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Del Mar residents give wayside train horn test thumbs up

DEL MAR — Peter Glaser has lived in Del Mar for 25 years. He can see the Coast Boulevard train crossing from the balcony of his Ocean Windows condominium.
“When you’ve lived here a long time, you kind of get used to the noise, but it would be nice if it were quieter,” he said.
That may happen sooner rather than later. A committee of residents has been working for the past few years to find an affordable solution to what many say is an increase in train noise.
On April 22, residents and business owners were asked to participate in a hearing test to assess whether a stationary wayside horn system would be quieter than train horns used by conductors as they pass through town.
Nearly two weeks after the test, committee leader Hershell Price, another longtime Del Mar resident, said he had received nothing but positive comments, including a letter from the Ocean Windows condominium association informing him the board of directors unanimously supported the project.
“That was critically important because if the people who live adjacent to the crossing didn’t approve, we wouldn’t have been able to move forward,” Price said.
“I thought the proposed whistle was a lot better,” said Michael Batter, a 30-year Del Mar resident who also lives above the crossing. “I just hope it happens.”
Batter said he was a bit skeptical because he thought officials from the Public Utilities Commission, Federal Railroad Administration and North County Transit District who were on hand to witness the test may not have noticed much of a sound difference.
“Even though the wayside horns were better, the trains were blowing their horns at much less intensity,” he said. “They were on good behavior because they knew everybody was watching that day. Some days they just toot their horn, but an hour later, that guy will decide he wants the world to know he’s there.”
Glaser agreed.
“The train horns do vary depending on how happy the engineer is,” he said.
To confirm the wayside horns were quieter, Glaser bought a decibel meter, which he used from his balcony several times on test day.
He said the train horns ranged between 92 and 105 decibels, while the wayside horns registered between 77 and 80 decibels.
The original plan was to hold a follow-up workshop May 25 to garner additional public input. But because there have been no negative comments since the test was conducted, Price said his committee plans to go directly to City Council on May 17 to seek approval to move forward and begin fundraising for the $160,000 project.
Wayside horns, which are being used in about a dozen cities in California, provide an audible warning to motorists and pedestrians that a train is approaching. A stationary horn would be permanently mounted at the crossing.
A signal from the track circuit warning system would be sent to the wayside horn, which mimics a train horn until the train reaches the crossing. Once the train has entered the crossing, the horn stops.
A flashing red X indicates to the train crew that the wayside horn is in place and working properly so the train horn should only be sounded in an emergency. If the system is not performing correctly, the quiet zone indicator will extinguish and the engineer will be required to sound the train horn.
Batter said the wayside horns are a much better alternative than a quiet zone gate, another option that was considered but quickly eliminated based on a $1 million cost estimate.
“This is much less expensive and it looks better,” Batter said. “That gate was going to look bizarre.”