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Railroad Quiet Zones on City Council's Agenda

Public works chief and SMART engineer to provide updates on preparation for commuter rail service.

Those who live along the railroad tracks in Novato have already experienced the rumbling and sounds associated with train service now that the North Coast Railroad Authority is running cargo routes through town. What's that experience going to be like when the SMART train gets going?

The city of Novato will roll out details about establishing quiet zones at Tuesday's meeting of the Novato City Council.

Public Works Director Jason Nutt plans to go over a description the process to establish quiet zones, including rules about train horns and grade crossings, as Novato prepares for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit to start up its commuter service in 2016. Novato will have new passenger rail stations near the Atherton Avenue/San Marin Drive junction with North Redwood Boulevard and down at Hamilton. The first phase of the service is to run between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. 

A quiet zone is a section of a rail line at least a half mile in length that has one or more consecutive public railroad crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded, according to the city's staff report. A quiet zone is specific to the use of the train horn — a train going through town is still going to sound like a train going through town, with the creaking of rail joints, railroad car suspensions, engine braking, engine noise in addition to railroad crossing lights and bells.

Outside of established quiet zones, railroad engineers must sound the locomotive horn 15-20 seconds before arrival at a highway-rail grade crossing, but not more than a quarter mile in advance of the crossing, according to the city's staff report. Engineers are empowered, but not required, to sound the horn in the case of an emergency, even in a quiet zone. 

With the California Public Utilities Commission acting in an oversight capacity, governing bodies can establish quiet zones through a diagnostic review for every crossing to determine safety needs. A typical review requires the involvement of qualified railroad signal and traffic engineers, the CPUC, applicable railroads (in this case,  SMART and NCRA), city and county staff and Caltrans. For more about quiet zones, refer to the attached city staff report.

At the same meeting, SMART chief engineer Bill Gamlen plans to provide an updated on construction activities in Novato. In short, they'll start this winter and ramp up in the spring.

The council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Novato City Hall.

