News

Call for railroad 'quiet zone' gets louder in Palo Alto

City Council set to further explore limitation of horns near downtown station

A grassroots call to establish a "quiet zone" for a segment of Palo Alto's rail corridor picked up some volume Monday night when members of the City Council agreed to further study the proposal.

Quiet zones are sections of the rail line where approaching trains do not routinely sound horns. For more than two years, downtown residents near Alma Street have been lobbying the council to create one near their homes. During the Monday night study session of the topic, several residents reiterated their frustrations about the persistent and pervasive train horns.

It's a tune that many downtown residents are tired of – in many cases, literally. Some complained about being kept awake late at night by passing freight trains. During the day, it's mostly Caltrain zipping past their homes.

Martin Sommer said that roughly 90 trains pass by his neighborhood, sounding the horn each time they enter and exit the station.

"Some have the audacity to have their own tone sequence as they're coming into the station," he said. "And these guys repeat it day after day."

Zouhair Mahboubi, who also lives near Alma and who has been leading the drive toward a quiet zone, said freight trains routinely run at 2 and 3 a.m.

"Waking up in the middle of the night to something like that is never fun," Mahboubi said. "I can't believe there's that many cars at that time of the night that you would have to sound a horn to tell them not to cross."

The Federal Railroad Administration, which defines quiet zones, allows cities to establish them provided they can institute certain safety measures. These could be median barriers or quad gates near rail crossings.

The costs of these improvements would range from about $100,000 dollars for the median barriers to $1 million or more for the quad gates. The city attorney's office also determined the city might be required to supplement its liability insurance for any incidents that occur at a quiet zone intersection. Yet City Attorney Molly Stump also said Monday that her office is not aware of any city in the region that has dealt with this issue.

Some council members said they see establishing a quiet zone as an important interim measure while the city pursues a more dramatic, expensive uncertain solution: grade separation of Caltrain tracks.

Councilman Tom DuBois, the only council member to come out against a quiet zone, argued that the former would distract from the latter.

"I'd like to see us urgently pursue grade separation and use our grade separation study to pursue funding," DuBois said. "I think we should be laser focused as a council on the transportation ballot measure in 2016 and see if we can get money from that for grade separation.

"I'm not for train noise, but I see it as a trade-off of money and staff time and I'd rather see us focus on grade crossings. At this point, I would not support quiet zones on Alma."

Most of his colleagues felt that this is a false choice because of the huge difference in the scope, scale and cost of the respective projects. The effort to grade-separate the corridor would cost hundreds of millions of dollars that the city does not have and require years of studies, design work and property acquisition.

Councilman Pat Burt said that he doesn't see the two solution as "either/or at all." Grade separations, he said, remain a long-term goal that is at least a decade away and that may not materialize at all.

"But I don't see these as choices of one versus the other," Burt said. "I very much look at the quiet zone as an independent issue and not an either/or with grade separation."

Other members also said they were open to exploring the idea further and directed city staff to return at a later date with more analysis.

Councilman Marc Berman emphasized the need to hone in on the cost estimate, while Burt and Mayor Karen Holman framed the issue of train noise — and accompanying sleep deprivation — as a matter of public health.

Vice Mayor Greg Schmid agreed with his colleagues that grade separation at the rail corridor should be the "focus and attention of staff."

"But in the mean time, working for quiet zones seems feasible, realistic and affordable to move in that direction," Schmid said.

Comments

24 people like this
Posted by TooMuchNoise
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:14 am

Maybe this can be a first step in establishing a quiet zone for excessive plane noise too!


10 people like this
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:43 am

This is a good start. Since we already have human guards at places like Charleston intersection, it doesn't make sense for the trains to horn any more. If we cannot make the grade separation, we should keep the guards there as long as possible.
Noise issue is a big health issue.


24 people like this
Posted by commute
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:46 am

Cars are still stopping on the train tracks. The horns are necessary to scare them away before they get whacked by trains.

The current design of the crossing gates, especially at Meadow and Charleston, is really dumb. There is space for maybe 1 car between the tracks and Alma when the light is red. Following cars usually know to wait on the other side of the tracks, but some are confused or distracted and just tailgate the car in front of them, then stop right on top of the tracks. Much safer to just move the red light behind the crossing gates and make all the cars wait there. If the crossings were safer and cars no longer stopped on the train tracks, then we can start to think about lowering the train horn volume.


