News

Downtown Palo Alto residents seek relief from train noise

Petition calls for city to establish a 'quiet zone' near University Avenue transit station

Living next to downtown Palo Alto's bustling train station has many benefits, but for residents of 101 Alma St., a good night's sleep isn't one of them.

Douglas Cardwell said the number of children who live in the building has gone up markedly in the past decade, with about 25 currently inhabiting the building. But it's not the children who keep Cardwell awake at night but horns from the passings trains, a sound that has become a little too familiar to him and his neighbors in recent years.

On Monday, Cardwell joined his neighbors in asking the City Council for relief. The city, he and his neighbors said, should try to establish a "quiet zone" near the downtown station, a designation that needs an approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

The designation effectively waives the requirement that trains sound their horns at least 15 seconds (and no more than 20 seconds) before approaching a public grade crossing. The volume must be at least 96 decibels and no more than 115, according to the Train Horn Rule adopted in 2005.

Federal regulations specify that train conductors must use the familiar pattern of two long horns, one short horn and one long horn to signal their approach. That, however, doesn't always happen, said Nancy Larson, who also lives at 101 Alma. In some cases, the train operators like to do "a little staccato" as they enter the crossing. She said she recalled watching a train pass her house and blowing the horn seven times.

"No one tells them what to do," said Larson, whose apartment overlooks the rails.

In recent weeks, residents of 101 Alma and their neighbors have been researching how to establish quiet zones and lobbying the council to create one on Alma. A petition recently launched by resident Zouhair Mahboubi calling for a quiet zone has received 127 signatures as of Tuesday morning. The petition calls train horn noise a "significant community issue" and notes that the required noise level is "very loud, and with freight trains running throughout the night, many residents struggle with sleep."

Establishing a quiet zone would "greatly improve the quality of life by reducing noise pollution in Palo Alto, while still providing a safe crossing and at no significant cost to the city," the petition states.

On Monday night, Mahboubi brought his case to the council and secured a commitment that city staff will explore that issue. Creating such a zone will not be too onerous or expensive, Mahboubi said. Federal regulations set out the process and criteria for such zones, including a requirement that such a zone be at least half a mile in length and that certain safety measures be put in place. The measures, which would have to be approved by the FRA in advance, could include such things as wayside horns, signs or closure of crossings.

Mahboubi's presentation came shortly before the council was set to discuss a far more ambitious proposal for the Caltrain tracks: the digging of a trench along the corridor in south Palo Alto. While that project comes at a cost of $1 billion (or $488 million, if the trench is built under a steeper grade), creating a quiet zone would be much cheaper and easier, he said. The group believes the crossing already has enough safety measures to enable the creation of the quiet zone with "little to no construction," he said.

"Here we present to you an opportunity to make within a very short term a very huge impact on a big community," Mahboubi said.

Mahboudi noted in a letter to the council that he and his neighbors have already relayed their concerns to Mayor Nancy Shepherd and senior staff. On Monday, City Manager James Keene said city planners will continue to work on exploring the issue of establishing a quiet zone.

"Our planning staff is attuned to this issue and has already met with some of the folks on this matter and we will continue to meet with them to explore this matter further," Keene said.

Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Can we add SFO plane noise to this community issue too?


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Just can't see this happening without getting rid of grade crossings. This is basically a safety issue. There have been numerous fatalities of people or vehicles getting surprised by trains (because of not paying attention) or stuck on tracks - not just in Palo Alto but everywhere. Signs will not make the crossings safer than noise.


7 people like this
Posted by Pangloss
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm

A 4-way stop sign at the crossing would be a quite option.


5 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 6:31 pm

How to create a Railroad Quiet Zone:

Web Link


20 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Why do you think residential real estate - apartments, townhouses or detached homes near RR tracks are less-expensive?

Yet the pre-existing RR has to adapt to their new needs!?


13 people like this
Posted by m2ges
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Retro-fit the windows with noise-isolating double-pane fixed glasses. Some hotels in Japan sitting next to tracks for high speed trains are very quiet inside guest rooms.


28 people like this
Posted by David V
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

David V is a registered user.

When did they install train tracks along Alma?

