Aug. 28--A crowd of more than 100 people gathered Wednesday night in San Rafael to voice support for the creation of quiet zones along the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train line that is scheduled to be operating in 2016.
Residents met at the San Rafael Community Center on B Street to hear a presentation about quiet zones and submit comments to Mayor Gary Phillips and Councilwoman Maribeth Bushey, who comprise the city's SMART subcommittee. Those who spoke expressed concerns about the amount and level of noise they would experience from train horns, encouraging the city to move forward with quiet zones.
Train horns are typically sounded about one-quarter of a mile or 15 to 20 seconds before a crossing, and until the train reaches the crossing, at a level of 96 to 110 decibels -- which is equivalent to the sound of a chainsaw from 20 feet away or a jackhammer from 50 feet away.
Janet Shirley, of San Rafael, said she's concerned about noise pollution for residents living near the trains and all of the city crossings.
"The grade crossings are so close in San Rafael, I'd assume the train would have to sound almost continuously," Shirley said. "During commute hours there will be four trains an hour."
As a way to ease the strain on locals' ears, the city is considering establishing quiet zones along the track. Quiet zones are vehicle or pedestrian crossings where a train operator is not required to blow the train horn unless there is a hazard on the tracks or the locomotive is leaving a station. These zones can apply to a single crossing or an entire area and can be in effect for a full 24-hour day or for shorter periods, such as just overnight.
San Rafael has scheduled two additional meetings about quiet zones, which will include the same information about the risks and benefits presented at the first meeting. The other meetings are set for 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 18 at City Hall, 1400 Fifth Ave., and 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Terra Linda Community Center, 670 Del Ganado Road.
Quiet zones or not, the electronic bells that sound at crossings as the railroad arms are lowered will continue to make noise. In order to have quiet zones the city would have to install extra safety measures, such as crossing gates on each side of an intersection and lane medians that prohibit people from driving around the gates.
Mayor Gary Phillips said SMART plans to add these extra safety measures as the city's 10 crossings are built, some of which are already under construction in the downtown area.
"San Rafael is not funding the various mitigating features, but rather SMART is," Phillips said.
This applies to the first segment of the train track that will be built from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. If funding comes through to extend the train service to Larkspur, it's possible the city will need to help fund additional safety improvements.
Dil Kazzaz, of San Rafael Meadows, said he's in favor of the quiet zones.
"If this horn is going to blow behind my house, I'm going to move and my neighbors are going to move. City Hall will be contributing to trashing San Rafael," Kazzaz said.
Once San Rafael has held the remaining two meetings about quiet zones, the City Council will vote on whether it wants to pursue establishing such zones.
City consultant David McCrossan, a partner with Berkeley-based Menzies & McCrossan LLC, said the city is the public authority that ultimately approves the quiet zones. However, the Federal Railroad Administration must also approve of them.
"The city is halfway through the process," McCrossan said. "There's a good nine to 12 months before the final notice of establishment needs to be submitted."
When asked by the public why the city isn't simply moving forward with the quiet zones, Phillips said there are risks associated with having a quiet zone. He said he's looking to the community for help in deciding whether to establish them.
"I'm worried about the kid on a bike with a headset," Mayor Gary Phillips said. "I'm not completely comfortable assuming that risk."
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Copyright 2014 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.