50 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:04 am

This may sound callous, but what did these people think when they decided to live near the train tracks? Just because you made a decision that you now regret, the rest of the city should spend our tax dollars because of the wrong choice in housing location?


20 people like this
Posted by changingtimes
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:23 am

Cresent Park Dad - It's unfair to play that card. You don't know the circumstances of why people live where they live so to comment on why they chose to live there is not productive. They are trying to deal with a situation that affects them more than it affects you. Many folks are dealing with new issues that were not as prevalent as they are now with so much growth. Traffic, airplane noise, impacted schools, etc..... all of these things have changed since many residents have bought their homes. I would hope that we all can help ease the growing pains together.


7 people like this
Posted by Eileen Wright
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:30 am

" the rest of the city should spend our tax dollars because of the wrong choice in housing location?"

Yes, because for years CalTrain, a government entity, has been intruding on and devaluing private property in a massive un-Constitutional uncompensated taking.


12 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:31 am

@Dad -- it's a reasonable question. What many do not realize is that the volume and length of the horn varies by engineer. Some not only make it loud, but also stay on the horns much longer than necessary. I live off of Alma and recognized I would be near the tracks when I bought in 20 years ago. Have always loved trains and generally don't even notice when a train passes; however, there are times when late night freight train horn noise is way over the top (and I'm a sound sleeper). Asking for quiet zones is reasonable.


9 people like this
Posted by CherylP.
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:35 am

It is to the point where the lives of people don't amount to a hill of beans! In this same topic of noise, SFO airport has taken on more, and more airlines and blasts noise, unabated, throughout the day, night, and early morning hours. I actually live in Millbrae, and like Palo Alto, we pay substantially high property taxes, but I don't think we are getting our money's worth! We ALL need to unite in an effort to say NO to excessive noise, and the flagrant interference in our lives by entities that are supposed to help enhance our lives, not drain them from us! People cannot function well with inadequate sleep, or frazzled nerves! It just seems like human beings are being forced to take a back seat to that which is supposed to serve us! If there is money involved, nothing will get in the way of profit; at ANY human cost! LET'S UNITE AND PUT PEOPLE FIRST, WHERE WE BELONG!


15 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:06 am

I've lived on West Meadow for more than 30 yrs and the train horn doesn't bother me at all. After hearing it for so many years you just get used to it.


2 people like this
Posted by Cameron Turner
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:13 am

Hi All, here is some analysis on Caltrain noise that may help the discussion. Web Link


15 people like this
Posted by Kerry55
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:21 am

Completely agree with Too Much Noise and CherylP. There is way too much noise. I used to live near train crossing, at Churchill, but moved way over here in midtown to get away from the loud horns blasting. Well, living near Louis, I can still hear some train horns as they approach Cal. Ave. train station. Interestingly, the SFO planes and helicopters from Palo Alto Airport are just as bad or worse than the train horns off of Alma. The planes fly so low over our house, that sometimes the house actually shakes. Taking a walk, or gardening in the backyard is impossible with the constant planes descending into SFO. Last week I dropped off a child in Barron Park (plane noise), then returned home (plane noise), dropped off another child on Addison St/Newell plane noise again. Palo Alto is inundated with WAY too many jetliners, and now SurfAir is starting to have flights over our neighborhood! Let's work on getting standards for noise levels and partnering with other communities to fight the FAA and Federal Railroad Aministration.


9 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:45 am

I was in Burbank in a hotel across the highway from the LA Metro Train - no stop at that location. When that train went by at mach speed the building was hit by the impact of the train. It was very noticeable. Will not stay there again. There were houses in that area - those poor people. It is both a sound and a physical impact to the building.

When they put HSR on ALMA those surrounding buildings will be continually hit by the impact of the train at high speed. HSR has no business on ALMA - it should be located east of 101 so residences are not continually impacted by the sound and speed impact.

In Alviso we were hiking when the ACE train went by - the impact is big when the speed impacts you - not a noise but a physical push.


19 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

I have to agree with Crescent Park Dad. Every person living in that area knew full well they were moving next to a railway track and all that that entails. If its possible to mitigate noise, such as shorter quieter horn blasts, that is all to the good but spending Palo Alto tax money to fix this issue makes no sense at all. If you don't like train noises, don't move next to a train track.