Cindy September 25, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Bob that is one of the "smartest" comments about this transportation debacle that I have ever heard!!!
Lawrence Labranche September 25, 2012 at 02:19 PM
As the first part of the article states, trains are already running through Novato.
LP September 25, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Sorry guys, the train is a comin' and I can't wait. The new tracks are being laid, just go up to Rohnert Park and check it out.
Lou Judson September 25, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Jeez, Novatoans have some really weird ideas! Lots of NIMYism too. One of the sweetest things about my year in Berkeley was the sound of the train whistl blowing at every crossing, at all hours. I wih tey would come closer to my house and drown out the screaming kids and fighting poor people in the low income apts...
Lou Judson September 25, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Oh, and PS - the trains were there before your house was built. It just took a break!
relentlesscactus September 25, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Bad Idea, Novato. Kids walk the rail right-of-way, and will continue to do so. Hearing the approach of the train with multiple train horns through crossings lets people know, unless the iPod is on full. So-called quiet zones are designed for cars. Yes, kids aren't 'supposed' to be on the tracks, but kids will be kids. So better train horns than a dead kid.
Teresa Tomas September 25, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Train from Santa Rosa to where in San Rafael?? Why?? What is in San Rafael?? Just moved here do not get it?? A train from hodunk to bofo? Seemes like a train to nowhere. No wonder California schools are so horrible. Wasting money on trains to nowhere!!!!!
Lawrence Labranche September 25, 2012 at 05:48 PM
San Rafael, Novato, Petaluma, RP, and Santa Rosa are downgraded to "nowhere" by the negative group.
early whirly September 25, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Two things you can count on: the train whistle whine from now on and the slow, wailing, crying, pained sound of Mitch McConnell on the morning of November 7, 2012!!
Katherine Moore September 25, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Honestly, who is going to use this train??How much will the fare cost? So you take a train and a bus and a ferry to get to work? How long will the average commute to San Francisco take?? Four hours?? I was one of the idiots that voted for this, but I thought it would go directly to the ferry station in Larkspur. What do I do when i get off at the civic center in San Rafael??Wait for a bus to the city?? Huge fiscal mistake!!!!!!!!!!!
Robert J. Cleek September 25, 2012 at 08:20 PM
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) train horn rule provides localities nationwide with the opportunity to establish quiet zones. The federal rule pre-empts all applicable state laws. To qualify, communities wishing to establish quiet zones must equip proposed grade crossings with adequate safety measures to overcome the decrease in safety created by silencing the train horns. The additional safety measures must be constructed at the community’s own expense and must meet federal specifications. Examples of costs as estimated by Union Pacific: Four-Quadrant Gate Systems - $300,000 to $500,000 Basic Active Warning System* - $185,000 to $400,000 Basic Inter-Connect - $5,000 to $15,000 Annual Maintenance - $4,000 to $10,000 Most importantly, when a quiet zone is established, liability for an accident in the quiet zone IS SHIFTED FROM THE RAILROAD OWNER OR TRANSIT OPERATOR TO THE LOCAL GOVERMENT. These are the FACTS, not my opinion. As for my opinion, it appears yet again that the City Council is kowtowing to a vocal minority without due regard to the best interests of the City and the vast majority of its citizens. The trains have been running back and forth three or four times a week for more than a year under the standard Federal Railroad Authority horn sounding rules. How many times have you heard a train horn blow in Novato in the last year? Think about it.
Lawrence Labranche September 25, 2012 at 11:44 PM
The SMART train is set to run from North Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael with the first phase. Robert Cleek is correct, however for the crossings the freight train runs through, the circuitry is already installed in the crossing box, and additional bases to complete the warning lights have already have been installed not long ago.
Paula Neese September 25, 2012 at 11:44 PM
The voters were "Smart" and voted for the train. I love hearing the whistle no matter what time of day or night and living so close I get to feel the vibration as the trains go past on the tracks. It's about time this project moved forward. Can't wait to see to see that new train on the tracks. All aboard. Toot! Toot! This is progress. Now let's build a community pool for adults and seniors and offer arthritis classes outside of Hamilton near downtown or Margaret Todd and I'll REALLY be happy.
Jeff T September 26, 2012 at 02:18 AM
I like the picture they use showing a car going around the lowered gates... ILLEGALLY I can almost see the license plate...
BP September 26, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Anything railroad you have to follow the money trail. These prices are on projects illegally done by the railroad with NO bids taken. What was the old RR like 6 trains a day leaving the tracks open like 23 hours a day for passenger trains (Tour bus rigged for rails) so why is a second track needed to start with. The old RR lays off the maintenance/signal people because WE fixed everything for 15 years for them. The quiet zone even clears the way for GPS crew-less trains hid behind the curtains. This must be a main route for freight since the government cares less about passengers unless that's the case. .http://www.house.gov/transportation/rail/07-21-05/pickett.pdf ...The only modification required is the installation of two additional gate mechanisms and a timing device that would allow vehicles to exit the crossing before lowering the gates across the traffic exit lanes.. The tax-payers have been ripped for millions and millions by RRs ---allowed by dirty Feds and state.
BP September 26, 2012 at 11:31 AM
