Editorial: SMART quiet zones to appease train-phobic NIMBYs
- Published Sunday, August 12, 2007, by the Marin Independent Journal
Rail 'quiet zones' worth exploring
If it makes Novato residents and officials sleep better, they aren't
the only ones worried about noise from freight and other trains.
Cities in the East Bay are wrestling with the problem, which means
the North Bay can watch and learn.
Trains make noise. But it is their horns that sound when going
through crossings, especially at night, that drive some people crazy
-- especially when they are trying to sleep. [BATN notes that rather
than "driving" people crazy, horn-blowing (or the specter thereof)
tends to disproportionately excite those that are already so.]
Just ask residents of Richmond, Emeryville and Berkeley, who have
been dealing with that noise for years, especially from freight
The good news is that a federal rail law that went into effect last
year allows cities to create "quiet zones" by adding additional
safety measures at rail crossings, including more barriers and
flashing lights. Trains then don't have to blast their whistles when
going through those crossings.
Train noise is one issue that will be raised when Sonoma Marin Area
Rail Transit goes back to voters seeking approval of a sales tax
increase for passenger rail service. It is a legitimate concern, but
one that can be addressed through quiet zones.
The issue of noise, along with traffic congestion, once North Bay
freight service resumes has created concern in Novato. Those fears
intensified after North Coast Railroad Agency officials said that
they expect freight traffic to be far more frequent than initially
forecast. Freight service is likely to resume next year.
Novato is the only Marin city directly affected by freight service.
The trains will only operate north of Highway 37; that is where the
freight line heads east. Only SMART trains would run on the tracks
from Highway 37 to Larkspur.
SMART advocates are worried about the fallout from the freight
controversy hurting commuter rail's chances of passing the next time
it is on the ballot. State law mandates that SMART's commuter trains
share the tracks with freight trains.
There are seven crossings in Novato, which could mean train whistles
at night -- especially if North Bay voters approve passenger rail.
SMART service likely would result in the freight trains operating at
night or early in the morning to accommodate passenger trains during
Quiet zones aren't perfect. California public utility officials are
worried they aren't as safe because trains will be rolling through
without blowing their horns to warn drivers and pedestrians.
California already leads the nation in pedestrian deaths on the
tracks. Ninety-one pedestrians were killed by trains in the state
last year. Early indications are that more accidents occur in quiet
zones. That is a tradeoff that must be weighed carefully.
But quiet zones make life more bearable for those who live near the
tracks. Richmond has several of them, and most neighbors are
Quiet zones aren't cheap. SMART says it will cost $250,000 to upgrade
each crossing to handle passenger rail and as much as $150,000 more
for each quiet zone. SMART's expenditure plan includes money for
10 quiet zones. SMART will help local jurisdictions that want quiet
zones with the application process and would be willing to pay for
more quiet zones.
That is the right approach.
There are bigger issues facing SMART, including the cost of the
system and how many people will ride the trains.
Train noise is an important issue to those who live and work near
the tracks, including in Novato and San Rafael. Quiet zones aren't a
perfect solution, but they appear to be a sound way to address one
[BATN: See also:
Opponents using NCRA freight projections to delay, kill SMART
Freight tail of moribund NCRA seeks to wag SMART dog
February '08 SMART re-vote unlikely due to freight study request