11 people like this
Posted by Hermia
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Can I have a quiet zone near 101, too?


11 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

How many of the noise complainers ride the train?

There are probably many train riders who would love to take the places of these people.

If more people rode the trains, there would be more political pressure to improve the train system. Right now, too many politicians do not value the train sufficiently.


19 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:17 pm

[Portion removed.] The tracks were THERE when you moved in, the schools were THERE when you moved in. You made a conscious decision to move to that apartment/house. What did you think was going to happen? We have many other pressing issues in our community to spend precious time on something as frivolous as this. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:19 pm

I have a question for all you experts. Even if the tracks are grade separated will the train still need to sound the horn when approaching/departing a station as a warning to folks to clear the tracks? So, even with grade separation, folks living close to a station could still be blasted by the horn.


11 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:30 pm

[Portion removed.] Trains have been here for a long time. Can we get some peace down here from the dust and noise of constant construction at the Mayfield Google site? Also at night and early morning, we can hear traffic on 101. Police and fire sirens constantly disturb us. While we're at it, let's outlaw car alarms and people walking down my residential street, disturbing the peace by talking into their cellphones.


6 people like this
Posted by Wayne C
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Railroads must sound horns at crossings - it's Federal law. Even with horns, flashing lights and crossing gates, many people are just plain stupid and try to go around gates and end up getting crashing into a train - and the railroads villainized and are held liable for these individual's stupidity. I get SO tired of hearing about how a CalTain hit someone, or killed someone. Hello? CalTrain runs on tracks. We know where ther tracks are. Don't go through downed gates and don't trespass and you won't get hurt or killed. CalTrain has never killed anyone, but many people have been killed due to their own suicidal tendencies, or their own stupidity.

You moved near train tracks, now you want to eliminate Federally required horn signals at crossings. That's fine. Palo Alto will have to pay increased liability insurance, and that means more money from residents, or decreased services. Just don't blame the railroad when someone ignores the lights and gates (and they'll find a way to get around quad gates too) dies.


7 people like this
Posted by Barron Park Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm

I tend to like the train sound. As mentioned earlier, probably every one of the complainers know of the train and noise when the rented or bought their home. Or they should have. I should pay taxes for your action? Deal with it. Maybe ear plugs...?


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:46 pm

After the tracks are electrified, there will be a lot more trains, and even more noise. Really the only long term solution is grade separation. And the only affordable grade separation is for the tracks to be elevated as in other peninsula cities.


6 people like this
Posted by commute
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:56 pm

@Anonymous is probably right. Elevating the tracks is the only practical long term solution to both the noise issue and the traffic congestion issue.

The only question is will the city and residents save money by doing it now or will they just stall and let costs escalate. San Mateo County is getting ahead of the problem, with much of their tracks elevated already and more elevated grade separations being built.


3 people like this
Posted by Why silencing? There are other options.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Silencing the horns is not the only option. I am interested in the wayside horn alternative. (BTW-I live near the tracks.) Is that being studied? It SHOULD be. don't let Caltrain drive the process. The engineering changes to the road that are required for silencing will cause additional delays for drivers on Charleston and Alma at the tracks.

I'm sorry I had to miss the meeting. I wanted to participate in this discussion.


20 people like this
Posted by Casa de Cerveza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Casa de Cerveza is a registered user.

I've lived near the California Avenue train station for 25 years and the train horn doesn't bother me at all. After "hearing" it for so many years the brain filters it out. Even if train horns are silenced, people will continue to complain about Stanford Hospital's life support helicopters and jet aircraft flying overhead. This is life in the big city: get over it and turn your attention to more important matters like caring for homeless veterans living on the streets.


4 people like this
Posted by CherylP.
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:40 pm