The salvage amount on the old rail/used ties/crossing signals/lights/electronics/track lights can be found? http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div5&view=text&node=23:1.0.1.7.27&idno=23#23:1.0.1.7.27.2.1.6 (3) The State and FHWA shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to inspect materials recovered by the railroad prior to disposal by sale or scrap. This requirement will be satisfied by the railroad giving written notice, or oral notice with prompt written confirmation, to the State of the time and place where the materials will be available for inspection. The giving of notice is the responsibility of the railroad, and it may be held accountable for full value of materials disposed of without notice.
BP September 26, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Or is it these brought over on the Mayflower signals with no yellow pre-warning started down right in the drivers face and they had to swerve over to miss the gate?
Mark Schoenbaum September 26, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Kind of a moot point. They don't have enough money to build the choo choo and marin voters are not going to pass another tax.
Bob Schram September 26, 2012 at 04:20 PM
We that live in Olive Ave east are would like the freeway constant noise to stop. The trains don't make that much noise, enjoying the rumble and horn!
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 26, 2012 at 05:00 PM
...but I did not see the tracks when I moved in!
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 26, 2012 at 05:01 PM
...no, let's have a "quiet zone" until someone;'s child is killed and then start pointing fingers.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 26, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Commuters who live in Rohnert Park and Petaluma who work in San Rafael. To? To the bus transit center, at least. Then probably through the hill to the Airporter location near the GG Ferry.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 26, 2012 at 05:13 PM
From the picture at the lead of the article you can see what a moron will do at a railroad grade crossing. Referred to as "slolloming", it is the practice of cars going into the oncoming traffic lane to make an "s" turn around the lowered gates. There was one case in which the mother sued the railroad when her son was killed being just so stupid. She said that the railroad should have known that her son would avoid the safety features and should have "quad" gated the crossing. If Novato is going to have a quiet zone, then grade crossings should be "quad" gated because Darwinism has been made illegal by political correctness.
Robert J. Cleek September 27, 2012 at 12:40 AM
And if Novato opts for quiet zones, such mothers will be suing NOVATO, not the railroad. Potentially, this is the biggest cost of quiet zones.
Robert J. Cleek September 27, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Actually, the latest reports are that they do have the money to complete phase one from Santa Rosa to San Rafael and expect to have money to build phase two, San Rafael to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, on schedule, if not sooner if possible Federal money comes in. They aren't even close to thinking about another tax. Once Mansourian took over the construction management, he's saved millions over the originally projected costs. Supposedly, the biggest concern the SMART management has at present is that ridership is going to exceed the projected levels and they won't be able to expand service fast enough to meet demand. That may sound amazing to many, but, in fact, that has been the case with every similar system built in the country so far. I guess we will see what we will see.
Robert J. Cleek September 27, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I don't know about Union Pacific's figures, but here's what Boulder CO found out about the cost: "The establishment of quiet zones usually requires significant improvements to crossings, such as enhanced warning circuitry, a special type of traffic control gating, extended medians and other "supplemental safety measures. The city of Denver is exploring the costs of implementing a quiet zone at one of their crossings. They estimate that it will cost them $300,000 to set one up at this location. Others have put the cost of establishing a quiet zone at between $250,000 and $500,000 per crossing if significant infrastructure improvements are required, as will be likely at many of Boulder's crossings." http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7853&Itemid=3088#COSTS So, between $250K and $500K per crossing times the number of crossings in Novato (IIRC there's eight) adds up to millions of bucks, no matter how you cut it. The really big cost potential is the liability transfer to the City, though. If they opt for a quiet zone, anybody getting hurt by the train at the crossing becomes the CITY'S fault under the Federal rules. Since few people get just a little bit hurt when hit by a train, we're talking megabucks there and the City has no way of protecting itself from the stupid things people do that get them killed.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 27, 2012 at 09:44 PM
@Robert J Cleek, that is the cost of a politcally correct society. The stupid individual whose death is their own fault, is never responsible. There is always some deep pockets (insurance cmpanies/the government) who have been required to pay and pay the heirs of people who succumed to Darwinism. You wanted a politically correct society. You got it. There is no longer any such thing as personal responsibiity. You voted for them, you sat on the juries. I did not.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr September 28, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Not quite. Some unfortunate mothers and fathers will be very unhappy. That will be the greatest loss.
Sara September 28, 2012 at 10:16 PM
It's so that, in 2016 or so, people living in Santa Rosa can ride the train to San Rafael, transfer to a Marin Transit bus, then transfer to a GG ferry or bus to actually get into the City. Practically a model of commute efficiency, right? My bet is still on the entire thing being conjured up so that the public will subsidize cheaper cargo transport costs. I happen to be a very strong proponent of both rail transport and public transit, but I also think that Corporations should have to shoulder their burden to the infrastructure, not the rest of society. Until they pay their share for the construction and upkeep of rails and roads, it's like a weird form of socialism where the humans pay taxes to subsidize the corporations (and their investors returns).
Sara September 28, 2012 at 10:25 PM
San Rafael to any point south is going to be expensive, considering they already took out the rail overpasses...

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