Because all four of Menlo Park's rail crossings are so close together, and Caltrain sounds its horn four times every time it is a quarter-mile from its next crossing, the horn can blast up to 16 times over a distance of only about 1.1 miles as each train passes through Menlo Park. And each blast can reach the maximum train horn volume of 110 decibels, according to staff.

Considering that, it's no wonder that residents have complained about the volume, frequency, duration and time frame of the horns for years. There's also been a notable uptick in complaints as residents who live near the train tracks have been increasingly trying to work and study at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some residents have pointed to neighboring Atherton's success in implementing the first quiet zone on the Caltrain corridor and called on city officials to establish a quiet zone in Menlo Park.

According to the Federal Rail Administration, there are a number of requirements that must be met to permit a quiet zone. Each crossing has to have gates, flashing lights and warning time devices; the zone must be at least a half-mile long; and it must not have a regular (non-quiet) crossing within a quarter of a mile of the first or last crossing of the zone, Associate Transportation Engineer Phong Vo told the City Council.

A number of residents spoke in favor of the council's step toward a quiet zone Tuesday. "The long-term solution to alleviating more of the train noise is grade separations," said Complete Streets Commissioner and Caltrain advocate Adina Levin. "There's no telling how long that will take. If we have a decade of people being able to sleep at night, it is worth pursuing this."

The city has for decades been exploring how to move forward with separating the Caltrain rail line from the places it intersects with city roads. After years of debate, the city is exploring the possibility of a fully elevated grade separation alongside other approaches at three of the city's four rail crossings, at Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues.

Speaking on behalf of several neighborhoods near the Caltrain tracks, Felton Gables resident Marcy Abramowitz emphasized the willingness of residents to support the project and urged the city to select a consultant with experience that is relevant to the city of Menlo Park. "We are thrilled to be embarking on this step," she said.

Funding for the study includes $75,000 from city coffers and $300,000 allocated from the Springline development under construction at 1300 El Camino Real. More funding would be needed to construct the improvements for the quiet zone, according to staff. Under the proposed timeline, the contractor would be expected to develop the draft implementation plan for the quiet zone by Sept. 26.

Comments

Terry
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 1:01 pm
Terry, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2022 at 1:01 pm

This would be a fantastic improvement - the noise from the horns is really exhausting for everyone who lives near a crossing. Really hope that this gets done - and fast!


Alex Beltramo
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 27, 2022 at 1:52 pm
Alex Beltramo, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2022 at 1:52 pm

Yes. Yes. Yes. Please! Please! Please!


Westbrook
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 10:25 pm
Westbrook, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2022 at 10:25 pm

and it must not have a regular (non-quiet) crossing within a quarter of a mile of the first or last crossing of the zone,

Does anyone know what that means?


microbarny
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 28, 2022 at 8:10 am
microbarny, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 28, 2022 at 8:10 am

Thank you MP City Council for undertaking this Quiet Zone review. Hearing the train horns 16 times over one mile, per train, going both North and Southbound in Menlo Park multiple times/day is getting out of hand. Our Park Forest area, along with other neighborhoods along the track in Menlo Park, very much appreciate the official in depth look to be taken. We appreciate the consideration for making this evaluation a real priority, and we stand ready to help or provide additional feedback as needed.


Robert Cronin
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 28, 2022 at 12:35 pm
Robert Cronin, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jan 28, 2022 at 12:35 pm

Train horns exist and are used because of grade crossings. Grade crossings should not exist in urban areas in the 21st century. We are a wealthy community. Let's tax ourselves to build grade separations and solve this problem for good. Eliminate the horns and also collisions. San Carlos and Belmont did it. Why can't we?


new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 29, 2022 at 12:59 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 29, 2022 at 12:59 pm

Uh, what is needing to be "studied"???... you know there is this town that has a border with MP, that has already done this, hint --- it's where those who are even richer live. also, there are already established rules and procedures for accomplishing it. and also, we already voted to tax ourselves for Caltrain, which promised electrification, then after the measure was approved, dropped the news that "they had spent all the money and are YEARS behind schedule, AND needing tons more money".


Not-Jeff
Registered user
Hillview Middle School
on Feb 4, 2022 at 1:41 pm
Not-Jeff, Hillview Middle School
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2022 at 1:41 pm

I think a quiet zone through Menlo Park is overdue. I followed the process Atherton went through, and there are a few things to note:

1: The FRA 'approves' a quiet zone, not Caltrain. Early on in the process, Caltrain claimed that quiet zones cannot be applied to areas with recent suicides, which is untrue, and delayed the enabling of a QZ in Atherton for years due to this misinformation.

2: Short of grade separation, quad gates are your next most-likely way of getting a quiet zone approved by the FRA.

3: That said, quad gates and grade separation are not the only way. Other ways to potentially get FRA approval include:

* wayside horns (still a horn, but much more localized);
* a barrier between oncoming street traffic at the grade crossing...I think it needs to be 100ft (take that # with a grain of salt) long on each side to potentially qualify. Ravenswood Ave may already be configured to support this method of approval for a QZ, or with minor changes.

4: "it must not have a regular (non-quiet) crossing within a quarter of a mile"

What they're saying here is that if you want to have a quiet zone at Ravenswood, you'd need to have the grade crossings at both Oak Grove & Ravenswood comply with QZ requirements in order to have a QZ, since they're too close together for a train operator to distinguish when they must blow the horn.


Julie
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 11, 2022 at 4:08 pm
Julie , Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 4:08 pm

So when are they going to do something about the dangerous crossing at Ravenswood? Saving lives feels a bit more pressing than saving ears.


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