It isn't a matter that planes and trains have always been here, but it is a matter that they are escalating, and actually taking over! It is no longer a symbiotic relationship, where we all benefit, it is where we are now subservient to the things that are supposed to enhance our lives, not destroy them. There are limits on all areas of OUR lives, why do we have to be chased away from a previous existence of peace and quiet? How fair is it for us to uproot and move each time the noise makers want to expand? Is it really too much to ask, that there be a little tranquility in our lives, especially when the stress can actually kill us? It isn't a joke, it is serious! Where will they stop? They will push us out, until they are all that is left! When my family moved into their home in Millbrae, somewhere before 1940, no one knew that the little glimmer of an airport, would expand, and become too big for its space, take on more and more airlines, at the complete disregard for the neighboring communities, and make noise all day, all night, and then starting recently, 3 am, and starting over again at 6 am! It was manageable until the airport brought in more international airlines. This is a matter of health! People are not made of stone, we are affected by the changes! Before long our property values will go down. It will ruin a nice community. We should not have to move to accommodate airport expansion, or trains that feel the necessity to blow whistles during times when people need to sleep. THEY WORK FOR US! THEY NEED TO ACT LIKE IT! There needs to be a way to accommodate methods of travel, and other noisy stressors, so that they fit into our lives, rather than dominate them! As I said, there are always limits to life, and they need to have limits too! If noise is harming people, it is not a joke, nor should their pain be mocked! That is what happens when society breaks down so far, that we only care about how something affects us alone! We are a community of human beings, let's care about each other! We need to present that UNITED front for all, or no one will ever come to our aid either. The more we allow this situation to go one without protest, the more it will be thought of as acceptance! It is our duty to tell them when they have crossed a line. Noise pollution is loud, but the effect on our bodies, can be silent killers! Should we have our homes destroyed, our health destroyed, for their greed, ignorance, and just plain disregard for anything, but themselves? Would we ever stand for that kind of rude behavior from another person? No, we would tell them in no uncertain terms to STFU! These destroyers of the peace and tranquility are no different, except they do it on a huge scale. Please let me know if anyone would like to unite and work on noise pollution...before it is too late! Thank you!


12 people like this
Posted by FreightTrainLouder
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:46 pm

I live two miles from the tracks and occassionally hear the CalTrain horn toot during the commute hours. What I hear loud and clear is that freight train horn in the small hours of the morning! That is a long, long blast of loud noise. Why do they have to sound that horn so much at that hour of night? It can't be to warn cars on the tracks. We would hear of more train/car collisions if that were the case.

The topic of who gets to complain is similar to the complaints about traffic, schools, and those who lived before and after the perceived change. Property owners have a right to voice their complaints no matter how long they have lived on their property.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Seems to me the tracks are already high enough for undercrossings of University, Embarcadero, and Oregon, plus the Homer bike tunnel. What would it really take to trench Alma under the tracks? I'd think the crossing is a sufficient distance from the creek and famous tree to not be a show-stopper. Alma is only one lane each direction. We could throw in another 9 feet each side for bike/ped lanes. Someone must have looked at this already, and probably dismissed it as a piecemeal approach to grade separation.


3 people like this
Posted by CherylP.
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

The people who say they filter out the horn and the airplane noise
probably just do not realize it wakes them up slightly every night.
Maybe they don't really know what a good night's sleep should be
like.

Maybe they have the time to make up the sleep lost, or maybe they
really do not care about the noise, or maybe they are lying, who
knows. Some people just seem to like to show up and make
illogical and contrary comments to any discussion going on.

When I came back this area after a stint working for the government
in another state I lived for a while right by the tracks in Mountain View
by Rengstorff. I can tell you, that if you really live by the tracks you
are affected by the trains - you both hear and feel them. You may
accept that there is nothing you can do to control your environment,
but it bothered me. I would prefer the City does what it can to
minimize the noise, even at general cost to residents.

The argument that people purchased their houses knowing the trains
were there is irrelevant. By that logic people who bought next to a
superfund site should never expect a clean up. People work and live
in a community and want to own a house and if that house is the only
one available at an affordable price they are forced to buy there. It is
a trade-off, not really a choice. Are a whole sector of houses going
to go empty because of train noise ... certainly not. Why did they
ever build houses so close to the train tracks anyway? It seems
like a favorite trick of developers, probably because the land is
cheaper.

These uninformed ignorant arguments do not add anything to the
discussion. And what about noise that was not existent when a
house was bought. In the 1970's you could go out in the middle
of the night in just about any part of Palo Alto and it was dead
silent (except for the train in some places) except for crickets and
birds ... it was truly amazing. How there can be almost constant
airplane noise.

The aim should be to do better for all of Palo Alto over time, when
did we start to go backwards on that idea, and with such nastiness
that any time certain complaints come up people snap back with
these bad arguments?


22 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Remember when the HSR authority wanted to grade separate the tracks up and down the peninsula with state money? Thus forever ending train horns and cars getting whacked by trains at intersections?

