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Quiet train horn design costlier than expected

DEL MAR — With the final design complete, the cost to install a system that would decrease horn noise as trains pass through Del Mar came in quite a bit higher than originally expected.
But thanks to City Councilmen Carl Hilliard and Mark Filanc, $90,000 in administrative fees were deleted, putting the final current estimate at $363,317. Although that figure is still about $105,000 more than fundraisers anticipated, Hilliard said he is optimistic the final price tag will be closer to the original estimate.
For years residents have been trying to find a way to reduce horn noise at the city’s only crossing on Coast Boulevard. The city first looked into creating a true quiet zone, but that was estimated to cost more than $1 million.
“That blew it out of the range for City Council,” Public Works Director David Scherer said. The city also looked into installing pedestrian gates, but those presented a new set of concerns, including aesthetics.
Last year a group of residents began working with Quiet Zone Technologies to possibly install a stationary wayside horn system. The plan received council approval with the understanding that no city money could be used.
Through private donations the citizens group raised the necessary $17,548 for the preliminary design. Updated project costs were presented at a March 2 open house in the City Hall Annex.
Scherer said the city directly notified about 300 residents about the meeting — it was also advertised electronically and at City Council meetings — but less than a dozen people attended.
North County Transit District will install the system, which will include two stationary horns permanently mounted at the crossing. The horns, which will mimic the sound of train horns when a train approaches, will sound at 92 decibels 100 feet from the center line.
Two quiet zone indicators — poles with red Xs that let engineers know the wayside horn system is in place and working — will also be installed south of the crossing because of the blind curve on the northbound tracks.
The horns must sound when the train is 1,300 feet from the crossing. Engineers will still have the discretion to use their train horns, especially if they see pedestrians in the crossing. The system is expected to reduce the amount of noise, its level and how far and long it resonates, especially at night.
Brett Rekola, NCTD’s chief of rail operations, said the estimate will likely be further refined, noting that some costs are flexible. He said the administrative costs were eliminated after reminders from Hilliard and Filanc that the system would be a first for the county.
Other costs, such as materials and labor are fixed. For example, he said it will cost about $75,000 to tear up and repair streets and sidewalks to install underground equipment.
Rekola said the price could be reduced if the city is willing to absorb the costs for services such as permits and traffic control.
Hilliard said he is confident the city will work with NCTD to “negotiate out some of those extraneous costs.”
For now, the citizens committee is trying to raise the $363,317. If their efforts fall short, all money will be returned, Hershell Price, the committee chairman, said.
“No money will be at risk,” he said.
Rekola said NCTD typically requires a 100 percent deposit but he expects the organization will “talk with the city to move the process along.”
Visit the city website at to view the slide show and cost estimate presented at the open house. E-mail or call Lee Stein at (858) 442-2300 for project information or to donate.