Caltrain admits horns were 4x too loud after move, apologizes
- Published Thursday, August 6, 2009, by the San Mateo County Times
Caltrain officials say horns up to four times too loud, apologize for disturbance
By Mike Rosenberg
San Mateo County Times
Caltrain horns have recently been up to four times louder than normal, and the blasts may continue to be heard farther from the tracks well after their volume is lowered, agency officials said Thursday.
Addressing the Caltrain board of directors, CEO Michael Scanlon and Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey defended the decision that led to the louder horns, saying it was the only way to quickly meet federal safety requirements. The pair also apologized for the deafening noise during their first public comments since the volume and range of the agency's horns were suddenly amplified in mid-July.
The horns, which engineers blare when approaching the rail line's 44 street crossings, raised a ruckus among Peninsula residents and business owners that said the racket was waking them up at night and disrupting their lives.
Harvey, who made the decision to move the horns from the bottom of the trains to the top, which caused the noise increase, said crews have affixed regulators to most of the agency's 57 cars. The regulators will allow maintenance workers to finely tune the volume level.
Crews, working "all day and all night" since Friday, have on 12 cars returned the horn volume to 98 to 100 decibels, the noise standard used by Caltrain since 2001, Harvey said. The horns on the remaining 79 percent of the agency's cars will be retrofitted "within three weeks," he said. For each car, it takes about four hours to install a regulator and adjust a horn's volume level.
Since the horns were moved atop trains, they had been producing 104 to 110 decibels, Harvey said. The Federal Railroad Administration prohibits horns from being louder than 110 decibels.
"We're still very, very loud out there," he said.
Once all cars are fitted with regulators, officials will still have to tackle the issue of noise range. The horns had previously been four feet off the ground but now are 14 feet up, causing the noise to carry farther than before.
Officials moved the horns to the top of the trains after an internal investigation revealed they were not producing the four separate blasts required by federal regulators. Harvey said the agency will commission a study to figure out how they can return the horns to the undercarriage of their locomotives, thereby reducing the noise range, while still meeting safety standards. It remains unclear how long that process will take.
Harvey said he had "no choice" but to order the horns moved to the top of trains, even before figuring out how to quiet them. Scanlon commended Harvey for having the "courage" to do so, and Board Chairman Don Gage also defended the decision.
"Safety comes first," Scanlon said.
Staff writer Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation issues. Reach him at 650-348-4324.