Rocklin on track to silence trains

Federal Railroad Quiet Zone seeks to improve driver safety and residents’ peace
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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The city of Rocklin is proposing the creation of a railroad Quiet Zone to discourage freight train operators from laying on the horn when they pass through downtown.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the train horn rule provides cities like Rocklin the opportunity to establish quiet zones by equipping proposed street crossings with adequate safety measures to make up for the lack of horns.

Rocklin Director of Public Services Rick Forstall explained the plan during the Sept. 11 City Council meeting.
“We’re looking at trying to get the horns to stop blowing,” Forstall said. “And to do that we have to put these center islands in.”

The city is considering installing 60- to 100-foot-long medians at each side of the rail crossings off Rocklin Road: Farron Street, Americana Way and Midas Avenue; and Rocklin Road at Front Street.

The changes would allow freight trains to roll through downtown without blowing horns. However, the warning horn would still be blown on Amtrak trains where pedestrians board or in the event of a train emergency, according to Forstall.

Rocklin resident Gene Johnson, who has been living in Rocklin for nearly eight decades and has enjoyed the history of the trains, said his hearing is now going.

“I can say that, for me, the noise of the engine horns was deafening. I believe a share of my hearing loss resulted from that exposure,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who lives on Fifth Street and Rocklin Road, has had to listen to the 24 daily trains that pass through the city at all hours.

Ironically, Johnson is working with the Rocklin Historical Society to preserve Rocklin’s original railroad roundhouse. Still, he wants the city to quiet today’s working trains.

“Engineers are required to blast at certain points. Some engineers use relatively short blasts, while others lean on the horn, it seems, forever,” Johnson said. “Word has it that the short blasters have girlfriends in town; the long blasters have ex-wives in town.”

With tongue in cheek, Johnson is serious about the city’s proposal.

“Effort toward a downtown railroad quiet zone is wonderful news,” Johnson said. “I also believe that a viable downtown can happen only after the engine horn noise is eliminated.”

Mayor Brett Storey wanted to know why a 9-inch-tall median in the center of a street near the rail crossing would be effective.

“The center median — why does that lower the risk so drastically? It doesn’t stop anyone from going anywhere,” Storey said.

Forstall explained when cars are stopped waiting for a train the median will keep drivers from trying to avoid the wait by exiting the lane or turning around.

“It’s not necessarily safety; it’s stupidity,” Storey responded.

Forstall told the council the city believes adding the center median actually makes the crossings safer.

“For the liability, it actually decreases,” Forstall said.

Council member George Magnuson expressed concern about residents living across from the Kinder Morgan Inc. rail crossing south of Sunset Boulevard at Pacific Street. That crossing would not be retrofitted, which means residents like Mike and Cheryle Markett, who live in a housing development near Woodside Drive and Pacific Street, would still have to listen to the train horns.

“Why aren’t they doing it here? Why are we out of luck? It affects our sleeping at night,” Cheryle Markett said.
Forstall told council members the city couldn’t touch private crossings like the one near the gas farm facility.

“If it’s outside our Quiet Zone, they’ll blow their horns,” Forstall said. “That one will continue to blow.”

The Marketts want the city to find a way to help every citizen — not just the ones near public street crossings.
“They should be able to do something about it,” Mike Markett said.

Forstall suggested concerned residents could contact the Department of Transportation, Rail Crossings Division and ask for their help.

“They should be able to work with them on what they might be able to do,” Forstall said. “The crossing is on private property and not under the control of the city of Rocklin.”

Residents will have an opportunity to address their concerns at an upcoming public hearing.