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Technology quiets train horn during demonstration

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Surfers and beachgoers filed past a contingent of workers donning hardhats and yellow vests at the Chesterfield Drive railroad crossing during a demonstration of so called “quiet zone” technology on Aug. 24.
The ever-present blaring of the train horn announcing not only its arrival but also its departure as it speeds by on the tracks has long been a part of life in the city. However, if some residents and city officials have their way, the less harsh sounding horn will replace it at each of the four railroad crossings.
A group of residents, City Council members and city employees listened to the demonstration, which started at 7 a.m. Many of those living closest to the intersection said they came down because they heard a “strange sound” after the train passed.
It was, in fact, the sound of what is known as a wayside horn, which pedestrians and drivers could hear in lieu of the traditional train horn. “I’ve gotten used to the sound of the train,” said Jeff Davis, who lives two streets east of the crossing. “I’m not sure this is an improvement.”
Yet, most residents said they were weary from blaring train horns and encouraged implementation of the new technology. “I liked what I heard,” said Sara Parker, a Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident. “As long as it’s safe, I’m all for it.”
According to Robert Albritton, CEO of Quiet Zone Technologies, the company that made the horns used in the demonstration, the sound of the wayside horn registered at 92 decibels when measured from 100 feet of the crossing. “That’s a big difference from what the train puts out,” he said.Train horn decibel readings ranged from 105 to 115.
A change in federal law five years ago allowed the installation of wayside horns across the country. Approximately 100 crossings in the United States have wayside horns, Albritton said, with only 14 in California. The nearest is in Riverside. Del Mar has shown an interest in purchasing the technology to install in its lone crossing.
While the demonstration was free, Albritton said, the “turn-key” cost to install the technology comes to $100,000. “The quiet zone horns can be used at any crossing that has gates,” he said. He also noted that train engineers will always be able to blow train horns if necessary.
A wayside horn system includes signals up the track from each crossing that will flash if the system is working properly indicating to train engineers they don’t have to blow their horns.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth watched the demonstration in the early morning hours with Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan and Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts. Roberts is one of the North County Transit District representatives. The public agency owns both the Coaster and the Sprinter railways. “This is an important demonstration to show how you can improve the situation at the railroad crossings and improve the quality of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Roberts said.
Barth said the technology was affordable in comparison to other options considered by the council to improve railroad-crossing safety. “We could do all four of our crossings for $400,000,” she said, adding that the California Public Utilities will have to agree to at-grade pedestrian crossing at the Leucadia Boulevard intersection first. “This technology does not compromise public safety,” she said. “I think it’s something worth looking into more in depth.”