ENCINITAS — About 100 Cardiff residents, city officials and staff crowded onto a narrow strip of dirt and vegetation, listening to horns and bells on Sept. 22.
This was not a music concert. In fact, much of the sound was not music to the locals’ ears.
“Ix-nay on that one,” one woman said as a loud train horn-like sound emitted from a speaker near the railroad tracks.
“How many times is that supposed to go off?” she asked a man nearby.
“60 times a day,” the man said.
“There’s a school here, houses here. That’s unacceptable,” she said.
The residents were there for a city demonstration that previewed the type of noise that could be generated by a warning system for a pedestrian crossing near Montgomery and Vulcan avenues.
The city has been considering a pedestrian-only crossing near Montgomery Avenue for a year, but has received push back from the neighborhood after the city determined it was unlikely the city would obtain a “quiet zone” designation from federal and state rail regulators for the crossing.
A quiet zone would mean that trains passing through the crossing would not be required to blow their horns, provided the crossing included other advanced warning devices.
Without that designation, the city would be left with two options: loud train horns or a horn system at the crossing itself, known as a wayside horn system.
Residents have been opposed to any horn noise, wayside or locomotive, but city officials have been investigating several wayside horn options that generate less noise than the traditional variety.
During the hour long demonstration, crews simulated three horn sounds from loudspeakers in the vicinity of the tracks: one that blew the horn sounds toward the neighborhood and the Swami’s campground, a second that directed the horn sound toward the tracks, and a third, muffled warning system that could barely be heard from where the onlookers were standing some 500 feet away from the track.
Each horn sound was also accompanied by a bell sound, which came from a crewmember suspended above the tracks in the bucket of a public works ladder truck.
Neighbors, much like in the aforementioned exchange, expressed concerned that with the imminent installation of a second railroad track in the Cardiff area, that residents would be bombarded by noise every time a train crosses the tracks, upwards of 60 times per day.
The entire city council and several council and mayoral candidates were on hand for the demonstration. They almost all agreed on one thing: the first two horn sounds were non-starters for the neighborhood.
“It’s a no brainer, one and two are totally not acceptable, and three is the only viable option,” City Councilman Tony Kranz said of the three horns. “We have to put together a package that the CPUC would approve Option 3 if we decide to move forward.”
State and federal regulators approved the third, quieter wayside horn for use at a crossing in San Clemente. But according to City Public Works Director Glenn Pruim, it is the only crossing to receive approval for the lower decibel horn.
“Every city with a rail crossing is investigating the San Clemente crossing to figure out how it got approved,” Pruim said. “You can’t recreate the conditions at the crossing, but you can get an understanding of the process, and possibly make a case for it at this crossing.”
Pruim said the approval in San Clemente could open the way for other cities to receive approval of a similar system.
“It helps that since there is already a test study out there, and regulators can see that it is working,” Pruim said.
Some who attended the demonstration, however, were not pleased with any of the options, and want the city to abandon the crossing and pursue either a under-crossing or pedestrian bridge at another location.
“I think it’s feasible,” said Brett Farrow, a Cardiff-based architect who is a member of the city’s coastal mobility and livability working group, which is charged with coming up with a long-term vision for the city’s three-mile rail corridor, which includes the Montgomery crossing site. “And it would eliminate the need for any horns or bells, which probably is the best outcome.”