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.