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The design and engineering element of a citywide Quiet Zone is expected to cost the city $750,000.
The design and engineering element of a citywide Quiet Zone is expected to cost the city $750,000. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
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Encinitas takes step toward establishing citywide ‘Quiet Zone’

ENCINITAS — Elected officials took an important first step toward adopting an ordinance establishing the city as a Quiet Zone to significantly reduce the amount of train noise as an increasing number of residents are expressing support for the proposal. 

At a meeting on April 13, the Encinitas City Council endorsed a proposal introduced by Councilman Tony Kranz to allocate funding to the design and engineering of a designated Quiet Zone — no train horn — from approximately Leucadia Boulevard in the south to the city’s northern border with Carlsbad. 

The vote to allocate funding towards the project in the council’s current drafted budget was an important step toward making a Quiet Zone a reality, Kranz said. 

“I’ve been advocating for this since I’ve been elected,” Kranz said. “It’s something that I have not been comfortable with and have been trying to advance this project, although a constrained budget has made it difficult to get this done. My colleagues on the council do share this opinion as well.”

The design and engineering element of the project is expected to cost the city $750,000. The council is not expected to finalize its Capital Improvements Project budget for the following fiscal year until June. 

A Quiet Zone, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, is defined as “a segment of a rail line within one or a number of consecutive public highway-rail (roadway) grade crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded.”

Currently, in Encinitas, a non-Quiet Zone requires train engineers to blow their horns four times, starting at least 15 seconds in advance of all public grade crossings.

A “Quiet Zone” designation simply removes this requirement, which means that engineers only have to sound the train’s horn in an emergency situation or to comply with certain state and federal regulations. 

In order for a Quiet Zone to be implemented, per federal law, a municipality has to establish Supplemental Safety Measures, or SSMs, to ensure that grade crossings continue to be safe for pedestrians and vehicles.

These safety measures include features such as four-quadrant gates that can fully block vehicular traffic from entering the crossing, gates with raised medians, fencing, wayside horns directed towards the crossing roadway, and other various infrastructure improvements. 

In 2019, the City Council approved an ordinance to implement a Quiet Zone in the Chesterfield area of Cardiff-By-The-Sea. However, efforts to extend the zone through Leucadia and the downtown corridor fell through at the time, as the city struggled to procure the needed funding for SSMs. 

Numerous locals say the time is now for a Quiet Zone to be established throughout the entirety of Encinitas. 

Pete Albanese, who lives just south of West Leucadia Boulevard, has launched a petition online calling for a Quiet Zone, which has gained approximately 600 signatures. Albanese says that he lives directly within the “blast zone” of the train horn, and expressed that he and his neighbors are fed up with the train noise occurring intermittently throughout the night. 

“I moved here in 2013 and it’s gotten really bad in the last three years, I mean it’s gotten to the point where we regularly get woken up around 12:30 at night by Amtrak, and my neighbor and his kids they get woken up too,” Albanese said. “It’s disturbing to a lot of people, yea people are very emotional about this,” he said.

While train noise may seem simply like an inevitable fixture of life for those living next to a railroad, Albanese explained that the train horn frequency, consistency and decibel levels have crept up significantly in recent years.

An electrical engineer, Albanese said the horns in Encinitas emit sound at a level between 96 and 110 decibels, a level of volume he described as not only being annoying but also hazardous to human health. 

“If you’re having sleep disrupted throughout the evening you’re not getting a solid night’s sleep, which subjects you to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of illnesses,” Albanese said. “And the sound pressure is also harmful to animals, babies, and then when you look at exposure to this noise for an extended period of time it’s a long-term list of problems.” 

“[The train horn] is truly disruptive at all hours of the day,” said Kyle Pokorny, who is also helping gather signatures for the Quiet Zone initiative. “A lot of times you’re talking about a 20-30 second blast at or over 100 decibels, and it’s like 50 times a day. Even with all of your windows closed you can still hear the train sounds very clearly.”

Pokorny, who lives just a couple of blocks east of the tracks north of Leucadia Boulevard, said he’s extremely concerned about the health risks posed to residents in Leucadia and Old Encinitas from train noise. 

“The biggest impact this has is just sleep disruption,” Porknoy said. “Every night the train honks several times whether we realize it or not, and it does wake us up so there’s a lot of negative health repercussions to this type of thing.”

Porknoy cited scientific studies showing that train noise can not only lead to health conditions such as Alzheimer’s for older residents but has also been determined to exacerbate learning disabilities in children

“You can pretty much tie any negative implication due to a lack of sleep as being caused by this train, so yea the train is negatively impacting everybody in the blast region corridor nightly with poor sleep,” Porknoy said.  

Porknoy also noted the city actually bans noise levels in residential areas above 70 decibels, calling this law an “incongruity” with the 96 to 110-decibel levels regularly emitted by the trains passing through the city. According to Porknoy, the council needs to work harder in order to make a Quiet Zone initiative a priority, expressing disappointment that swifter action had not already been taken. 

“I’m hoping to see this as a point of focus for the upcoming budget,” Porknoy said. “The fight for a Quiet Zone started many years ago and it originally was approved, and a lot of work and money was put behind it, but it somehow got stopped right after Cardiff got their quiet zone.

“Those projects weren’t finished, and so what I and others are hoping to show the City Council is that a significant portion of Leucadians as well as those in Old Encinitas are really passionate about stopping the train honking because of the negative effects that it has on our lives.” 

While the council unanimously voted to endorse a Quiet Zone at the April 13 meeting, challenges still remain towards the project becoming reality, the greatest of which will be the financial burden on the city of having to build additional SSMs, according to Kranz. 

Kranz estimates that the project would likely end up costing the city between $10 to 12 million, based on a 2019 feasibility study conducted by city staff. Encinitas does currently have such a sum in its budget, meaning the municipality would have to apply for state and/or federal grants in order to begin construction. 

The new safety features along the tracks would also have to be approved by federal rail inspectors before the city could finalize a Quiet Zone ordinance, the councilman said. 

Kranz says that with Del Mar and Oceanside already having Quiet Zones, and Carlsbad considering a similar measure, the long-term goal regionally is to establish a Quiet Zone that would run intermittently through the entire coastal swathe of North County. 

“We’re looking forward to working with Carlsbad to extend this thing further north, there would be benefits for Carlsbad in doing this, you already don’t have to sound the horn in Del Mar and we have a quiet zone in Chesterfield, so if we can get downtown Encinitas, Leucadia, and Carlsbad quiet as well, that’s a lot of North County right there,” Kranz said.

1 comment

steve333 April 15, 2022 at 3:15 pm

Interesting how this comes out right after the City Council meeting where Blakespear and her toady Kranz fired Bruce Ehlers over the vocal objections of Encinitas residents.
Sorry, this isn’t going to get anyone to forget what a complete failure you have been as a Council member.
Cindy Cremona or Jeff Morris for Mayor
ABB

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