Residents irked over train noise

DEL MAR — Del Mar residents are once again seeking to establish a quiet zone at the Coast Boulevard train crossing, and at least three said they are willing to help fund the necessary improvements.
Hershell Price, speaking on behalf of a large group of residents, asked City Council at the Oct. 26 meeting to begin the process to establish a quiet zone. If that isn’t feasible, he asked council members to at least discuss the merits of implementing a nighttime or directional quiet zone. He said the number and frequency of trains passing through the city — and the decibel levels of their horns — have increased significantly in the past few years.
“It’s getting to the point where it’s no longer romantic,” Price said.
Larry Richards agreed. “In the last couple of years it has gotten so bad,” he said. “You just, at times, want to jump right out of your skin.” Richards said he believes the noise is negatively affecting the quality of life in the city so much so that when Mayor Crystal Crawford asked if he would be “willing to hit leather and help us fund this,” he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Bryce Rhodes and Lee Stein also said they were prepared to personally contribute financially to move the project forward.
Mark Whitehead said he and his neighbors were aware of the trains when they bought their beach-area homes. “It’s a feature that, at the time, was not so bad,” he said. “However, something has changed in recent years.” He said the blasts have become “very erratic (and) sometimes they’re amazingly loud for no apparent purpose.”
“I know that there are difficulties going up against the train people,” Whitehead said. “They hold a lot of cards … but at the same time, they have an obligation to be good neighbors.”
Whitehead also addressed safety concerns. “The train company will always err on the side of safety,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is the people who lose their lives on the train tracks lose them deliberately.”
The city first looked into creating an ordinance to establish a quiet zone in 2006, shortly after the Federal Railroad Administration, or FRA, acknowledged that horn noise could have a negative impact on residential communities adjacent to railroad corridors. In 2005, the FRA adopted new regulations allowing cities to establish quiet zones.
According to a conceptual estimate from North County Transit District presented to Del Mar City Council in late 2007, the cost would be nearly $1.1 million.
“(That) was way beyond the reach of the city,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said.
City Manager Karen Brust said Matt Tucker, executive director of NCTD, called her after a recent citizens meeting and said he recognized there was truth in the residents’ comments. He said they were “absolutely correct” there may be times when horns are blown too loud or too long, Brust said.
Tucker said he asked train operators to be more aware of when, how often and how long they sound their horns. He also told Brust he was willing to assign more officers to the tracks to cite trespassers.
But Crawford reminded her colleagues that when enforcement efforts were stepped up in the past, residents were “none to happy” when they were ticketed. “We have to be careful what we ask for,” she said.
With only one legal crossing area in a three-mile stretch, Councilman Mark Filanc said trespassing and the related safety concerns will continue to be issues when trying to establish a quiet zone. Prescilla Dugard, assistant city attorney, agreed. “It’s your more problematic issue,” she said.
In the end, council members appointed Hilliard and Richard Earnest as a council subcommittee to create a citizens committee to research what other cities have done and gather information and cost estimates.
Although there are currently no quiet zones in San Diego County, the city of San Diego is working to establish them at 13 crossings. Dugard said hearings are expected to begin in the next three to four months.

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