But hey, now with the "blended" solution we're stuck footing the bill ourselves. [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 4:20 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Regarding the "too damn bad" comment from Crescent Park Dad, I moved to my neighborhood a couple years back, and was really surprised at the difference in noise my first night vs during the daytime. I specifically considered train noise, and found it acceptable when I was viewing the House during the daytime. At night, though, the lack of an ambient din makes the train noise much more noticeable. Further, I lived near train tracks in England, and never experienced the noise pollution Caltrain produces.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to make these neighborhoods a little more livable for us, the great unwashed.


11 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 4:41 pm

"What many do not realize is that the volume and length of the horn varies by engineer. Some not only make it loud, but also stay on the horns much longer than necessary."

+1. I live in Crescent Park and, late at night circa 2:30 am, I often hear freight train(s) coming through Palo Alto. I've noticed there's a fair bit of variation in horn volume, duration, and 'sequencing' (i.e., the on-off pattern). Perhaps the review might focus on these freight trains first.


10 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 10, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Since 1962 I have lived on Emerson, South Court St. Claire, El Camino (Burlingame), State Street (San Mateo), West Meadow (at Park), and Lotus (Mtn Vw). Pushing 60 other things wake me up at night, but train noise is not one of them. When the P3's were active 24/7 at Moffett they flew directly over one of these places, never woke me or my small children. Residents are certainly entitled to voice their concerns and opinions. Unless one wants to live in Grass Valley or Under the Dome, ambient noise will be part of life. If it wakes you up, please consider moving. I'm all for reasonable accommodation but is it my responsibility as a taxpayer to assure my neighbors have 8 specified hours where the ambient noise does not exceed federal standards? Airlines don't dictate approach patterns, the FAA does. Caltrain and UPRR don't dictate the horns, the FRA does. Quiet zone is easier through an entire City. How will that look when tresspassers die in front of trains in the "Quiet Zone"???


12 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2015 at 6:57 pm

I'm told that originally BART was supposed to ring the Bay too but was basically shot down by Nimby's. We see the price for that is still being paid, especially by the new generation of Nimby's trying to push things off another generation. Note @robert's note, above.

Now Atherton, we read, is trying to shoot down the whole electrification idea and maybe the Caltrain line too. One thing that would apparently help them would be to close and remove the Atherton Station. Unless they are really negotiating for a new enlarged station by threat of lawsuits forever. Don't underestimate that threat.

We can sympathize with people particularly impacted by some project or another, but basically the Residentialist idea at the end of the day is to kite house prices by restricting supply. Cities urbanize in stages like the forest progression. If people can keep things around them as they are through such a stage they may well make a mint selling a multimillion dollar teardown.

If they hold up a developer, well, California has a long history of citizens being run over by developers who made a lot of money and left cities holding the bag. Remember the jokes? - "Buy you new home at Sliding Hill Estates, a wonderful view and a different view every day"... . OK.

But I'm tired of meeting people suddenly into ecology and using California style moral arguments for everything - especially cynically jacking up their house prices. The way corporations keep buying more tech visa workers from Washington and driving US citizens and already Permanent Residents out of tech, it is entirely possible that the longer term future of Silicon Valley is to be a foreign trade zone of some sort with residents here at that time grandfathered in.


1 person likes this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2015 at 7:39 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 10, 2015 at 8:57 pm

[Portion removed.] Council has so many more important things to deal.with. Did you not think about where you were going to rent or buy? When we first moved to PA in 1961 we rented at 3153 Alma and later moved to the back unit at 3155 Alma. Of course we heard trains and back then freight trains did some switching right near us in the the middle of the night, and there used to be a spur line that went thru town crossing El Camino, then went thru Los Altos to Los Gatos. We would never have thought about complaining to Council or the railroad companies to solve "our problem". I know times have changed...now you can go online and complain about anything and everything and make Council hear it and deal with it..But please stop it! Take responsibility for your own lives.


1 person likes this
Posted by native
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:02 pm

@maguro01
What you were told about BART around the bay is just plain wrong. I was here when all that happened. Santa Clara and San Mateo counties opted out because they didn't want to pay the levies for the district.


