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Outcry over train whistle: Caltrain will reduce volume

Original post made on Jul 31, 2009

Following an outcry from people who live near the tracks, Caltrain plans to reduce the volume of its locomotives' horns back to a level residents are accustomed to, a Caltrain spokesperson said today. She estimated the change will take two to three weeks.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, July 31, 2009, 11:58 AM

Comments (18)

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Posted by Katzvrouw
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 31, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Yesterday, windows open, I was driving along Alma St. in Palo Alto (smack next to the train tracks) and all at once a car behind me--or so I thought--was tooting its horn more than full blast. I almost hit the curb it scared me so much. Turned out it was the train blowing its horn. I sure hope they'll make it a heck of lot less loud and SOON

And maybe the law can be changed that at grade crossing they do not have to blast the horn, because, as someone in this forum mentioned a few days ago, a person really set on committing suicide will most likely NOT be withheld by that horn to do what he/she has come to do, alas.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 31, 2009 at 2:27 pm

The only way that the horns will be silenced is if the crossings are removed. Caltrain would be opening themselves to huge lawsuits with every injury and death if they stopped blowing the horns. And I wouldn't want my kids near those crossings with no horns. The crossing gates are not "fail safe", you know.

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Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 31, 2009 at 4:54 pm

The comment by "parent" above is not valid.

The FRA has established rules for establishing "Quiet Zones", whereby the horns do not have to be blown for at grade rail crossings.

In general, if Quad Gates (gates preventing crossing the tracks even if attempting to go around the arms), are installed and some other requirements are met, quiet zones can be established; in a quiet zone, the train engineer is not required to blow the horn.

The horn would still be required to be blown at stations --- it would be required to be blown at stations, even if the tracks were on an elevated structure.

Quiet zones have been and are being established in many areas. CalTrain is about to install improvements to the Atherton, Fair Oaks crossing, and Quad Gates will be installed there; they are at this time being installed as a safety measure, not for a quiet zone.

It is interesting to note that although Ms. Dunn denies "that CalTrain was trying to sway public opinion in favor of the high-speed rail system, which would not necessitate a horn." -- the press release she posted in the final paragraph stated:

"Grade-separated crossings, as proposed by high-speed rail, would eliminate the need for engineers to sound the horn. CalTrain has entered into an agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to bring the service along the CalTrain corridor"

Is that not a statement to try and sway public opinion in favor of the High-speed rail system?

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Posted by one more thing
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 31, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Reportedly, there is one more requirement for the quiet zone. The local government must accept legal liability for all personal and property damage caused by an accident which results from the non-use of train horns as the train approached the quite zone crossing. Can't really see MP council having the guts to accept that requirement.

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Posted by Joe Foe from Buffalo
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2009 at 5:05 am

Good luck on getting funding. I live in Hamburg New York (this is a local website)
Web Link
that gets well over 100-200 trains a day 24/7/365 at all hours that we (local residents and governments and federal government) have went after funding for "Quiet Zones" for the crossings in our area that are two main lines owned by CSX and Norfolk Southern with no luck or out look that we will get any after years or effort. To me/most the big problem is the FRA sadly puts the standards to allow "Quiet Zones" on the local area (residents and government) of each crossing a "Quiet Zone" is wanted when it should not come from local residents or governments or federal government funding. The train line companies should be the ones that pay for most of the funding. Some way this has all got twisted to but the burdens on local governments of federal funding to allow "Quiet Zones" Best advice from me to your area is start petitions supporting your want of "Quiet Zones" and go after the FRA/governments/train companies to change the way funding is expected to be raised from us (tax payers) to the train companies. FYI train companies in other parts of the USA have paid to come up to the FRA standards when local residents and governments went this way. If you dig deep on the www you will find which and how it was done. Also if you look hard enough on the www you will find others that are seeking the same (power in masses) that will do what I'm saying faster if we join our efforts/put our foot down and demand changes asap. Train horns to warn for danger or way the gates are allowed is a way that should be done away with and not safe today. Easy example....Sit in your car near a crossing with your windows up and see how little you can notice a train horn with the way new cars are sound proofed and also see how easy it may be to go around the crossing gates. Each crossing just needs better gates to stop traffic or warning devices that are in use in many area's around the world all ready to do not entail horns.