Seriously, you knew moving in what you were going to get with the trains, really.
Golly, it rains and my head gets wet, can the government please do something about it please?


6 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:42 pm

@m2ges:

Yes, double-paned windows help, but some of the noise is actually vibration from the train, and some of it the horn. I've lived a block away from the tracks in Mountain View.

As to the horn, it could be lessened if the tracks were below grade. That's *really* expensive. Maybe some day.

As to the vibration, electric trains are quiet than diesel. This is one advantage that Japanese trains have over Caltrain. Electrification affects a lot of things, and yes, noise is one of them.

I am uneasy about the high-speed rail proposal, but I am all for electrification of Caltrain.


2 people like this
Posted by Wayside Horns
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:44 pm

What about wayside horns? They seem cheap and practical.

Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Electrification will quieten the trains. Horns could be changed to a different type of electronic style horn which will not carry as far. There is also the clanging of bells at the stations that could be changed with quieter trains.

Caltrain and Amtrak trains are much noisier than foreign modern trains.


4 people like this
Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Are they surprised? I'm personally not against the trend of high-density housing close to downtown (although it does bring changes good and bad), yet it seems particularly non-reflective for these folks to complain about noise, traffic, or other accessory evils of urbanesque living.


1 person likes this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2014 at 9:29 pm

@MV Resident, unfortunately the root cause of vibration is that the houses are too old and flaky. Modern concrete high rises will not have such problem. There is no fix, not even electrification.


14 people like this
Posted by emily
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

Jeez, what do you expect?! You live near a train station! I lived on Emerson and Hawthorne in an ancient building and after about a week of living there, I hardly noticed the train anymore. We're lucky to have Caltrain pass through our town.

Also, the train horn carries really, really far. I could hear it at my parents house in Menlo Park and I can hear it now, where I live now, closer to Middlefield. It's not a bother and it just becomes a background noise that you learn to ignore.


8 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 8:26 am

"Planes, Trains and Automobiles"...
Noise is a irritant that those living in cities across the nation endure on a daily basis. The solution many choose, if they are able to, is move to the country. Of course, that darn rooster is a pain early in the morning.


7 people like this
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2014 at 8:34 am

The problem we're trying to solve is not the trains themselves, which I agree are a longstanding issue, but the unnecessary and largely pointless whistles, at least in the middle of the night.


11 people like this
Posted by aa
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2014 at 8:48 am

This is a serious issue and we are affected by it. We love trains, we love safety and this is why Alma crossing has gates, sound alarm and other safety devices. All we are saying is that given all these measures there is no reason for the train to blow its horn. No more reason than for every car to blow its horn at every interception. Thankfully, federal government agrees. Congress passed a law basically saying that any crossing that implemented set of security measures can qualify for a Quiet Zone, which prevents trains from routinely blowing horns. It seems reasonable. This is what we are trying to achieve.


9 people like this
Posted by Another Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:03 am


The city has other things to worry about than a pre-existing condition to which these residence bought into. I don't think any resources should be spent on this.


8 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:34 am

The irritation with the train has increased as Palo Alto housing prices increased. What was tolerated, or not noticed, earlier isn't tolerated now.

People spending hideous prices for way-overpriced houses want something more for their money.

Hence the focus on train noise, plane noise, parking, zoning, the homeless and all of the other negative pressures of urban life. Palo Alto is urban, it is forever changed.


Like this comment
Posted by Kay
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:24 am

With people being killed on the tracks. A young girl was hit by a train in the East Bay while paying attention to her phone. One big issue is sucides on the tracks also.
I like the upgrade the windows comment. Its nicer than, saying "just take out your hearing aids"


1 person likes this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:31 am

@David V,

Yes about those tracks along Alma Street. Not certain when Alma became a thoroughfare but the RR tracks were installed in 1864...by the San Francisco San Jose Railroad.

BTW as an aside here those CalTrain Baby Bullets trying for an hour travel time each way to/from San Francisco, sorry to inform you that the SFSJ RR did that in 1864 on a regularly scheduled basis AND achieved compliance as well! Anyone check with an old SPRR Peninsula Schedule say from the turn of the previous century? And then the 20's, 30's in the 20th century as well, just a thought.


