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Family blasts anti-train horn movement
Train horns .jpg
The crumpled wreckage of the DeLeon car on the Airport Way railroad crossing in a 1962 that appeared in the Stockton Record.

Longtime resident Pete Moreno says that he and his family are supporters of trains sounding horns as they pass through Manteca.

Moreno said if train horns had been sounding back 57 years ago at what was then a low key rural crossing on Airport Way just north of Louise Avenue in an area saturated with almond orchards that over the years has been turned from rural farmland to subdivisions that it would possibly have saved the lives of five family members who died in a flaming train crossing wreckage in 1962.

Moreno felt that someone needs to remind city leaders that the loud train horns that some people can’t get used to hearing serve a purpose which is to avoid deadly accidents. The Manteca City Council last week directed staff to revisit the possibility of establishing quiet zones at some or all 10 of the Union Pacific Railroad crossings along the tracks that slice Manteca in half.

Moreno married the lone survivor of the horrific crash a number of years later – the mother, Beatrice DeLeon, then 31. Both agonize over the current opposition to trains sounding their horns and causing people to lose sleep with the freight trains rumbling through town in the middle of the night.  

“They complain about not being able to sleep,” he said.  “Our family members would probably still be here if the train had blown its horn and they are now sleeping forever.”

The accident happened Oct. 15, 1962 on Airport Way one-quarter mile north of Louise Avenue at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. The DeLeon family who lived in Tracy were driving to visit a relative in Manteca when the crash occurred, Moreno said.

Moreno said his wife remembers there was a tall cornfield all the way up to the tracks blocking vision of the oncoming train and they would otherwise have had time to stop their car. He said a good Samaritan ran up to their wrecked vehicle and pulled the woman out of the wreckage and then ran back to get baby, Theresa, 3, when the vehicle exploded into flames.

The 97-car freight train was traveling about 60 miles an hour at the time of the collision and knocked their 1951 sedan some 60 feet south of the crossing.  DeLeon’s husband and four children were declared dead at the scene and Mrs. DeLeon survived and was said to be in poor condition at the San Joaquin General Hospital with burns.

Moreno focused his frustrations on a recent city council meeting where elected officials Debby Moorhead and Gary Singh advocated that the city explore wayside horns that do not sound as loud as horns on trains.

“The train did not blow its horn – the train arms were not down – and they couldn’t see the train because of the corn blocking their view,” he said.

At the hospital Mrs. DeLeon was quoted as saying she saw the train at the last minute but then didn’t know what had happened. 

Several years later the federal government adopted standards for trains to sound horns at all crossings. Federal law now governs what railroads must do in terms of alerting motorists through the use of train horns.

The Union Pacific Railroad’s website notes that a locomotive’s horns must be sounded for 15 to 20 seconds under federal law 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 Lodi-based consulting firm of Pennino Management Group last year made a presentation to the council regarding measures involved establishing a quiet zone. Those measures include:

uinstalling quad gates. This involves having four sets of signals at crossing arms on both sides of the street on each side of the tracks.

uinstalling non traversable medians with or without channelizers. This prevents vehicles from driving round crossing arms that are in the down position.

Besides being significantly more expensive, wayside horns do no eliminate train horns.

Wayside horns start blowing a quarter of a mile away from a crossing as trains approach as required by federal law. Horns also sound four times when they reach a crossing. 

But there is a big difference. The decibel level is between 87 and 95. And instead of the sound traveling long distances, it is restricted to roughly a block or so along the tracks. That’s because the lead locomotives aren’t the source of the noise. The horns are mounted near the tracks and activated by the approaching train.

The horns are directed at traffic at the crossing. Standing near a crossing, they sound like the bellowing of a sick goose 

To contact Glenn Kahl, email