1 person likes this
Posted by not from the east
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:04 pm

With all this discussion, it makes me wonder how people in Chicago and New York deal with train noise. In those cities there are many places where the tracks are quite literally a few feet away from someone's bedroom window. Are there similar anti-noise movements in those cities? I'm from the West Coast so I have no idea.


11 people like this
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:36 pm

The problem we're trying to solve is not the trains themselves, which I agree are a longstanding issue, but the largely pointless whistles in the middle of the night. My wife and I of course use earplugs, but the trains still wake us up, and the noise seems to have gotten worse in the seventeen years I’ve lived here. Councilman Burt said last night that the required decibel level was increased in 2005, which is surely part of the problem.


7 people like this
Posted by AA
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:14 pm

I agree with Flash. Noise pollution is a real problem. Caltrain is not an endangered species and Palo Alto is not its natural habitat. We have a privilege to live in the center of Silicon Valley. We solved bigger problems than train noise, so let's figure out a solution together. Let's have a vision of better Palo Alto for everyone.


13 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:05 pm

I've lived in at least 10 PA neighborhoods over 60+ years. I've always enjoyed the train sounds, except for a short time when I lived at Alma & Churchill. Even then, traffic noise at the stop light was more bothersome than the trains.

Now, there are more commute trains than ever, but they're quieter. Caltrains have regulators on their horns to reduce the volume, at least coming through PA. It's why the horns sound a little odd, but not real loud. Freights, which could run during the day when the line was less busy, now run only at night. Freights are run by Union Pacific, and have full-volume horns that can be heard several miles away. There are several freight trains every night.

Federal law defines the loudness (min & max), patterns, and timing of the horn sounds. 96-100 dB @ 100 ft.; two longs -- one short -- one long; starting 15 seconds before the crossing (1/4-mile max) and finishing when the lead engine is fully in the intersection. When approaching a station, one short blast is required.

It's true that people chose their own locations. But, conditions have changed over time, and I think it's completely ok to talk about solutions. Quiet zones have been implemented in other US cities to great benefit.


6 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:14 pm

Correction: the horn volume range is 96-110 dB.

Another thing about all trains, but especially freight trains, aside from the horns, is that they make a lot of mechanical noise going by. It drops off pretty quickly with some distance, but if you're close, it's a stunning amount of noise. In the middle of the night a half-mile long train going 50 miles an hour is hard to ignore, I'm sure.


5 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 7:55 am

"Quiet zones have been implemented in other US cities to great benefit."

+1. This is important; Palo Alto might, thus, be contemplating something already in use in quite a few municipalities in the US.


10 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 11, 2015 at 8:48 am

Just because certain individuals decided to buy or rent near a railroad track does it mean they shouldn't be heard.

Ignorant lives matter!


15 people like this
Posted by dumb neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:16 pm

I am one of those "dumb" people who decided to buy a house close to rail tracks. Yes, we were aware of the tracks when we purchased our home. What we were not prepared for was freight train horns every day during middle of the night. Unfortunately for us, the seller did not disclose it. May be it doesn't bother some, but for sure bothers us. Moving is not an easy decision either, considering the housing prices in PA. Very happy that the city council is at last looking into the matter.


6 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Having chosen to purchase a home on Alma 19 years ago, not far from E. Meadow, I anticipated train noise. As many have mentioned, after a while, you don't even hear the horns. I love trains, and fully support CAARD (Californians Advocating for Responsible Rail Design). However, as Neighbor, Flash and JA3 have mentioned, the amount of noise produced by the horns has varied. I can personally attest that some of the freight train engineers get very enthusiastic and blast their horn numerous times long past the time they have passed the intersection at E. Meadow. They should be educated in what the requirements are for sounding their horns.

Another time, horns were moved and made louder, different from the past. I think the huge number of complaints up and down the peninsular resulted in changes, reducing the noise back to what it was.

I particularly resent those posters whose answer is solely that we chose to live near the tracks and therefore have no right to complain. To expect no noise would be unrealistic but that is not what most of the complaints are about. Rather, these complaints are about excessive noise, above what is required that is different from the past. If Caltrain succeeds in elevating the train through Palo Alto, and the noise is propagated much further than today, many of the posters above, may change their mind.


13 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2015 at 2:21 pm

This debate reminds me of the people who build a house next to a dragstrip or airport then complain about the noise. I have lived next to the tracks for 25 years and honestly it does not bother me. Although ever since the Caltrain horns were chocked to lower the decibel level in 2005 it has resulted in a very annoying of key horn.

