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City Council Supports Citywide Train Quiet Zones

On March 17, the Richmond City Council approved a plan that would accelerate implementation of Quiet Zones in an area of South Richmond known as the “Siberia Lead” where BNSF runs dozens of trains all day and night through and adjacent to residential neighborhoods including the Iron Triangle, Point Richmond, Atchison and Liberty Villages, Santa Fe, Coronado and Marina Bay.

The train activity on this track, particularly at night, is a rather recent phenomenon resulting from a track sharing dispute between BNSF and Union Pacific in which the people of Richmond are the real losers. Train horn blowing while people are sleeping is not just an aggravation; it is a public health issue of substantial proportions.

See http://www.nonoise.org/library/whonoise/whoresponse.htm and Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague (2007). This summary of the issue of noise pollution written by Lisa Goines, RN and Louis Hagler, MD includes an excellent summary of the health effects of noise, and first appeared in the Southern Medical Journal in March, 2007. Dr. Hagler was once a happy resident of Richmond who was driven out by BNSF horn blowing.

The first action by the City will be the Quiet Zone that includes two grade crossings of the Richmond Parkway south of Atchison Village and a nearby grade crossing on Ohio. The city attorney has already filed the Notice of Intent to get the process started, and it can be implemented as soon as BNSF completes the constant time warning device at the Ohio grade crossing (paid for by City of Richmond).

The next project will include the balance of the Siberia Lead from Ohio to West Cutting, which is one of the mitigations related to the Honda Port of Entry project. The approval of the Honda Port of Entry Project included completion of the Quiet Zone from Garrard to West Cutting, which would include 3rd Street, 2nd Street and West Cutting. We now know that the lead time between notification of BNSF and construction of Quiet Zone improvements is at least 6-7 months, so now is the time to make that notification to get it done by the end of 2009.

From the Honda port of Entry FEIR:


16. Train Noise: The Project will increase train traffic south of the Canal Boulevard grade crossing, and

it is possible that trains will be sounded at grade crossings. The City of Richmond shall determine

what is required to establish a Quiet Zone and shall obtain cost estimates for providing sufficient

grade crossing safety devices at grade crossings south of the Canal Boulevard grade crossing to

qualify for a Quiet Zone. The City of Richmond shall maintain a reserve fund for a period of two

years sufficient to pay for such devices, if required. If train horns are routinely sounded at grade

crossings south of the Canal Boulevard grade crossing, the City of Richmond shall implement a

Quiet Zone extending from the Canal Boulevard grade crossing to the PPMT. After two years, the

reserve capital fund shall no longer be required, but if after two years, train horns are routinely

sounded at grade crossings south of the Canal Boulevard grade crossing; the City of Richmond shall

install such devices in a timely manner as necessary and establish a Quiet Zone from the Canal

Boulevard grade crossing. "Routinely sounded" means sounded in accordance with 49 CFR Parts

222 and 229 promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration but does not include sounding in

case of emergencies. In addition, the City of Richmond shall complete the required improvements

and establish a Quiet Zone from the existing Garrard Boulevard (Richmond Parkway east leg) to and

including the grade crossing at Cutting Boulevard near 4th Street. The Port of Richmond, in

conjunction with the railroad shall investigate, adopt a plan and apply best practices to continually

reduce wheel squeal on tight radius curves on tracks serving the Honda Port of Entry Project.

Practices may include gauge face lubrication; top of rail friction modification and the maintenance

and modification of track and rolling stock.


The next Quiet Zone will include the remainder of the BNSF trackage in south Richmond to, Wright/Harbour Way South, Marina Way and a private crossing to a storage facility.


Finally, the city will conduct a study to determine the location and cost of grade crossing improvements to place all Richmond grade crossings in quiet zones.


The following is from the West County Times:


Richmond wants to give trains the silent treatment

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Posted: 03/23/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT

Updated: 03/24/2009 01:22:01 PM PDT


Click photo to enlarge


Vehicles await an approaching train at the intersection where Giant Road meets Collins Avenue...


Richmond, which already boasts more railroad-crossing quiet zones than any other East Bay city, wants to make the rest of its turf horn-free.

City leaders are studying what it would cost to convert every railroad grade crossing into a quiet zone, in which train operators are barred from sounding their horns except in emergencies, such as if a person is on the tracks. It would mean less horn blowing in residential neighborhoods, especially at night and in the early morning.

"They run them close to Coronado neighborhood, through the Santa Fe neighborhood, through the Iron Triangle, right behind Atchison Village," City Councilman Tom Butt said. "They can be heard in Point Richmond."

Freight trains run through Richmond daily, sounding warning horn blasts as they approach street crossings as required by federal law.

Richmond, which has dozens of grade crossings, created four quiet zones since 2005 when federal regulations allowed cities to mute horns where they see fit. Officials selected "low-hanging fruit" first, homing in on crossings with other safety measures already in place so safety wouldn't be an issue when horns stopped blowing.

Officials now are working on quieting six more crossings - Third Street, Second Street, West Cutting Boulevard, Harbour Way South, Marina Way and a private crossing at a storage business - in the south part of town. And they are launching a new study to evaluate the feasibility, cost and time it would take to convert the rest of the crossings into quiet zones.

The price per zone averages $250,000 because gates, flashing lights and other safety tools must be installed to stop cars and pedestrians from crossing in front of an oncoming train.

For resident Jackie Thompson, quiet zones are key to quiet neighborhoods.

"There are people who are sick. You've got a lot of elderly people as well in the community," Thompson said. "My neighbor was saying when that train sounds like that and it wakes her up, she doesn't get back to sleep. It shakes the building. It rattles the building."

The City Council is moving ahead with the study. But Councilman Nat Bates raised concerns about whether the city should spend funds on creating quiet zones amid other priorities, including fixing potholes.

The Federal Railroad Administration saw a "tremendous amount of interest" after the agency began allowing quiet zones, spokesman Warren Flatau said. Talk has even surfaced in suburban New York for a countywide quiet zone, he added.

A handful of other California cities - among them Campbell, San Jose, Sacramento, Elk Grove, Pomona and Placentia - have eliminated horn blasts in parts of their communities. In all, 14 quiet zones exist in the state. Pleasanton, Berkeley and others have considered them, too.

It is too soon to tell if there is a safety difference between quiet-zone crossings and nonquiet-zone crossings, Flatau said. The agency is in the midst of compiling and evaluating data.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which runs trains daily in Richmond, has no record of accidents in the city's quiet zones, spokeswoman Lena Kent said. She added that quiet zones are relatively new and the company is continuing to evaluate them. In the meantime, she said BNSF is willing to work with communities that want quiet zones to make sure other safety measures are installed when horns go silent.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.