Town Square

After outcry, Caltrain pledges to soften train whistle

Original post made on Aug 7, 2009

Following an outcry from people who live near the tracks over a recent increase in the volume of train whistles, Caltrain has announced plans to reduce the volume of its locomotives' horns to a level residents are accustomed to. The rail agency estimates the change will take two to three weeks to complete.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 5, 2009, 12:00 AM


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Posted by Bill W
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 7, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I have read the article on the train whistles and I still believe that some enginers blow the damn whistles excessively. One blew 8 times from the bridge going north prior to Ravenswood crossing. Com'on...why except to get even for the complaints about the shrieking whistles.

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Posted by Bianca
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I know that the new horns were annoying. But for one moment put yourself in the shoes of the engineer. 44 grade crossings mean that engineer is spending a lot of time watching for people and cars on the tracks when they shouldn't be.

It may seem to you that the horns are blown excessively, but unless you are right there in the cabin with the engineer, and seeing what the engineer is seeing, I don't think you are in a position to judge.

Loud horns are annoying. But the annoyance of a loud horn pales in comparison to the psychological pain a train engineer goes through during and after an accident. Let's have some compassion for them.

Trains have much longer stopping distances than heavy trucks. The whole point of the horn is because the train can't stop, the train can't swerve, the train can't do all the things that cars and trucks can do on the road. All it can do is blow the horn.

The trains can't stop. Think about what the engineer has to see, and then ask yourself if you wouldn't blow that horn too.

I doubt the engineers are being "vindictive" about blowing the horn excessively. But if you really think that's all it's about, then grade separations are the answer- no people or cars on the tracks, no horns at all.

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Posted by saw
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2009 at 9:49 am

is this why we heard obnoxiously long train whistles blowing ALL NIGHT LONG last night in Mountain View?

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Posted by sleep deprived
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:44 am

I wonder the same thing. I am lying in bed trying to go to sleep at midnight and the blasts are long and loud. I wake up at 6 a.m. and it's the same thing. Yesterday I was driving on Alma in Menlo Park and practically lost control of my car when a train came by. Those horns are not only annoying, they're dangerous, and I wonder how many accidents they've contributed to -- from startling drivers as well as depriving people of sleep.

I don't live near the tracks and could not hear the horns until recently.

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Posted by sleep deprived
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:46 am

Can someone post the complaint number/email address for Caltrain?

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Posted by Renee Batti
associate editor of The Almanac
on Aug 28, 2009 at 11:20 am

Renee Batti is a registered user.

The "customer service" line for Caltrain is 1-800-660-4287. Spokeswoman Christine Dunn said that calls/comments/complaints to that line will be logged into the database and analyzed. There's also a "Contact" link in the right column at

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Posted by AlanM
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 28, 2009 at 12:44 pm

If one were cynical, one would note that Caltrain executives are eager to get support for the High Speed Rail project. One of the major benefits of HSR that was touted at the recent Town Hall meeting was that horns would be completely eliminated with the HSR project...
But, personally, I side with the engineers of the trains blowing as much as they feel they need to. Safety first. And yes, I live two houses away from a grade crossing.

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Posted by Katie
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 28, 2009 at 1:24 pm

WARNING: watch out for high speed rail bloggers (eg. "Bianca") who infiltrate our bulletin boards with their rhetoric!

Grade seperations are just a ploy to get high speed rail on the peninsula. Quad gates would work just as well at keeping things quiet, peaceful, and safe.

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Posted by unhappy resident of Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I haven't notice any decrease in noise since this article was written. I thought they said that they would dampen the sound in a couple weeks. The increased noise meant that we couldn't sleep with our windows open this summer, that we can't carry on conversations when the train is going by, that we wake up in the morning to the sound of the first train, etc. And we live a couple blocks away! No trains in Europe have these kinds of horns.

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Posted by resident
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Its CRYSTAL CLEAR why they are uping the ante on the train horn noise now - its because they are doing the 'before' measurements on the horn noise for the HSR Project level environmental impact report. Don't forget to ask them for the DATES that they measured the train horn noise, when that report comes out.

As soon as they get their measurements they'll suddenly find a way to lower the horn noise again.

Why? So that they can use the faked up before/after comparison of improvement in horn noise to offset the terrible environmental impacts, including a mucher high frequency of squealing high speed trains, to support their conclusions that we'll all be SO MUCH BETTER OFF with when high speed rail gets crammed through our backyards.

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Posted by resident
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Katie - not only that but Caltrain certainly can create a plan for grade separations and obtain governmental funding sources for those, without HSR. That 'grade separation' argument is a big load of hogwash.

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Posted by Bianca
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Yes Katie, I support HSR. And I live in Menlo Park. It's not entirely clear to me how I am "infiltrating", other than that I am expressing my own opinion. The terms above the posting box even call this "a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion." I think that reasonable people can share differing ideas in a calm, measured way.

In theory, Quad Gates could be an alternative to total grade separation with the establishment of a Quiet Zone. 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 Zones 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.


I'm not convinced that Quad Gates are the answer. They are better than nothing, I suppose, but total grade separation has the added benefit of improving air quality- all the cars that are idling waiting for the train to pass do have an impact on the air we breathe.

And I still think that all of us who are annoyed by the horns should pause for a moment and consider how horrible it is for a Caltrain Engineer to be unwillingly pulled into someone else's final tragedy. I can't imagine how awful that moment is. The train can't stop, all the engineer can do is blow the horn. It isn't some faceless conspiracy of Caltrain, Diridon, Kopp, et. al. blowing that horn, it is a human being who doesn't want to be part of someone else's suicide.

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Posted by sleep deprived
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 28, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Thank you, Renee, for the contact info.

Bianca, I realize that you are infatuated with HSR, but can't you at least acknowledge that the horns are NOT preventing suicides? I appreciate that it must be horrendous for the engineers, but I also dispute that the horns have eliminated one single suicide.

On the other hand, here I am sitting in my still-warm house on a Friday night. It's close to midnight, the windows are open, and the train just came through with the engineer leaning on the horn for five minutes. It sounds as though the train is a few feet away. Does it really need to be that loud? And if the noise is that stressful for me, what must it be like for those who live closer? I am ready to file a lawsuit against Caltrain myself!

resident, I believe that the horns are directly connected with Caltrain's desire to get their hands on the HSR funding, but your explanation adds an extra dimension to that theory.

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Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2014 at 7:34 pm

In the carquinez strait in Croclett, CA train horns are heard across the bay in Glen Cove. Early this morning 1/9/1014 around 2:20AM the train horn sounded 33 times; that's right, thirty three times. This has been going on for several months. These train engineers need to be fired.