The vote on SMART quiet zone horns will be held in December. Read more at www.WeAreSanRafael.com.
At the end of 2016, SMART will be rolling down the tracks. Trains will be passing all grade crossings in San Rafael from 5:30am to 8pm weekdays and also on a weekend schedule. This four times an hour for 14 hours a day. The HORNS MUST SOUND at 96-110 decibels (very loud) approximately ¼ mile before every grade crossing. Hundreds of homes and apartments will experience significant noise impact. Quality of life for many residents living close to the SMART train corridor will be diminished. The City of Richmond has the largest network of quiet zones in the state for 10 years with no problems. We can do this too.
The City of San Rafael is in the process of considering a Quiet Zone for San Rafael. If a Quiet Zone is introduced with adequate safe guards and safety measures (SSMs), residents will not be subjected to train horns at grade crossings. This will make a huge difference. Please note that design and construction is already planned and budgeted to make ALL crossings Quiet Zone-compliant. All that needs to happen is for the City Council to vote their intention to have quiet zones.
Public Comment Meetings
The City of San Rafael will conduct the last of three meetings on September 29, 2014 – 7-9pm, Terra Linda Community Center. Please attend and voice your opinion on this subject.
What happens if there is no Quiet Zone?
Train operators are required by law to begin sounding their horn 15–20 seconds before entering a public road or pedestrian‐rail grade crossings and no more than one‐quarter of a mile in advance.
- They are required to sound Two Long Blasts, One Short Blast and One Long Blast
- Because of the close proximity of crossings in San Rafael it will result in the train horn sounding continuously.
- Experts estimate that 90 percent of train noise comes from blowing the train horn at the mandated 96 to 110 decibels.
- SMART, in their 2006 EIR, reported that at least 280 homes and apartment buildings in San Rafael would experience severe noise impact and 540 homes and apartments would experience significant noise impact. Many residents believe their reporting number is low.
- A railroad engineer always retains the right to use the horn if there is any potential danger on the track (a car or pedestrian encroaching on the track, for example).
Map of Train Crossings in San Rafael
To see all planned Quiet Zone-compliant crossings on the SMART train line, download the Quiet Zone Safety Measures pdf published by SMART.
Overview of Quiet Zones
SMART released this document in 2012 which includes information about what Quiet Zones are, what types of crossings are compliant. Bottom line is that if there are no train horns, it needs to be apparent that a train is coming through closed gates that are not passable. Click to view the Establishing Quiet Zones in the SMART corridor pdf from SMART.
Source: SMART Quiet Zones Whitepaper #15, July 2008
Only local public authorities with control over streets and roads (such as cities or counties) may establish quiet zones. The establishment of a quiet zone does not require the submission of an application to the FRA and thus there is no need for a local jurisdiction to wait to see if its quiet zone has been “accepted.
The process begins when a local jurisdiction, such as the City of San Rafael, files a Notice of Intent to establish a quiet zone to the California Public Utilities Commission, Caltrans and applicable railroads (in this case SMART and the NCRA). While the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is not required to be part of the notice of intent process, it is prudent to keep them involved in the process.
The issuance of this notice is typically preceded by a formal diagnostic review of crossings in the proposed quiet zone. The PUC, railroads and Caltrans must be invited to the diagnostic review. This diagnostic review is necessary to determine treatments for pedestrian crossings and private crossings that involve public access, industrial activity or commercial activity. The review is also intended to assist the local public authority in devising the best plan for quiet zone implementation. (Note: According to Ken Chiang at the CPUC this had been conducted but SMART has not yet submitted its official requests).
Once any necessary supplemental safety measures have been installed, and the CPUC has verified Quiet Zone Calculator data, the local public authority issues a Notice of Establishment. The Notice of Establishment is sent to the FRA, all applicable railroads, Caltrans, any local governments affected and any private property owners affected by private crossings. Railroads must cease blowing the train horns after the 21-day waiting period. (Note: Ken Chiang at the CPUC is of the opinion that local jurisdictions should consider waiting 6 months to one year after SMART service initiates to consider implementing quiet zones.
In the case of the SMART corridor, quiet zones could be established and improvements incorporated into SMART’s construction prior to service startup.
Public Utilities Commission Recommendation
The PUC has the right to make a recommendation on quiet zone implementation in San Rafael. The word is that they are going to suggest a 6 month-1 year use of horns to ensure people KNOW a train is in town…before implementing a quiet zone. This approach is counter-productive. If people get used to hearing horns, and then the horns are gone, people who relied on the horns will be at increased risk.
Liability and Insurance
Some cities have wondered if quiet zones will increase their liability:
- According to the FRA’s Staff Director of the Highway Rail Crossing and Trespasser Division, the failure of a train to sound its horn should not be a cause of action against a local jurisdiction that implemented the quiet zone.
- The same official has publicly stated that if a suit is ever brought against a local jurisdiction for preventing horns at a crossing, the FRA would likely file an amicus brief on behalf of the locality.
- The FRA does not want local jurisdictions to be punished for creating quiet zones, since adherence to FRA requirements should translate to an overall reduction in safety risks.
- Unlike some older quiet zones established with whistle bans before the 2005 Train Horn Rule, new quiet zones can only have been implemented if overall safety risks were reduced to the a level at or below that with trains sounding their horns; or if risk were negligible with or without the horn.
- Ultimately courts determine liability and culpability based on the particular circumstances of individual cases.
- At present, however, no local jurisdiction has been sued for removing train horns in the three years since the 2005 Train Horn Rule was established. (as of 2008) Source: SMART Quiet Zones Whitepaper #15, July 2008
- Some cities believed their insurance provider covered quiet zones and discovered that they were in fact excluded meaning the city would not be insured if someone sued over injury or death at one of the crossings. Source: City of San Juan Capistrano
The Mayor is concerned about indemnification. What have other cities done and what is SMART’s position?
- Some cities indemnified the Railway authority for liability arising from the design, construction and maintenance of the crossings and discovered that their insurance did not cover this liability without a substantial additional payment for indemnity obligation insurance. Source: City of San Juan Capistrano
- SMART has gone on record to state that jurisdictions that desire to establish a Quiet Zone will need to enter into a construction and maintenance agreement with SMART to address responsibilities for the improvements within the Quiet Zone and includes SMART’s standard indemnification provision. Source: SMART Establishing Quiet Zones in the SMART Corridor August 2012
- SMART in an email exchange with Ken Dickinson August 4, 2014 has gone on record as saying that “SMART’s standard indemnification regarding quiet zones will be developed and tailored for each of the jurisdictions as required.” But no actual standard has been forthcoming from them at this time.
- The FRA has noted that states have the power to exempt local communities from lawsuits through the application of sovereign immunity (and some states have chosen to do that). Source: CRS Report for Congress – The Federal Railroad Administration’s Train Horn Rule, April 20, 2007.
- In an agreement between the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the City of Gillette for the construction of a Quiet Zone they dealt with the issues of Sovereign Immunity and Indemnity as follows: The State of Wyoming and the WYDOT did not waive sovereign immunity by entering into their agreement and the City did not waive governmental immunity. They retained all immunities and defenses available to them as sovereigns or governmental entities. In addition each party to the agreement assumed the risk of any liability arising from its own conduct. Neither party agreed to insure, defend or indemnify the other. Source: Cooperative Agreement Between the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the City of Gillette, June 30, 2014