Some recent news about the same topic.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

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Posted by Mike K
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2009 at 9:21 am

[Portion removed] Those horns help to save lives. If people don't like them, move away from the train tracks.

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Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 2, 2009 at 6:50 am

Posted by "one more thing" above was this comment:

Reportedly, there is one more requirement for the quiet zone. The local government must accept legal liability for all personal and property damage caused by an accident which results from the non-use of train horns as the train approached the quite zone crossing. Can't really see MP council having the guts to accept that requirement.

I don't believe that to be true. Please note this posting at:

Web Link

which has the following on liability:

Some cities have wondered if quiet zones will increase their liability. According to the
FRA’s Staff Director of the Highway Rail Crossing and Trespasser Division, the failure of
a train to sound its horn should not be a cause of action against a local jurisdiction that
implemented the quiet zone. The same official has publicly stated that if a suit is ever
brought against a local jurisdiction for preventing horns at a crossing, the FRA would
likely file an amicus brief on behalf of the locality.
The FRA does not want local jurisdictions to be punished for creating quiet zones, since
adherence to FRA requirements should translate to an overall reduction in safety risks.
Unlike some older quiet zones established with whistle bans before the 2005 Train Horn
Rule, new quiet zones can only have been implemented if overall safety risks were reduced
to the a level at or below that with trains sounding their horns; or if risk were negligible
with or without the horn.
Ultimately courts determine liability and culpability based on the particular circumstances
of individual cases. At present, however, no local jurisdiction has been sued for removing
train horns in the three years since the 2005 Train Horn Rule was established.

Clearly right now, High Speed rail, if allowed to use the CalTrain corridor on grade separated tracks, the issue of Quiet Zones is moot.

The issue of liability if quiet zones were to be implemented in MP, our City Attorney would have to weigh in on the liability issue. this article would stronly indicate that liability rests with the railroad, regardless of whether there are or are not quiet zones.

morris brown
Stone Pine lane
Morris Brown
Stone Pine Lane

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Posted by Ms. Tintinitis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 3, 2009 at 10:34 am

I live 3/4 of a mile from the tracks, and these horns are much louder. I'm glad the volume is getting reduced.

Horns may save lives, but I don't see how making them obnoxiously loud is making any kind of difference. Look at all the fatalities along the tracks this year -- suicides aren't going to be prevented by extra decibels, and neither are idiots in cars who think they can drive around crossing arms and beat the train.

You're not trying to warn people who are five blocks away to stay off the tracks -- you're trying to warn people who are near the tracks.

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Posted by liability is still an issue
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 3, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Morris Brown argues that liability would still rest with the railroad in the event of an accident. What he isn't saying, however, is that the cooperation of both Caltrain and UPRR would be required in order to implement Quiet Zones, and there is a very great likelihood that the railroads would insist that Menlo Park indemnify the railroads for any liability. I for one cannot imagine a scenario in which Caltrain or UPRR would agree to cooperate with the implementation of a Quiet Zone without insisting on being released from liability.

The question of Quiet Zone in Menlo Park has been examined before. More information can be found here: Web Link

The relevant bit is copied here for your easy reference:
Step 3, Final Design and Construction - ball-park cost $1,000,000. The
ballpark cost is based on an estimated cost of $250,000 per crossing for four-quadrant gates at all four of the Menlo Park crossings. If supplemental safety measures are required beyond four-quadrant gates, this cost could vary significantly. Final construction plans and permits would have to be obtained from Caltrain and CPUC approval would be required to establish the quiet zone. Doing construction in a railroad right-of-way may subject the City to significant liability risks and Caltrain would require the City to indemnify it during the construction period. Caltrain may also attempt to shift the liability for accidents at the crossing from itself to the City as a condition on establishing the quiet zone. A careful legal review of the final FRA rules and Caltrain permits would be needed to evaluate this. The
City may need to update its liability insurance policy resulting in
additional long-term operating costs if this were the case.


The city is pretty cash-strapped right now. A million dollar for the quad gates and untold increase in the city's liability insurance premiums for as long as the Quiet Zone is in effect is a lot of money!