8 people like this
Posted by Historian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

101 Alma was built in 1960 (Zillow) and the train has been there since? 1890 - why the sudden concern?


6 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

Have lived here since 1976 and heard train noise for years. It's weird not to hear it when we are away. You KNEW you moved in near the trains--it's a great convenience and being wildly promoted by the ABAG police. Now it's wah wah wah. Yep, pony up for double pane windows. It helps.

Similarly with the airport noise. You want the convenience of proximity to a major airport, deal with it. It's the price of living in a steadily more urban area. It's like buying into a housing tract near a military air base and then whining about the fighter jet noise.


4 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

Historian -- from previous post about the sudden concern.

The irritation with the train has increased as Palo Alto housing prices increased. What was tolerated, or not noticed, earlier isn't tolerated now. People spending hideous prices for way-overpriced houses want something more for their money. Hence the focus on train noise, plane noise, parking, zoning, the homeless and all of the other negative pressures of urban life.




8 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:53 am

I lived at Churchill and Alma for 17 years. I heard both trains and kids (going to Paly) daily. You get used to it. I actually miss it now. The trains were there before you. before all of us in Palo Alto. You signed on knowing what was across the street from you. Just one of those things in life you've gotta deal with.


7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:06 am

I live near Oregon Expressway and the Caltrain tracks. I have to say that noise from the Expressway bothers me way more than noise from the train. Expressway noise is all night and all day and has gotten worse since the last set of "improvements" to increase traffic volume. How do I make the Expressway more quiet? It was not this bad when I bought my house 30 years ago.


6 people like this
Posted by Easy Solution
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:11 am

Here's an easy solution for those residents who live near the train annoyed with the train noise: move. You knew what you were getting when you bought/rented next to the train. Don't expect the trains to accommodate you. Train whistles are a critical safety device.


10 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

It is not right to simply dismiss complaints about train noise.

Yes the tracks were there before the houses. But trains are getting more frequent. And it will get even worse. So it is a legitimate concern for those who have not expected substantially more noises since they moved into these places.

Same for airplane noises. There are a lot more flights than, say, 20 years ago.


6 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

It's better than it used to be ... you used to be able to hear the train and have it wake you up all the way down here in Crescent Park. I think they changed the sound of the horn and lowered the volume back in the 80's.

The idea that the train gets to keep doing whatever its doing because it is here first is ludicrous. Times change and now they want to put the majority of people on the Peninsula living near El Camino and for Palo Alto that means the train.

Yes, airplane noise is also a problem and that should be a priority too.

People need to be the priority. A long time ago they used to put the worker and blue collar people in the crummy parts of town, and then claim they wanted to live there and knew what they were getting. People live where there are houses ... they have to live somewhere and if the houses are in a bad or noisy or problem area, I guess some in Palo Alto just say so what, they knew what they were doing.

It hardly matters, we should be trying to improve the City's environment.

I feel bad for people who live by the tracks ... because I used to. I left the state for about a year and when I came back I just wanted to rent the cheapest place I could find until I bought. I ended up living in the Park Plaze apartments right by the tracks in Mountain View off Central and Rengstorff. I never got a good night's sleep until I moved. It was like having the train rolling through my bed every night.

Loud noise like that is not a way for people to live. When there are huge loud alarms with flashing lights at every train crossing I don't see how anyone could be surprised by a train ... and is it worth half the City not getting good sleep to warn every single person who might have gone to the train tracks deliberately?


13 people like this
Posted by Wha?
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

The freight trains that run at night have extremely loud horns that blast at every crossing. I can hear that train around 10:30pm every night and I live a mile from the tracks.
As others have said, it is the law that they do this for safety. You need to move if you can't take it. Even electrifying the Caltrain system may not help with the big freight trains.


7 people like this
Posted by What a Mouse!
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Anyone who lives within three blocks either way suffers with train noise. Many cities in other states, as well as Atherton, have sound walls on both sides of the track.

This cannot be all that expensive compared with other solutions.


