February 03, 2005

The Railroad Horn Blasts – An Affront Upon Our Senses

Quiet Zones Will Only Partially Halt The Attack Upon Our Well-Being
By Fred H. Arm
We have often heard the plaintive wail of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) or the Richmond Pacific Railroad (RPR) locomotive announce its presence throughout Southern Richmond. Every day the egregious cacophony awakens us from a deep slumber at all hours of the night. Sometimes we just cannot get back to sleep. On top of the horn noise, the clanging of the crossing bells and the reluctant traffic is immobilized, not simply to let a train pass on its way to a far-off destination, rather the thunderous beast basically stops a few hundred feet past the crossing to allow some unseen hand to switch the tracks behind and finally backs up the way it came.

One of the crossings at West Richmond Avenue was formerly a legitimate passage of the trains to the Ferry Point to transport rail cars to a waiting train ferry. Now it is nothing more than a switching station. The rail ferries have ceased to exist years ago. Today the thunderous rail traffic has increased many fold when compared to the years when Richmond had its fragile beginnings.

The citizens of Richmond blithely go about their day simply muttering their discontent as they wait dozens of times each day for the wretched processions to conclude their operation and to subject their delicate hearing to imminent impairment by the piercing train horns. Thousands of man-hours are wasted every day waiting up to ten minutes or longer for the roads to clear. In the Marina area, the RPR blasts its 106-decibel horn all night long while merely going back and forth switching their freight cars, hardly ever making an actual crossing. The damage to people’s health and well being by the continual sleep disturbance is almost impossible to measure.
It is incomprehensible in this age of consciousness about noise pollution and traffic obstruction that we allow this anomaly to continue. Residents around airports have many years ago litigated all the way to the United States Supreme Court to collect damages for the excessive noise they must endure and have gained concessions from the airport authorities as well to help abate the noise.

At last the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) has promulgated new regulations to allow cities and towns to create “quiet zones” that will be free from horn blasting at crossings. Assistant City Attorney, Wayne S. Nishioka, has been hard at work preparing the necessary documents and assessing what will be needed at each crossing to earn the designation of a “quiet zone”. Under the assiduous prompting of Marina Bay resident, Dr. Louis Hagler, the process appears to be nearing fruition. Once the FRA representative comes to town to assist us in making the final assessments on what is needed, it is a fairly quick and easy process to ultimately end this noisy curse of Point Richmond. It would appear that your cries and anguish were finally heeded.
In the interim, we face the continuing auditory assault by the engineers of the RPR during their switching operations. By RPR’s own admission, the volume of their business, and the amount of switching they will do, is expected to increase dramatically. It appears that they are unwilling to change their noisy and offensive behavior despite perfectly acceptable alternatives that have been offered by the FRA, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the Richmond City Council. However, the regs. are silent as to how to address the noisy train horns at switching yards that do not cross public roads. Fortunately, there are still federal, state, and local statutes that deal with noise pollution from loud sources and can be litigated civilly and criminally as nuisances.

Some time ago, at the behest of Dr. Hagler, over 200 of you citizens signed a petition confirming your desire to eliminate unnecessary train noise from your neighborhoods. Dr. Hagler proposes that we establish a group that will seek redress through the courts or settlement. We could call the group "Citizens for Peaceful Neighborhoods" or "Ban Railroad Noise Pollution" or "Stop Unnecessary Noise", or some such thing. Perhaps someone could offer a better suggestion for a name. In any event, we are asking for your support for such an effort. You do not have to do anything, to contribute any money, or to be involved in any way other than indicate that you are in favor of bringing to an end as much unwarranted train noise as possible.
Do any of you have any further thoughts on the subject? Does anyone have any knowledge of how the Railroad was given the authority to obstruct our streets and wreak havoc on our eardrums? Both Dr. Hagler and I would appreciate hearing from you. Louis Hagler email is Louishagler@aol.com and my address is fha@bigfoot.com

Posted by fredarm at February 3, 2005 10:35 AM