By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Are train horn blasts too loud?
Manteca exploring quieter wayside horn technology
A bicyclist crosses the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Industrial Park Drive. - photo by HIME ROMERO

John Harris can hear the trains a comin’ and that is not necessarily a good thing.

The Manteca councilman wants municipal staff to revisit whether wayside signals — fixed location train horns at railroad crossings — is a feasible technology for Manteca to employ in a bid to reduce train horn noise.

With an average of 26 trains daily passing through Manteca, Harris during Tuesday’s council meeting said the city needs to look at the technology again to lower the aggravation level of many city residents who have complained over the years about trains sounding their horns.

Harris’ request was prompted by information he heard at a regional commuter rail commission meeting that Escalon had deployed wayside horns along the Santa Fe Railroad line that runs through their town.

Joe Kriskovich, who oversees Manteca’s municipal risk management efforts, noted when the city explored wayside horns several years ago Union Pacific Railroad made it clear they would agree to such improvements providing the city accepted 100 percent liability for accidents at crossings where the technology is deployed.

Kriskovich said that the city was told at the time they could secure insurance coverage but it would increase their premiums significantly. He told Harris he would check to see if the insurance and liability ramifications have changed.

Manteca has had several vehicle versus train accidents in recent years and a number of pedestrian fatalities involving trains.

The council has been approached over the years by several residents to see if they can do something about loud train whistles.

Federal law governs what railroads must do in terms of alerting motorists through the use of train horns. That is why the Union Pacific will not deviate from the current protocol for locomotive engineers involving horn blasts as they approach crossings

Wayside horns are often referred to as “quiet zone” technology. It involves horns at selected crossings being placed on the ground and pointed at vehicle level. The horns are activated by passing trains. It directs blasts toward vehicles and not over a wide expanse that can impact nearby homes. Such a system is in use in Roseville on two crossing where trains are going slow in and out of the Union Pacific yards.

Federal law is written in such a manner that if there is deviation from horn blasts from a moving train to at-crossing horns then the liability for accidents at the grade shifts from the railroad to the city.

The Union Pacific’s website notes that a locomotive’s horns must be sounded for 15 to 20 seconds before entering all public railroad crossings The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) required pattern for blowing the horn is two long, one short, and one long sounding horn, repeated as necessary until the locomotive clears the crossing. Locomotive engineers retain the authority to vary this pattern as necessary for crossings in close proximity and are allowed to sound the horn in emergency situations.

The website states “Union Pacific believes quiet zones compromise the safety of railroad employees, customers, and the general public. While the railroad does not endorse quiet zones, it does comply with provisions outlined in the federal law.

“Federal regulations provide public authorities the option to maintain and/or establish quiet zones provided certain supplemental or alternative safety measures are in place and the crossing accident rate meets FRA standards.”

The overall cost per grade can range from $185,000 to $500,000 and up to $10,000 per year for maintenance at each crossing.

Public authorities are required to guarantee reimbursement to the railroad for all actual costs associated with the installation and maintenance of the railroad improvements required for the quiet zone by means of a project agreement executed by the parties. This may include quiet zone warning devices, wayside horns or both.