ENCINITAS — A plan to construct an at-grade railroad crossing at Montgomery Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea hit a potential roadblock last week, as city officials said it might not qualify for a “quiet zone” designation that would eliminate train horn noise.
The Encinitas City Council at its Feb. 24 meeting was discussing whether to spend an additional $52,000 for a planned overhaul of the Chesterfield Drive rail crossing when it received the news from Public Works Director Glenn Pruim.
The news came as a surprise to city officials, and added further fuel for opponents of the proposed Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail and the long-running debate over the fencing that would go along with it.
Supporters of the rail trail have seen an at-grade crossing at Montgomery as an olive branch to opponents, who have claimed that the rail project would eliminate a popular, albeit illegal, crossing point between homes along the east side of the tracks to the beach.
Without a quiet zone designation, residents would be hard pressed to support the at-grade crossing at Montgomery, which would be subject to booming train horns that would disrupt the area, which includes an elementary school.
Pruim said he advised the council of the possibility that the crossing might not get the designation, but said that it wasn’t meant as a “bombshell” or a “gotcha” moment.
“Without having gotten confirmation, I wanted to raise it to the council level that it might not qualify but we don’t have anything specifically from the Federal Railroad Administration one way or the other,” Pruim said.
Pruim said the reason the Montgomery crossing might not qualify for the designation is that it applies to highway crossings, and Montgomery is not one. In San Clemente, where city officials there attempted to extend its quiet zone to encompass several pedestrian crossings, the FRA only approved one of the crossings, the closest one to the highway crossing, Pruim said.
Montgomery Avenue would be the closest pedestrian crossing to Chesterfield, which could work in the favor of extending the quiet zone, but the federal officials would be the ultimate arbiters, Pruim said.
“It is really a judgment call from the FRA,” he said.
If the intersection doesn’t qualify for a quiet zone, the city would likely have to install a wayside horn system, which isn’t as loud as a train horn and keeps the noise in the immediate area of the crossing, but still would subject some neighbors to noise currently not experienced.
“I would rather let the City Council know of the possibility than everyone believing that it would automatically qualify and then have to go back and spend money retrofitting the crossing, which would be more expensive,” Pruim said.
Councilman Tony Kranz, who has supported the current rail trail configuration, said he didn’t consider the announcement to be a bombshell until he received confirmation from the FRA that the crossing could not be part of the quiet zone.
“The ‘bombshell’ has the potential to be a dud, it hasn’t really detonated,” he said. “I think that it was premature of staff and the consultant to make an announcement on it.”