I feel the real problem is most of the new comers to Palo Alto who have bought in the last ten years have overpaid for their homes along the tracks vastly and now feel ripped off. Or often find their homes hard to sell at going rates.


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 2:47 pm

I thought Palo Altans were smarter? And nicer?

There sure seems to be a lot of peolpe who seem to want our city to be loud and polluted, because it always has been that way, or some other such nonsensical reasoning. Governing ones life, or a city, or a company, should be a system of ongoing improvement, adding value, making things easier; not a system of keeping some people down so they don't catch up with others.

I really do not get the reasoning of these people who seem to feel better when others are unhappy?


4 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Let's be real though... Y'all chose to live near the train tracks. Chances are, if you can/could afford to live in Palo Alto, you could have afforded a house elsewhere. You made your bed, now sleep in it.


17 people like this
Posted by Lack of Disclosure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2015 at 6:52 pm

The seller we bought from, their agent and ours, all failed to disclose several detractions and faults in the house we bought. One of the biggest was the train noise--and the three or more mole-long trains that rumble through town every night, blaring their horns.

We did not learn that we could have demanded the seller take the house back and return our money until it was too late.

We have tried to sell and failed--we would have to practically GIVE the house away to get rid of it ( we priced it .7 million below market to begin with). If we do that, we cannot get into anything else, especially considering that one has to pay capital gains right off the top. Can't buy anything with the few dollars left after that!

Subsequent agents have told us that the previous owners were deceitful. And that our then-agent must have been inexperienced ( he soon afterward left the real estate business--which, BTW, was Alain Pinel). Of Course, they say, THEY would have counseled us not to buy!

I have come to believe that Palo Alto real estate agents are the most deceitful liars of all of them!


16 people like this
Posted by Lack of Disclosure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm

Incidentally, we have insulated and "sound proofed" our house, double soundproofing the master bedroom. Yet, we are still awakened at least three times per night by noise and shaking that last nearly seven minutes each time. Our children are suffering in school because of it.

Being from out of town, we were clueless. We later learned from a neighbor that the previous owners had this house on the market for three years, and lowered the price three times, before we made an offer.

Unfortunately, though, it looks as if the only way we can ditch this house is by death.


10 people like this
Posted by Lack of Disclosure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2015 at 7:01 pm

And, NO. We do not live on Alma. We are 1 block away.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2015 at 12:19 am

@Lack -- yet you are worried about capital gains tax?


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2015 at 2:06 am

For the freight and people riding the train, would be better to use trucks and buses.


6 people like this
Posted by CherylP.
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 12, 2015 at 3:37 am

Crescent Park Dad:
People who live near the train tracks may have been happy enough with the horns in the past, but it sounds like the noise has escalated. No one can predict that, plus the noise carries out to far corners anyway! Is there a reason why, in a time of high tech invention, that a better way to go on this problem, other than disturbing the peace and tranquility of a city, can't be found? Instead of blaming, look for a better way! Everyone deserves to have a lower stress life.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2015 at 11:46 am

@ up to $1mil. of city money?


9 people like this
Posted by Lack of Disclosure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:05 pm

@musical: due to proximity to the tracks, our house is worth 1.9 million. We offered it for sale at 1.2 million. Capital gains taxes away 25% of everything over $500,000. After we pay off the mortgage, we will not have enough down payment to buy down a new mortgage to the point of having a liveable payment--unless we buy in East San Jose ( yuck).

Everyone pays capital gains tax now, regardless of whether you buy another house or put the money in the bank. It is a lose-lose situation. You also pay a higher property tax rate if you move, adding to your payment.

Another problem is competing against all-cash buyers (who took out loans in China and then absconded with the money to buy real estate here). Why would anyone want to wait until a buyer is approved for a new mortgage ( 2-3 months) when they can have cash within two weeks? Unless, of course, they are more patriotic than greedy.


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Posted by bob gardiner
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:19 pm

train noise and traffic congestion costs everyone in palo alto. Not just those next to the tracks. I live 1/2 - 1 mile away and can hear the train as I type this up.

Caltrans cannot be allowed to increase the number of trains/cars unless a solution is found to the increased noise and prolonged traffic backups at major intersections during morning and evening commute hours. it is too costly to the citizens of palo alto.

btw, in PA, noise pollution is far worse than air pollution, so why is the city council wasting time divesting fossil fuel companies and not addressing this major noise pollution and direct quality of life issue?