2 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm

They have significantly lowered the train noises over the years. I went from Churchill and Alma, to Emerson down by Loma Verde (one block from the trains) to the Circles. I was near the trains until I moved to Community Center. They used to be SO much more loud. I can hear the train every once in a while, but it's the exception, not the rule. The only objection I ever had to the railroad was the nighttime construction. That was awful. It wasn't just the sound of the construction equipment, it was the sound of the arms being down too long, lights flashing into our bedrooms all night long, trains having to run the horn longer, and the worst, men yelling to one another all night long. I empathize with having to put up with that.

Our city also has a well publicized issue with depressed people and trains. And, people who don't know how to safely cross the tracks in their vehicles. I can't tell you how jarring it is to hear a car hit by a train. Heard that more than once. The warning whistle is essential!

The rest is what happens in an urban setting. Try living in Manhattan for a while, that should fix ya right up.


13 people like this
Posted by ryan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm

It's simply a question of improving our surroundings. Shouldn't that be an unalienable right? Shouldn't that be a goal of any community? If a Quiet Zone is viable and the hyper-bureaucratic Federal Government agrees it's a rational approach to maintaining safety why not try and make it happen? For the Alma crossing Palo Alto already has invested in the necessary median and gate requirements for a Quiet Zone - no investment needed other than a form filled out by a Palo Alto city representative requesting consideration.

This is no different than efforts to reduce car traffic and gridlock in downtown and Palo Alto in general. You can throw up your arms and say that cars have always been around, there will always to be more of them, and you should have known that when you moved here. Or, you could actually work towards better solutions.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Put a train in a trench going across San Francisquito creek? I don't think that is going to happen. Changing the regulations on the train horns can surely make an improvement for many people.


3 people like this
Posted by GBell
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Is it possible to project the train horn sound in a narrower path?
Uni or one direction meaning the sound is targeted at the crossing, rather than wider to the surrounding neighborhood, similar to the audio domes in retail stores.

Seems a unidirectional horn on the train is worthy of exploration, as a short term fix.


6 people like this
Posted by jim
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

The train blows a loud horn within 1/4 to 1/8 of a mile from a crossing.

Why not install horns right at the crossing and trigger them to blow when the train is this distance away. Since the horn is right at the crossing it could be a lot quieter and still sound just as loud at the crossing. No safety would be violated.
It could even be safer by have bright flashing lights triggered also.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peace4Us
a resident of University South
on Oct 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm

while we are here considering a few of life's annoyances, may i add to the wish for quieter train station zones...

1. enforcement of no smoking inside multi unit buildings as well as on the train's passenger loading zone, sidewalks, and alleys. how are cities enforcing no smoking ordinances? does palo alto have one?

2. wifi to be available for all residences in a multi unit complex and possibly the entire city of palo alto.

3. residential parking spaces to have a 1:1 ratio with bedrooms and studios at the time of a building's construction.

i live in a tiny studio on alma near the train station and appreciate the wish to have a quieter train station zone. palo alto seems to be in a major period of transformation from a being a quiet town to a not so quiet, uncomfortably dense city.

it seems urban planners would know and set limits of space, sound, and other relevant parameters to avoid the very predictable complaints that are being expresses here.


13 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm

The railroad through Palo Alto was built & opened for service in the 1860's.

Caltrain reports an average of 14 deaths per year -- 90% of which are ruled suicides. That leaves 10% -- or 1.4 deaths -- per year which are assumed to be accidental (any death that can't be ruled a suicide is assumed to be accidental ... but some of these are possibly suicides which cannot be proven so).

There are 40 at-grade crossings remaining on the SF-SJ line, and eliminating them will only eliminate accidents at grade-crossings ... it will do nothing to cut suicides or accidents along the numerous parts of the tracks which are easily accessible in areas where there is no fencing, or where the fencing has holes or at stations.

While daytime train frequencies were increased substantially in the 2000's, train frequency, particularly at night, has not been materially increased in the last 10 years since the bullet express trains were introduced.

In the US, the Federal Railroad Administration's fetish with mandated horn blowing and decibel levels is assumed to be necessary for safety. Countries with lots more trains than the US don't seem to suffer such regulations and yet there is no carnage at their grade crossings. Indeed, if trains must (redundant to crossing arms and bells and flashing lights) be made to blow horns approaching every grade crossing, they why not have cars and trucks blow horns as they prepare to cross every intersection at a green light? It's the same insane thing!


