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October 2, 2007 > Trains told to shush as they pass by

Trains told to shush as they pass by

By Anuja Seith

Covering your ears with a blanket, curling your head in a pillow, babbling a curse or pleading with a locomotive engineer for mercy are options for those living near railroads. Fremont residents now have another alternative as the city studies "quiet zones." Current rules require trains to sound a horn 15-20 seconds before approaching an at-grade (level with the street) crossing. Horns must continue to blow repeatedly in pattern of two long, one short and one long whistle until a locomotive occupies the crossing.

But in a quiet zone, a section of a railway crossing consisting of one or more at-grade crossings, in most cases, a train is not required to sound its horn. However, setting up of these zones doesn't completely proscribe train operators from this practice. If a locomotive engineer determines that an emergency exists for potential human or animal injury or property damage, they can use the horn.

Horns may disrupt the sweet dreams of many sleepers, but it is an important safety device. A study presented to the Fremont City Council on July 17 cited the results of a nationwide study that found gated whistle ban crossings had a 62 percent increase in collisions vs. gated crossings with horns sounding.

So, while proposing a quiet zone that can hush these unwelcoming sounds, city personnel emphasized certain per requites to such a project. "The idea is to keep people from driving around the gates so we propose to raise the median and establish a four-quadrant gate system," says Jim Pierson, Director of Transportation and Operation, City of Fremont.

Fremont has 15 public at-grade crossings and all crossings have flashing lights and automatic gates. In addition to these, the proposed supplement safety measures are designed to ensure safety as well as provide a respite to residents who complain of sleep disruption, reduced property values and a poor city image. But establishing these zones may shift responsibility and liability of any mishaps to the city.

Fremont is currently trying to determine how to pay the cost of installing medians and additional gates to implement quiet zones and how to mitigate increased liability exposure. The city council has agreed that if quiet zones are instituted, this should be put into practice city-wide, although probably in stages, rather than only designating particular crossings for this designation.

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