Does it make sense for the city to spend a million dollars on something like this, when the outcome of High Speed Rail is still up in the air? If the city loses the lawsuit and High Speed Rail comes through, the million dollar quad gates would be torn out and replaced by grade separations, which would also silence the horns.

Spending money on Quiet Zones right now is throwing money down the rathole until we know what will happen with High Speed Rail.

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Posted by Allen Edwards
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2009 at 7:16 am

To all those who say we need to live with the horn noise, respectfully, you don't know what you are talking about. The horns have been acceptable for many years and only a problem for about 3 weeks when they turned up the volume. All they need to do is go back to what they had. I live within 1 block of the trains and have for over 30 years. The horns have only been a problem for a few weeks a couple of years ago and for the last few weeks. Having the horns the way there are is a huge safety hazard as there are a lot of us who cannot sleep. I almost fell asleep on the freeway the other day. It is like having an alarm clock going off all night. But why no horns this morning? Did they fix them or hit something and stop running trains?

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Posted by Kountry
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2009 at 7:32 am

At midnight, the freight train horns are so loud in the country that we cannot talk IN THE HOUSE even while raising our voices. We live about 800' from the train. One conductor, a regular, blows his horn for 4 seconds at a time and three or four times as he approaches the road crossing--a two mile road that is half paved and half gravel. From what I can tell, he begins about 3/4 of a mile away and continues for about another mile as he approaches another crossing.

There is absolutely no reason at all that this has to be the case! We see a car after 11 p.m. maybe three or four times a year.

The loud blasts of the horns are obviously made for the enjoyment of the conductors, the conductors who want to be sure that "if I'm awake, everyone else will be too" and those who are deaf and need to "feel" the noise so they don't walk out into the pathway of the train. Of course, you realize that if we don't have cars except four times a year, we don't see walking people as often as even that.

We can't sleep through the noise at times. We cannot talk when we are outside 800' away! It is morally wrong for any other person to abuse others in this way.

It is easy enough to say "move" but who is going to want to buy our place with this kind of noise disturbance all day and all night? We love our place, but if we can't talk over the train, or sleep over the train blasts and if we are getting hearing damage from the train, how do they have the right to do that to us?

It isn't right for anyone to disturb the peace like this.

I'm glad that the trains are going to be muted. But I don't feel very confident that it will make enough of a difference that we can talk over them.

I OWN my property. Why should a neighbor be able to make such a noise disturbance that I cannot sleep night after night after night? Why should a neighbor be able to make such a noise disturbance that I cannot talk over his noise? Nobody else in the US has the right to do this EXCEPT trains. And 99% of the time, it is for no reason.

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Posted by stop the noise
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 16, 2009 at 9:24 am

I don't live anywhere near the train and had not really noticed the horns until a few weeks ago. It's not clear what has changed since they announced they were going to quiet the horns, as the individual engineers seem to have a lot of discretion over how long the horn is blown.

I was awakened at 2 am by a horn that blasted almost continuously for 5 minutes. Can Caltrain really expect me to believe that this is to assure anyone's safety? As the above poster says, I think that someone just wants to disturb our sleep because s/he has to stay up and work. Yesterday, cars were stopped at the Ravenswood crossing -- while the gates were up -- because the train that was parked in the station loading/unloading passengers was still blasting its horn at full volume.

I wonder if it's Caltrain's goal to use this noise to reduce the value of all homes by the tracks so that CHSRA will be able to pick them up cheap via eminent domain? If so, that's simply a form of theft, and both Caltrain and CHSRA should be charged with criminal behavior.

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Posted by Kountry
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2009 at 2:36 pm

The sound of the trains rolling over the tracks is no problem. I had no concern that it would bother me at all. It is more lulling than irritating.

However, who would have ever thought that moving to the suburbs would result in train WHISTLES so loud that the first night we slept in our new home the whistles blasted so loudly that my husband was wakened from a dead sleep at 2 a.m. and bolted toward the bedroom door for fear he was being run down? I covered my head thinking that the train had jumped the tracks, and I didn't want to see the moment of my death. We live 800' from the tracks!

Isn't this kind of noise unreasonable in any reasonable person's viewpoint? I just don't understand how anyone could say that we shouldn't have moved here.