25 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm

M2grs, your point is well taken. When we moved into our home near Charleston and Alma in 1984, there were 46 passenger trains each weekday, the number had been declining for years, and there was even talk of ending commuter service entirely. Now Caltrain runs nearly 100 trains per weekday. And when they're done, the freights run three or four per night, and shake our entire house -- while leaning on their horns for half a mile before the crossing. Several locomotives have broken horns that add a high-pitched shriek to the normal horn blare, and the railroad does nothing to fix them. Some have been that way for ten years and more.

Yes, we knew we were going to be living near a crossing. But did that give the railway an unlimited right to increase its impact on our neighborhood? Does it mean that we who are affected can say nothing while the railway's noise, air pollution, and interference with traffic steadily climb? Hundreds of millions have been spent on freeway soundwalls just a few miles away to lessen that noise burden, but we who live near the tracks are told to put up with whatever noise the railroad chooses to make, or move away. Where's OUR soundwall?


4 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2014 at 3:09 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

I understand the need for the Whistle at UNGUARDED crossings (those without Lights or Arms) that are usually found in rural areas.

We have Crossing Guards (Arms and Bells). Are the Feds saying these are so unreliable that the trains need to treat them as non-existent?
A simple "Controls are good" (out on any failure) lamp down track seems to be the solution. Lamp out= "Honk the horn"

BTW the Charleston and Meadow horns can be heard .9 miles away in Barron park. A number of trains have a shrill component to the regular sound.


13 people like this
Posted by former long time resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I lived in Palo Alto for many years. The train horns got louder, more frequent and longer in the last five to ten years. This was when the many "accidents" happened with high school kids.
I now live in San Carlos and just the other day, I was sitting outside one evening about Ten O'clock and could hear the train working its way up the peninsula. How did I hear this? The horn was being blown almost constantly. I believe that the train engineer must have been involved in one or more of the "accidents" and has a case of PTSD.
Train horns obviously are not a deterrent.
By the way, trains are not allowed to blow their horns while going through Atherton.


1 person likes this
Posted by Becky Stillwell
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Becky Stillwell is a registered user.

earplugs


5 people like this
Posted by moo
a resident of University South
on Oct 22, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Repeat after me:

White noise machine.
White noise machine.
White noise machine.
White noise machine.
White noise machine.
White noise machine.
White noise machine.
White noise machine.

Sleep well. I do.


3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of University South
on Oct 22, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Funny. The last unit sold in 101 Alma was at $1.9 million last month. Doesn't look like train noise is lessening the value.


3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2014 at 6:26 pm

> The last unit sold in 101 Alma was at $1.9 million last month. Doesn't look like train noise is lessening the value.

Says someone who does not understand the real estate market or economics.


3 people like this
Posted by Train
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Get rid of Caltrain. Simples.


8 people like this
Posted by new in town
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Bob,

"Does it mean that we who are affected can say nothing while the railway's noise, air pollution, and interference with traffic steadily climb? Hundreds of millions have been spent on freeway soundwalls just a few miles away to lessen that noise burden, but we who live near the tracks are told to put up with whatever noise the railroad chooses to make, or move away. Where's OUR soundwall?"

Sounds like the train noise people and the airplane noise people need to get together because the same pushback is given about airplane noise.

Same tracks since forever. Tell your arteries that about bad food. Same tracks means nothing if traffic is climbing.

And all the macho types who say they've been living here for umpteen years and are not bothered, I'm sorry but you probably have hearing loss.


20 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Those who criticize the desire to reduce noise are almost always those who least affected by the noise. The complaint is valid -- there is no evidence that laying on horns in the middle of the night does anything to stop suicides, nor does it reduce accidents if the intersection has barriers and lights. I live right next to Alma and don't find the trains bothersome most of the time. However, I have noticed an increase in the frequency and volume of the horns at night.

