You won’t hear any of Escalon’s 7,500 residents complain about train noises even through Santa Fe Railroad and Amtrak typically run around 70 trains daily on tracks crossing four streets including Highway 120.
That’s because since October 2008 Escalon has had wayside signals in place.
Four years go Manteca looked into employing the same technology at some or all of the 10 railroad crossings that fall completely within the city limits at Austin Road, Woodward Avenue, Industrial Park Drive, Main Street, Yosemite Avenue, Center Street, Walnut Avenue, Union Road, Louise Avenue and Airport Way. There are three more rail crossings along the border between Manteca at Lathrop at McKinley Avenue, Yosemite Avenue, and Lathrop Road.
What stopped the City Council from exploring wayside signals further was sticker shock. The overall cost per grade crossing based on 2014 quotes the city obtained can range from $185,000 to $500,000 and up to $10,000 per year for maintenance at each crossing.
With train traffic expected to increase significantly with double tracking through Manteca for the extension of Altamont Corridor Express service to downtown and south to Ceres by 2023 as well as projected increased UP intermodal traffic, train noise will likely become a bigger concern to residents. Train whistles that can reach 145 decibels or 35 decibels higher than a jet plane from 100 yards away.
The City Council is revisiting the issue of train horn noise when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
This time around they will here details about a different option that is less expensive — supplemental safety measures.
The Lodi-based consulting firm of Pennino Management Group is making a presentation on the measures as well as steps to pursue them.
It requires the establishment of a Quiet Zone Designation by installing supplemental safety measures. 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.
ucreating one-way streets with crossing arms and signals. Although not on the consultant’s list of options they are presenting Tuesday, one-way streets with crossing arms also qualify as a supplement safety measure.
Two Manteca crossings — Industrial Park Drive and Main Street — already have medians in place although they might need to be modified to comply with federal safety criteria.
To create an effective quiet zone the city would have to address all train crossings that pass through the city.
Federal law 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.”
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 such as quad gate and medians, wayside horns or both.
Federal law is written in such a manner that if there is deviation from horn blasts from a moving train to at-crossing horns (wayside signals) then the liability for accidents at the grade shifts from the railroad to the city.
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 in Escalon as trains approach as required by federal law. Horns also sound four times when they reached a crossing.
But there is a big difference. The decibel level is between 87 and 95. And instead of nearly three quarters of the town hearing the horns based on sound engineering studies, they are 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. Go less than three blocks away to Escalon High and you do not hear the horn. The same is the case for two elementary schools and most residences in Escalon.