New 'partial quiet zone' brings relief to San Jose residents after years of blaring train horns

From 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., trains traveling through the quiet zone won't sound their horn street intersections except in emergencies
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A "partial quiet zone" is officially in place in San Jose and is putting sleep schedules back on track. The change came Tuesday night, after years of complaints from residents about blaring train horns, sounding off at all hours of the night.

The move was made possible by a collaborative effort between local leaders and lawmakers.

Those living near the Warm Springs Union Pacific Railroad corridor- specifically, the tracks between Montgomery and Horning Streets- will notice the change.

Between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., trains traveling through the quiet zone won't sound their horn at intersections with streets, unless there's an emergency.

"If a car's approaching the tracks, or there's a person walking along the tracks, they have every right to blow their horn to warn that person," Colin Heyne, with the City of San Jose's Department of Transportation told ABC7 News. "But as a matter of course, just because they're crossing an intersection, they won't be blowing their horns."

This is expected to bring relief for San Jose residents who have, for years, endured being jolted awake by blaring train horns.

"You could hear them at 10 p.m., you could hear them at 12 a.m., you could hear them at 3 a.m.," resident Teresa Patton said.

Peter Lord described, "Three in the morning, two in the morning, five in the morning."

He and his wife, Linda, have lived in the area for eight years.

"When we moved here, it was only during the day that the trains came by. And so, that really wasn't much of an issue," he explained. "Then they started the upgrades and we heard that they're not going to abandon this line. They're going to be running it at night, we're like... not a plus!"

In early 2019, Union Pacific changed traffic patterns- increasing the number of trains passing through the city and running them at night to reduce the amount of idling locomotives.

"Union Pacific had every right to do that. But it was not something that people were used to," Heyne explained. "And it was not something that was announced broadly in the community."

An announcement posted to the city's website on Monday read in-part: "We received great news from the FRA: the Partial Quiet Zone will begin on Tuesday May 10! This means trains will no longer sound their horns at street crossings, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., except in emergencies.

Last month, the City of San José City Manager, Jennifer Maguire, signed a partial quiet zone notice of establishment (NOE). The NOE was one of the last procedural details before a quiet zone could be established.

The release explained the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and others inspected the quiet zone corridor on May 5 to ensure it met requirements.

"They inspected signs, markings, and other safety features. The inspection notes called for some minor additions to be made, as well as some tree pruning. Our maintenance crews quickly jumped into action to take care of those items," the city's release added.

On Monday, new signs and markings signal the call for quiet.

"Part of the reason that this stretch of railroad qualified for a quiet zone is because it is just one set of tracks. The trains go pretty slow through that section. And so the risk index was very low for that corridor," Heyne detailed.

The most significant traffic change could be found at 7th and Jackson.

"The long-term vision is to rebuild that intersection with the necessary gate arms and other safety improvements, so that we can open traffic back up in the eastbound direction," he said. "And have a more permanent looking arrangement at that intersection."

Federal regulation requires that train horns be sounded for :15 to :20 seconds before entering all public grade crossings, but not more than a quarter of a mile in advance. This is the case, unless a quiet zone has been established.

The city's release also acknowledged: "Assemblymember Ash Kalra for his efforts to secure funding for work along the corridor. Thanks also to residents, US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez for their continued advocacy during this process."

Residents told ABC7 News, they're looking forward to uninterrupted sleep.

"The horn that used to be like a storybook horn in the distance becomes this major reality in your living room," Patton described.

Heyne said the city is starting with this partial quiet zone and will monitor tracks and traffic before potentially considering a 24-hour change.

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