The noise I've found most disruptive to sleep and my ability to enjoy my yard over the past 6 months to a year is aircraft noise. Planes into SFO and SJC can be tracked online, and they seem to flying lower and louder and well past curfews. I DIDN'T BUY A HOUSE NEAR AN AIRPORT, and I find this incredibly disruptive. There are options -- like flying a thousand feet higher, routing over the bay, and honoring curfews -- but no one seems interested in enforcement. In fact, I wonder if Palo Alto was rejected by the SFO Roundtable group so that they could negotiate "dumping" more flights over Palo Alto while protecting the Peninsula included in the Roundtable.


6 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 10:44 pm

I'd suggest those affected to confront CalTrain, Union Pacific and MTC directly, in addition to voicing their concerns to the city council.

Consult good lawyers. Get the motion going.


2 people like this
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 23, 2014 at 8:59 am

@Reality Check: Thank you for the statistics; that was roughly the impression I’d gotten from following press accounts, but it’s good to have it confirmed.

@Kay: I agree that suicides (or near-suicidal deliberate recklessness, which accounts for some deaths) are a major problem, but federally-mandated whistle-blowing and bell-clanging in the middle of the night won’t solve that.

@m2ges, @Becky Stillwell: I did discuss sound-proof glass with a window contractor a decade ago, but it didn't seem practical, and would also increase our energy use for heating and cooling, as it would only be effective with all our windows closed. My wife and I of course use earplugs at night, and for some of the day, which help significantly but don’t keep us from being woken up once or twice most nights.

@John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy: We’re not objecting to the trains, just the federally-mandated whistle-blowing and bell-clanging in the middle of the night; especially, as one speaker (Douglas Cardwell) noted, the driver who plays a long ditty around 3am a few times a week. My recollections aren’t as detailed as Doug’s, as I usually don’t remember the details of what wakes me up, but I think that’s why I was awake for the August earthquake.


3 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2014 at 10:31 am

Hey people by the train tracks...get a life. When you moved in, you knew that trains make noise and have horns..do you expect them to be quiet since you moved in? [Portion removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2014 at 10:47 am

Why was 101 Alma allowed to be built? It's completely out of character with the rest of the surrounding neighborhood.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2014 at 10:58 am

Not to be daft, but did Caltrain and the freight train operators agree to not blow their horns in this area if a quite zone is established? From reading this article it sounds like a quiet zone removes a requirement but that trains can still blow their horns whenever they want. Presumably not blowing a horn might mean an increase in Caltrain or freight operator liability, so it seems like the operators should be brought into the discussion first. Otherwise the whole quiet zone is pointless.


13 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

Jean of Duveneck -- perhaps you could read some of the posts by your Palo Alto neighbors and gain an understanding of the problem. This isn't about trains/no trains. It's about the increased volume and frequency of the horns, especially late night/early morning and what changes are allowed by law that won't compromise safety. As I said in a previous post, those unaffected have a tendency to dismiss the legitimate concerns of those trying to solve a problem.


10 people like this
Posted by south-PA
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:32 am

Electrification of Caltrain offers less noise, but keep in mind they plan to run 20 more trains per day AND the trains will be longer. This impacts traffic trying to cross the tracks. We are already at the tipping point during commute hours, as far as trying to get across the tracks. The traffic light timing cannot overcome congestion created at the intersections at Churchill, E. Meadow and Charleston, which are debilitated when a train goes by. We can't add 20 more trains per day without grade separations at these intersections! People wake up!!

To see the grade separation plan, go to:

Web Link


17 people like this
Posted by The trains are too loud
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:34 am

I live in south Palo ALto and on the east side of Middlefield, and I have even been woken up by the relentless whistle blowing as the freight trains come through Palo Alto. I hear them blowing their horn 10-15 times at like 1:00am.

The whistle certainly won't stop suicides, and if someone is out at that hour, when the streets are mostly deserted, doesn't notice the flashing lights and barriers you kind of have to wonder how the whistle would help...

This town is full of people that don't feel their day is complete unless they have ridiculed someone else. Bullying is everywhere, not just in our schools. Very sad.


2 people like this
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

The City of San Mateo Public Works Department did extensive research on the topic of train horn noise. Their staff report to their city's Public Works Commission meeting of September 11, 2013, titled "Train Horn Noise Assessment Update" is at: Web Link The meeting minutes are at: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by new in town
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Jean,

"The solution to the problem is to have you move..."

Not true, that is what you will be told to not complain.

