Rocklin Quiet Zone: full steam ahead

Former railroad employee involved in fatal Loomis accident warns city again
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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The phrase, “Now you hear them, soon you won’t” helped announce the city of Rocklin’s new downtown railroad Quiet Zone.

Rocklin is making some changes to existing rail crossings aimed at silencing train whistles and horns from the two dozen daily freight and passenger trains making their way across Rocklin’s rails.

“Residents living near an at-grade crossing will finally have some noise relief from the 26 trains that pass through each day,” Mayor Diana Ruslin said.

The city is expected to spend more than $61,000 dollars in state transportation funds to install center medians at the crossings at Farron Street, Rocklin Road, Midas Avenue, Americana Way and Dominguez Road that, at 8 inches high, are meant to prevent drivers from ducking under the lowering arms to turn around as a train approaches.

The federal Quiet Zone program will be in effect 24/7, although horn use is still allowed in certain instances like warning pedestrians or animals, but arbitrary sounding of the horn will be eliminated. Gate arm bells will continue to ring as a train approaches until it has passed and the gate arms rise.

Safety was the top priority for modifications following an extensive review process with state, federal and Union Pacific Railroad authorities, according to a statement released by the city.

“Safety is paramount at train crossings, and locomotive engineers still have the discretion to use their whistles, even in a Quiet Zone,” Ruslin said.

Rocklin resident Kenneth Rogers, a former Southern Pacific and Union Pacific employee for 45 years, is opposed to the plan. He’s been speaking at nearly every council meeting since the plan was approved in November, trying to convince the city to give it up.

“Quiet zones to me make them crossings of death,” Rogers said. “Man vs. train accidents are usually very catastrophic. There is no rational argument that justifies loss of life or serious injury being preferable in order to allow people to get a good night’s sleep.”

Rogers is haunted by the double-fatal accident he witnessed at the crossing at Humphries Road, now Webb Road, in Loomis on July 30, 1967, as the train he was riding in slammed into a car carrying Del Oro High School junior Patty Bagby and her 11-year-old sister Barbara. Two of their brothers, Mark, 6, and William, 8, also in the car, were injured but survived.

“Even one lost life or serious injury due to the existence of a Quiet Zone is unacceptable,” Rogers said.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the city has had three accidents at Rocklin crossings since the data was collected for crossing accidents in 1940.

“Rocklin has a stellar 72-year accident record relative to railroad crossing accidents,” Rogers said. “Why tweak the system now? Taking the train horns away has the potential of increasing the accident rates.”

The FRA studied the effects of a similar train whistle ban along the Florida East Coast Railway in 1984 and found daytime accidents at affected crossings remained virtually un-changed, but nighttime accidents nearly tripled after the ban was imposed.

The city of Rocklin is partnering with Operation Lifesaver to have trained volunteers make rail safety presentations to students throughout the city’s schools. These presentations focus on teaching all ages how to be careful at railroad crossings and to never trespass on the railroad’s property.

The City Council is expected to vote to award a construction bid for the median upgrades at the Feb. 12 council meeting.

“The project itself has been approved by council, so outside the bid award, there are no further approvals from council needed,” Rocklin Public Affairs Manager Karen Garner said.

Construction is expected to begin in March and be completed by early summer.