Trains will likely stop sounding their horns as they rumble through a half-mile stretch of Cardiff starting early next year, thanks to the establishment of Encinitas' first "quiet zone" along the railroad corridor.
Installation of the required safety equipment at Cardiff's Chesterfield Drive railroad crossing point is scheduled to be done before the end of January 2019. Once that work has been certified and the railroad operators have been notified, the city's first "quiet zone" will become official, engineering consultant Christy Villa told the Encinitas City Council on March 14.
Council members said they hoped eventually to have the city's entire 6-mile railroad corridor given the same train horn "quiet" status.
"It's a little shocking to me that it's taken as long as it has," Councilman Tony Kranz said as he discussed the city's years of work so far to get the trains to stop sounding their horns as they go through the city's various railroad crossing points.
In order to create a "quiet zone" and be exempt from a federal law that requires train engineers to start sounding their train's horn as they approach each crossing, cities must undergo a lengthy process. They need approvals from multiple government agencies, ranging from the state Public Utilities Commission to the Federal Railroad Administration, and they must make costly upgrades to railroad crossing points to improve safety conditions for vehicles and pedestrians
On March 14, Councilman Joe Mosca said he wanted assurances that there was no chance the city might at the last minute fail to get certification for its Chesterfield quiet zone, saying Encinitas has found with some government agencies that a sure thing doesn't always turn out to be the case.
Gheorghe Rosca, the project manager, told him that the city has a set list of safety improvements it has been directed to make to the crossing point — items that all of the participating agencies have agreed upon — and at this point it's simply a matter of checking off the items on list.
"We're very confident that there will be no further requirements at Chesterfield for the investment the city has made this far," he said.
After getting the status report on the Chesterfield project, council members unanimously agreed March 14 to continue pursuing quiet zone status for the rest of the city's railroad corridor and even consider extending the zone into Carlsbad, if its officials are interested in doing a joint project.
Working with Carlsbad may be attractive, Villa told the Encinitas City Council as she discussed the options for designing quiet zones. Cities can pursue quiet zones for individual intersections or they can create "book-ended" ones, which begin at one railroad crossing point and end at another, often including several others in-between the two points, she said.
The new quiet zone at Chesterfield Drive will be intersection-based, and will extend for a quarter-mile both north and south of the intersection. However, that isn't the preferred method for handling the rest of the city's railroad corridor because it creates gaps, or areas between intersections where train horns would still sound off, Villa said.
She recommended a bookend approach, and the City Council ultimately agreed to have the southern "bookend" be at E Street, while the northern one could be either Leucadia Boulevard in northern Encinitas, or possibly at Carlsbad's Cannon Road intersection, if Carlsbad decides to join the effort.
Starting the zone at E Street would leave a 1.5-mile gap between this quiet zone and the Chesterfield one, but the only way to link the two is to combine them into one big project and delay Chesterfield's certification, Villa said, mentioning that cities aren't allowed to have overlapping quiet zones.
Council members said they didn't want do anything to postpone the Chesterfield project, which has been years in the making. Kranz noted that it's now estimated to cost $12 million to do all the safety improvements to the city's other crossing points to make them qualify for quiet zone status, and said, "I would not be inclined to hold up the quiet zone for Chesterfield" while the city finds the funding for the larger project and then does the construction work.
--Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.