Keep the tweets and toots, decrease the volume

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on August 10, 2009

Label it the “big wake up call” of the summer of 2009. Beginning in late July, Menlo Park residents – and not just those close to the train tracks – noticed that the Caltrain horns were considerably louder. Officials at the agency confirmed that residents weren’t just hearing things. Their trains had flunked a recent safety inspection: The horns weren’t producing the distinct, separate, sequential blasts (tweet and toot) required by federal regulations. To comply, the horns were relocated to the top of the trains (which just happened to be the their original location). The result was an increase in both the volume and the range of the sound.

Caltrain engineers are required to sound the horn one-quarter mile before every grade crossing – where a street crosses the tracks. There are three crossings in Menlo Park – at Glenwood, Oak Grove and Ravenswood. While the west side of the track is largely commercial – at least for a half mile or so – the east side of the tracks is almost entirely residential.

The resulting outcry over the noise – not just from Menlo but residents in other communities between San Francisco and San Jose – has caused Caltrain to come up with another less noisy way to meet federal standards. Regulator valves that will allow a “dramatic reduction in the level of noise produced by its horns” are being installed. The valves are adjustable and make it possible to fine-tune the volume of the horns. The goal is a return to the previous level of 98 decibels, which is at the low end of the range set by federal law, according to Caltrain.

Work began the first of August, and it’s expected to take several weeks to install the valves on all of Caltrain’s 29 locomotives and 34 cab cars. So, little by little the horns will return to their previously [less] noisy level. At least that’s the promise.

PM Update: Two MP residents sat on their patio two miles west of the Menlo Park train station and counted a half dozen loud tweets and toots during the busy commute time this afternoon.

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