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Posted by Janankspon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Lack- based on your comments,.you should have no problem finding a Chinese buyer to pay cash for your home. Hard to really believe you cannot sell a house more than a block from Alma.


5 people like this
Posted by noise law
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2015 at 9:12 pm

The people who ridicule others about noise really don't get it. Many developed countries have strict standards about noise, for good reason, and they don't just chalk it off with "ya shoulda known"

From California Noise Law

"All Californians are entitled to a peaceful and quiet
environment without the intrusion of noise which may be hazardous to
their health or welfare.

The City isn't just paying attention to be nice, it's the law.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2015 at 9:21 pm

We live near Oregon Expressway. This road has gotten a lot noisier since we bought our house, due to higher traffic volumes and redesigned intersections. Who can we complain to about the noise? Can we sue the city or the state to clamp down on the noise? I'm sure that lower speed limits will reduce the noise.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 13, 2015 at 12:16 am

@Lack, drifting off-topic here, but capital gains tax is on the difference between what you paid for the property and what you sell it for. You don't pay a dollar until your *profit* exceeds 500,000. If you actually have a loss (almost impossible in this town), you can begin deducting it against any other income. Circumstances differ, so consult a professional.


8 people like this
Posted by Lack of Disclosure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:16 am

Actually, many Chinese nationals looked at our house. They did not like the proximity to the tracks, either. Nor did they like the feng shui ( the stairs are near the front door). One offer we had was from a Russian, who backed out when he heard the rumors of HSR. Another was a totally Unacceptable offer of $900,000 from a Korean.

Also, we HAVE checked on the capital gains issue with an accountant, because we had been given conflicting info from realtors.

Our agent also asked potential buyers why they lost interest in our house. Three liked the prices in MTN VIEW better. One did not like the inaccessibility of the garage, a problem we discovered only after we had moved in. and tried to park cars in it--it is impossible to turn sharply enough from the driveway to get into it--a design error we weren't informed of, among a few others ( all of which we corrected). Three did not like the laundry room in the garage. Five did not like the small lot (5,000 sf). Approximately 100 others objected to proximity to the RR tracks!

We have put in lots of upgrades, remodeling, re-landscaping, all new appliances, new roof, new wiring, new plumbing......


But after eight months on the market, no takers, even though priced for quick sale.


2 people like this
Posted by Lack of Disclosure
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:42 am

One thing we noticed in other nearby communities near the tracks, and also in the East Bay communities near RR tracks, are SOUND WALLS.

Much less expensive than trenching the train, they block a lot of noise and absorb some of the ground-shaking ( something trenching won't do).


4 people like this
Posted by 50 Years
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2015 at 10:45 pm

I've lived in Palo Alto for 50 years, and I hear the freight train horns in the middle of the night much more in the last few years. Since I live a mile from the tracks the horns don't wake me out of a sound sleep, but if I am awake or lightly sleeping, they definitely disturb me. I can only imagine what it must be like right next to the tracks to have those horns blaring.

I agree that many people may *think* they don't hear the trains at night, but I suspect their (and their childrens') sleep is being disturbed nonetheless.

I think a lot of the horn blowing is CalTrain doing CYA (can't blame them with all of the suicides) but is really unnecessary to actually keep people safe. I'm sure we can all agree that the suicides would not be deterred by horns.

I agree with "Commute" from Downtown North, that moving the light and stopping cars behind the tracks (rather than leaving room for one car to cross the tracks and fit between the tracks and the light/intersection) would be an intelligent change.

Has anyone done a study to determine how many accidents are avoided because of trains blowing their horns, especially in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the morning? I just can't imagine it is very helpful in avoiding accidents in Palo Alto.


4 people like this
Posted by HARLEY DAVIDSON
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2015 at 3:35 pm

@lack of disclousure

Move out of state join the bandwagon and move to nice state with more freedom, cheaper housing, and tranqulity. The Bay Area is only gonna get worse. You would of loved Palo Alto 20 years ago. Now this place is becoming a mini New York. High Taxes, Nanny state mentality, Small bussiness atmoshere sucks, this state is gonna fail it's only a matter of time.


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Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2015 at 8:35 pm

[Post removed.]


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

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