And that is how you never get any progress. Tracks from the 1800's and nothing else to boast about except more traffic?


2 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2014 at 7:13 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm

The history of 101 condos is little known. Back in the late 50s there were plans to pave a highway as wide as 92 from 280 to 101 parallel to San Francisquito Creek. The large 1960 building was wisely plopped right down in its path to block it. There would be no quiet Downtown North neighborhood today or creek restoration without this having blocked a huge freeway. You're welcome.

A few facts.

- The train noise has increased two-fold since the new schedule. The level of horn noise is NOT what many residents knowingly bought into. It's changed way louder and longer in the last few years.

- Palo Alto has ALREADY spent all the money to upgrade the Alma crossing. All that's needed is the final approval to stop blowing horns so relentlessly at this safety upgraded crossing. [Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Caltrain has spent money to improve pedestrian safety at most crossings, but has not made improvements thatWeb Link would allow "quiet zones" without trains needing to blow their horns.
To read about how a quiet zone works, read here: Web Link
The important requirement is to upgrade the crossing with either "Supplemental Safety Measures" like four quadrant gate systems, that prevent entry onto the tracks when the gates are down.

If this can work at Alma, it can also work at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I take back my comment about needing more improvements. Fred is probably correct that the current design of the Alma crossing, including the channelization and the current crossing gates qualifies for a quiet zone. The other crossings in Palo Alto do not have channelization because of the adjacent Alma intersections, so they would definitely need additional measures.

I wonder if the presence of the Palo Alto train station and its platforms requires train horns anyway. I guess city staff have been directed to find out.


4 people like this
Posted by Carlito's ways
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2014 at 10:23 pm

I been a Palo Altan for more than 20 years, when I moved in the train horn was very noticeable, after a few months all went faintly in the background, a little later, what train horn?

The train noise decibels was reduced a few years back, due to the railtrack residents crying murder; and now that is not enough for them, claiming their unalienable right they don't care about sacrificing the safety of the masses for their very own selfish interests.

Is the same scenario as living close to an oil refinery as in Richmond in the East Bay, the residents were trying to shut down the refinery or make them move out due to the pollution it creates, once it went to court the Judge ruled in favor of the refinery, on the grounds that the refinery was there before the residents moved in. A no brainer!

Maybe you find Palo Alto not up to your high standards, but guess what, old time residents like it the way it is. If you don't like the train noise, you can move to the cities across the freeway to the East.


Cheers!




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Posted by HARLEY DAVIDSON
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2014 at 9:39 pm

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Anaciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2014 at 11:49 am

Just to change the course of this conversation . . .

When I was a young child after World War II and the 5th column scare, I was so frightened that the baddies would come and kill us, I would cry. One night my Dad sat next to me on my bed and said, "Honey, if you can still hear the trains, everything is OK." Such a comfort. I've never forgotten that . . .


6 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Atherton
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:31 am

I live west of alameda de pulgas and still hear the horns, everyday every night, it about time America grows up and becomes a 1st world country with 1st world infrastructure, just hurry up already!!!!


1 person likes this
Posted by Cameron Turner
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Thought you all might enjoy this piece; a follow-up to this article based on some primary data collection:
Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Oliver
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 13, 2016 at 7:45 am

Is there any update on the quite zone?


9 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Question is a registered user.

Why can't we have a sound wall like many other cities on the Peninsula???


8 people like this
Posted by Seriously!
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Seriously! is a registered user.

The previous owners of our house, their agent, and ours, neglected to inform us either in the disclosures or verbally, that the house was one block from the RR tracks. This was long before the trees and bushes were cut back.

They also failed to disclose that the house had NO insulation, and the inspector was too much of a chicken to check the attic!

After the first night in that house, we knew we'd made a terrible mistake!

We immediately had the Windows replaced with dual panes, but it was several months before we discovered there was no insulation!

Yet, even after all that expense, we were still awakened by the horns and the shaking of the house.

Twice we have tried to sell this house, for a bargain price. As our family grew, it became imperative that we have a larger house. No takers the first time, as all cited either Alma or the RR.

