By ALICIA ROBINSON
With an estimated 100 or more trains per day coming through Riverside’s 25 at-grade railroad crossings, train horns seem to some residents to be perpetually blowing.
Those horns could be largely silenced as soon as 2012, when a planned railroad “quiet zone” is expected to go into effect. Quiet zone plans moved ahead last week when the City Council voted to accept a $7.7 million chunk of funding for the project from the Riverside County Transportation Commission.
Federal safety rules require train operators to blow the horn about a quarter-mile before entering a crossing. With many of Riverside’s crossings about a quarter-mile apart, “Essentially they’re almost constantly blowing it,” Deputy Public Works Director Tom Boyd said.
A quiet zone uses other safety measures, such as raised medians and double crossing arms, to keep cars off the tracks so engineers don’t need to sound the horn. The Federal Railroad Administration requires those safety additions because evidence showed an increase in accidents when horns weren’t used, administration spokesman Warren Flatau said.
The Riverside quiet zone will encompass 15 crossings on the BNSF rail line from Buchanan Street to Cridge Street, and the Panorama Road crossing on the Union Pacific line.
The total cost is projected between $14 million and $17 million. Besides the RCTC funding, the city is spending $1.2 million in redevelopment money and the rest will be federal funds, Boyd said.
The improvements, which are dictated by federal guidelines, will include sidewalks and fences to keep pedestrians out of the railroad right-of-way; long, raised medians to prevent cars from driving around lowered gates; signs to alert people that no horn will sound; and double gates at a few locations, Boyd said.
The quiet zone is in final design and will be built in three phases, with completion expected in 2012.
Two teens died after being struck by trains in accidents at Riverside crossings in April 2009 and earlier this month. Boyd and Flatau said quiet zones include some pedestrian improvements, but the focus is on preventing cars from getting on the tracks.
“Unfortunately what happened in both of the pedestrian accidents was the individuals walked around gates that were down. You really can’t stop that if someone makes that decision,” Boyd said. “What we’re trying to do is give them a clear pathway where they should be walking, where they can see the warnings.”
Flatau said there are 440 quiet zones around the country.Â Anecdotally, it appears the zones don’t have more accidents than areas where horns are used, but since they’ve only been in place for a few years, there’s no clear data, he said.
In Loma Linda, a quiet zone for two crossings went into effect in December, said Jarb Thaipejr, city manager and public works director. So far, it has achieved its goal, he said.
“I live a block away from both crossings, so I notice myself,” he said. “The only time they blow the whistle is when they see people walking along the tracks.”
Reach Alicia Robinson at 951-368-9461 or arobinson@PE.com