DEL MAR — Plans to reduce horn noise from trains as they pass through Del Mar made significant progress Aug. 2 after City Council authorized the necessary steps to move the project into the design phase.
After researching a variety of ways to decrease the noise level at the city’s only crossing on Coast Boulevard, a committee of residents determined an automated wayside horn system would be the most economically feasible solution.
Permanent directional horns strategically mounted at the crossing will provide an audible warning to motorists and pedestrians that a train is approaching. The sound mimics a train horn and stops once the train enters the crossing.
The noise, which complies with federal regulations, is more consistent and not as long or loud as when a conductor sounds the train horn.
With help from Quiet Zone Technologies, a company that provides safe and quiet alternatives to train horns, the committee tested the system at the crossing on April 22. No negative input was received.
The group then sought and received council approval to move the project forward with the understanding that no city funds could be used. At the time, Quiet Zone Technologies told the committee it would cost about $160,000.
But the North County Transit District, which will install and maintain the stationary horn system, gave a preliminary estimate of $276,770, an amount that includes a 30 percent contingency of $63,880.
NCTD officials said the contingency was initially set high because this is the first wayside horn system to be installed. They told committee members a more firm estimate would be available once the design is complete.
“They intimated to us the cost can only come down,” committee leader Hershell Price said.
The group has raised all but $48 of the $17,548 needed for the design, which is expected to take between four and six months to complete. In addition to design and installation, the committee will be required to fund ongoing maintenance, which has been estimated at $3,000 to $5,000 per year.
“I haven’t seen those figures,” Price said. “There may be little or no maintenance.” NCTD said it may eventually be able to absorb the maintenance costs.
The group must also cover city attorney fees to draw up and review all necessary legal documents. Leslie Devaney said it could take 15 to 25 hours to create the three required forms, for a cost of $4,000 to $6,000.
“I haven’t seen any paperwork on this so I’m just giving you my best shot this evening,” Devaney said at the Aug. 2 meeting.
Price said he expected the committee would be required to pay the legal fees, but he was surprised at the amount.
The construction agreement, which would be the final document, would likely be the most time-consuming and costly. Some council members suggested fronting the committee the money for the first two documents so the project could move forward until council meets next on Sept. 13.
“I want to remind everybody that when we started down this road … we wanted to support this and be involved and help with this as long as there was no cost to the city — period,” Mayor Richard Earnest said.
“Now all of a sudden we’re being asked to participate in a financial way and that was never part of the equation,” he said. “So while I enthusiastically want to support this thing, we can’t go down that slippery slope or pretty soon we’re going to be paying for a lot more than we ever intended to pay and can’t afford.
“I don’t mind doing seed money to begin the legal process,” he said. “But where the rest of it’s coming from I don’t know.”
To help keep legal costs down, Price offered to create the initial donor form and within days had a draft copy for Devaney to review.
“I want to do everything I can so that we can get this project completed as soon as possible,” Price said. “It was easy to raise the $17,500. Another $260,000 — that’s when the hard work starts.”
If the group can’t raise enough money to fund the project, none of the money used to pay for the design will be refunded. Donors will be required to sign a form stating they understand that risk.