The second time, in 2013, we had the house, now updated with new kitchen and baths, new paint, new roof, on the market for nine months! Potential buyers cited bad feng shui, lack of equal number of baths to bedrooms, small lot size, small garage, smog from Alma, noise from Alma, and proximity to TR tracks--in that order!


5 people like this
Posted by Not impressed
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2016 at 2:19 pm

@ Seriously

You bought a house a block away from the railroad tracks and did not know it? This is really astounding. It would seem that anyone buying a house would take a drive around the neighborhood and see what it is like, and would also look at a map to see what is around there. Doing so would have uncovered the RR tracks and their proximity to the house.

I am not excusing the seller of the house, but I frankly find it negligent not to investigate the neighborhood you are moving into. The train has been there for over 100 years, so complaining about it after buying a house close by is a bit much.


8 people like this
Posted by Seriously!
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Seriously! is a registered user.

We were moving from another county. At that time ridership on CalTrain was very low, and rarely ran on Sunday's.

We looked at the house in a Sunday, checked out the neighborhood on a Sunday, made an offer on a Friday night-- no evidence of trains at any of those times.

We moved in after an extended stay in Europe, and literally moved the day after returning to the US. Our mover was five hours late, we got to the Palo Alto house in the dark on a Friday night. No evidence of trains.

Until we tried to go to sleep at1:00 a.m.! Then it was the first of FIVE mile long freight trains until 5:00 a.m.!

Cal Train wasn't a problem until ridership picked up and the trains became longer and more frequent. Even so,
Freight is the bigger problem.


3 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Oct 13, 2016 at 3:22 pm

Well you moved next to the train tracks. Deal with it or move. Lots of nice and cheaper places to live other than PA. I did it. You can too. PA has been overrated for close to 16 years.


4 people like this
Posted by @Portola Valley
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2016 at 3:25 pm

How hilarious, someone from Richville going around waving their finger at Palo Altans...guess someone should consider putting in a new line through PV sometime...


Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley

on Oct 13, 2016 at 6:23 pm


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3 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 13, 2016 at 7:22 pm

As a young boy in the late forties I lived a couple of blocks from the SP tracks in Modesto and actually enjoyed the noise of the steam powered trains passing in the night, but those were long mournful whistles that are a distant pleasant memory. Now I occasionally hear the sound of freights sounding their horn at night and still enjoy it. But I'm sure after paying a couple of million dollars for a nice apartment with a view and realizing it is more like living in some Hotel Desperation with the L train running by outside the window that is doesn't hold much romantic feeling for the life on the road.

Still look on the bright side, high speed rail has not yet gotten here, so things could be worse and it may still be a few years before those puppies come rumbling through at a hundred or so miles an hour every few minutes!


4 people like this
Posted by Duh!
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 10:54 am

Duh! is a registered user.

Disreputable sellers and realtors who don't fully disclose detractions and major problems with a house and its location--ESPECIALLY to potential buyers from other locations who are not at all familiar with the location--should be taken to court!

It can be done! Many buyers do not realize that they have one full year to find undisclosed problems, and then demand the seller take the house back and return the down payment. That accomplished, the mortgage and contract can be cancelled-- but you must have a real estate lawyer for this!


5 people like this
Posted by Guess What?
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Guess What? is a registered user.

My obstruction told me yesterday that it is unhealthy--especially for children and pregnant women-- to live within one quarter mile of RR tracks or a major thoroughfare ( like Alma).

The pollution from both are very toxic and will travel one quarter mile! Farther on a windy day!

Imagine what this could do to anyone with a respiratory illness!


3 people like this
Posted by Stuck Here
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Stuck Here is a registered user.

I need to move because my asthma has worsened to emphysema in a mere ten years, due to the pollution of the trains.

The number of trains going by had increased greatly-- both CalTrain and freight, as has the traffic on Alma.

However, we have put our house on the market every spring since 2013, lowered the price drastically, but the train and traffic noise-- along with worries of HSR, have been too off-putting to buyers.

Any buyers willing to put up with the trains and cars were not able to qualify for a mortgage loan, or did not have a large enough down payment.

So it looks like the trains will just literally be the death of me


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2016 at 5:40 am

The sooner we get quieter electric trains the better. They are quieter and clean running.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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