Caveat emptor might be reasonable when you spent $20 on a watch, or $100 on a stereo, or maybe even $1,000 on a new tv. It is not reasonable when a person spends money on a car according to lawsuits I am familiar with, and a car costs way less than an acre or more of property with a house in California.

How is it that I purchase land and I have a neighbor who makes such loud noises that I am overwhelmed by noises my neighbors make, but in the city, I can't make noises that overwhelm people? How can there be two standards--one for me as an individual and a drastically different one for a company?

I had no idea nor was I warned that the whistles from the trains would make it impossible to carry on a conversation 800' away during the day. I had no idea that the trains would run every 15 to 30 minutes from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.every day of the week. I had no idea that conductors would blast a horn for one-half mile before entering an intersection 800' from my house.

Who could have told me these things? Where is my culpability?

If CalTrans KNEW, before I purchased my property, that they had to BLAST whistles that carried sound for 1,000 yards, then they should have purchased the property when it came up for sale. As it is, THEY have neighbors, and THEY need to be responsible neighbors just like I am required to do.

The whistles are terrifying. The whistles are overbearing. The whistles are too frequent and way too loud. They are unreasonable and unfair. They are unnecessary at my crossing because nobody has ever been hit by a train there. So why should I be blasted out of bed for a possibility?

I had heard that CalTrans was going to put whistles on trains that would blast down the track and be lightly heard on the sides. This has not happened. This might be a reasonable solution for everyone. It would warn those on or near the track, but it would not disturb neighbors.

800' is a long ways to go and still be wakened in the night. 800' is a long ways away to be unable to have conversations during day time hours and be required to wait until the train passes to talk.

It is unreasonable in any reasonable person's mind that I should be deprived of the enjoyment of my property and be lambasted with deprivation of sleep so that CalTrans can protect a possible person who is insane on a back road where no one has ever died. Tens of thousands of people are adversely affected so that a few people a year can be warned (who often end up dying because that is their choice and they are determined to make it). There HAS to be a better way.

I appreciate the fact that CalTrans needs to warn people about trains coming down the tracks. However, if they are required to disturb the peace to this degree, maybe they need to cut their speed in half so that they don't have to blow for a half mile.

I can't drive 80 mph on my road. Maybe population growth has made it unreasonable for them to drive 80 mph across my road too. After all, claim jumping resulted in death and unmarked graves in the 1800s. But population growth has made that an unreasonable and criminal offense in today's world.

Have times changed enough now and population growth increased to the point that trains should be required to slow down so that they don't have to blast whistles that ruin nearly all their neighbors' peace?

I contend that it has, and CalTrans must begin to be responsible as neighbors.

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Posted by katie Juman
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:12 am

We moved into the area two months ago and the horns on the trains are deafening. The sleep depreciation through interrupted sleep will make me commit suicide. It's quite frankly being used as a slow way to torture people. If you want to put loud blowing horns on the top of trains then the city should bloody take the trains underground for these five stops as they are so close together. It is like hearing one continuous horn for five minutes. Please God!!!!! Do something. These homes are expensive and we can't afford to move again!! I hate my realtor for not warning me.

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Posted by New to neighborhood
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:19 am

Please please please please please get the city to do something about the horns. Put them backon underside of carriage. Whoever thought of this should come and live in the areas they are torturing, obviously they don't give a damn. It is unfair to blow these horns when you have five crossing so near one another. A budget should be made to take the trains Undergroundfor this stretch of track. IIt's just too much!!!!!!,

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Posted by Tortured by horns!! Residence
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:27 am

Encinal avenue is being tortured by horns! Please someone do something. Never mind suicides on the track, what about the suicides from the residences you are slowly torturing. This is absolutely ridiculous. I feel like either shooting myself because of sleep deprivation or shooting the horns!!!!!!!! Take this stretch of track, 5 crossings so close together. Insane!!!! Take them underground and quickly, before I find myself under the ground.PLEASE!!

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2013 at 9:25 am


if your realtor did not disclose that you were that close to teh trains then you have good basis for a lawsuit.

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Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2013 at 9:31 am

Now if that is not a cry for help I don't know what is. Somebody better pay attention.

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

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