Petition for Railroad ‘Quiet Zones’ in Northern Emeryville Sparks Resident Debate

Published On January 24, 2018 | By Rob Arias | Advocacy & Accountability, News & Commentary, Transit

The City of Emeryville and our Mayor are circulating a petition to apply for grant money to create three “quiet zones” at the 65th, 66th and 67th railway crossings.

The petition, linked in multiple Nextdoor posts and John Bauters’ personal blog, has ignited a debate among neighbors who are supportive of reducing the horn noise that they find disruptive — and those that enjoy the ambiance the trains bring or are critical of the cost and priority of the estimated $10-12 million project.

The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) implemented safety regulations in 2005 that require locomotive horns be sounded for a minimum of 15 seconds in advance of all public highway-rail crossings. The horns are required to fall within a decibel range of 90-110 db. The FRA also provided local communities like ours with the option of circumventing these regulations by establishing ‘quiet zone’ crossings.

The city first undertook the issue in 2008 but the cost put the project on pause. The city revisited the issue at a Transportation Project study session at the December 19, 2017 council meeting [1:27:29 in the below YouTube video].

Examples outlined of additional safety engineering improvements necessary to reduce the risk of collisions include:

  • Medians on one or both sides of the tracks
  • Four quadrant gate system
  • Pedestrian facilities, with railings and gate system
  • Permanent closure of the crossing(s) at 66th and/or 67th to vehicular traffic

The estimated cost to make the three railroad crossings eligible for this quiet zone status could be as high as $12 million according to the petition circulated by Bauters. Some of the grant money would come from the California SB1 Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

Supporters of the project think Emeryville needs to move past its industrial roots and become more of a residential community. “With the changing nature of the city, now much more family friendly, along with the new buildings reflecting the noise, it is time to mitigate it as much as possible,” noted a resident who identified himself as Joe. “Additionally, when temperature inversion happens, the horn noise can be extremely disturbing over long distances.”

More skeptical residents cited the necessity of the horns as a safety feature, the exorbitant cost and fondness for the ambiance a train brings. “I guess I am a romantic, but they move me.” commented Jenny who identified herself as a North Oakland neighbor.” Some seemed to be irked that this was even a priority for the city in light of rampant crime and homelessness. “People moved into all of those apartments and condos knowing that the train was just feet away. I don’t have great gobs of sympathy.” noted a resident who identified herself as Jenelle.

The timing of the project coincides with a recent incident on January 10th where a man was struck by a Capital Corridor commuter train near the Emeryville Amtrak Station but miraculously survived. Opponents of the initiative, at least on Nextdoor, seemed to vastly outweigh supporters although proximity to the railway seemed to be a large factor.


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The preconstruction phases of this project will be funded through local sources, utilizing existing transportation accounts according to City of Emeryville Senior Civil Engineer Ryan O’Connell. “The City is asking as part of this grant for $6.0 Million in funding for the Construction Phase of this project. Generally, this would entail the construction of Supplemental Safety Measures (SSM’s) at the three at-grade crossing in our City.”

Mayor Bauters clarified that the $10-12 million price tag came from a recent ACTC committee meeting and may include a crossing across the Berkeley border that the City of Berkeley may apply for.

If you would like to add your name to the community letter, send an email to City of Emeryville Senior Civil Engineer Ryan O’Connell no later than noon on Thursday, January 25th that includes:

  1. Your name and any adults in your household who wish to be added to the letter
  2. Indicate whether you’re a resident or business owner
  3. Your Emeryville address

The letter will only list your name and resident/business designation.

The grant awards from the state are expected to be announced by mid-late summer 2018. Funding will not come online until the following year if our application is successful.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

13 Responses to Petition for Railroad ‘Quiet Zones’ in Northern Emeryville Sparks Resident Debate

  1. Tom Stieber says:

    Many people begrudgingly tolerate the trains because they move to Emeryville for a (relatively) lower cost of living than in San Francisco, but I would bet my bottom dollar that the vast majority of them would still prefer not to be awoken by that honking every night. We spend most of our time in San Diego these days, where the same thing happened downtown a few years ago; loud trains were there before condos, but eventually, there were so many condos that the city created a quiet zone, and people absolutely love it. If the trains aren’t negatively impacted and the residents derive a benefit, I see it as a win-win. I understand there are other issues in Emeryville as well, but we can’t always argue that crime and homelessness has to come before every other expenditure either, or else we wouldn’t bother with other discretionary things like street trees, grass, flowers, parks, etc. Running a city is a balancing act, and on balance, I think this is as important as many other issues. Thank you to everyone who supports this effort!

    • sarah says:

      Tom, as an Emeryville resident close to the trains, I would vastly prefer not to walk over giant cups of urine, human feces, broken glass, and giant piles of trash. I would vastly prefer a police force that was adequately supported in enforcing the laws and municipal codes instead of working twelve hour shifts shuttling around the mentally ill to hospitals and jails that can be hours away in traffic. I would also vastly prefer a city council that was doing ANYTHING about the homelessness and rampant crime, including the multiple armed robberies, murder, and “sideshow” nonsense. If it is a balancing act, then city council needs to balance their pet projects with at least one measly intervention or plan that will actually benefit all of the residents. Since you mostly don’t live here, I can appreciate that you mostly don’t have to deal with the mounds of trash, burglars driving slowly down the streets at night, screaming people with their half used huff cans, blocking traffic, crouching with their giant dogs, or using the public bathrooms as a place to do crack. If any of these issues were making any headway at all, and we didn’t have a budget deficit, and New Seasons was open for business, I would be all about supporting this kind of yuppie nonsense that raises property values and would add in an ordinance banning leaf blowers, which are far more prominent and obnoxious.

      • Tom Stieber says:

        Hi Sarah, I totally appreciate your point, and yes, we haven’t spent much time in Emeryville over the past 3 1/2 years but had been living there for multi-year periods one and off since the early 1990s, so it will always be one of our favorite little cities that’s a second home for us. I did drive through around the holidays and was actually surprised how clean, tidy, and well maintained the city looked, because reading all the horrible news stories on this blog made me expect a terrible run-down trash heap. Now I know there are different part of town with different vibes, and I didn’t see all of it last time around, but we’ll be back in the spring for an extended period and look forward to seeing how things are looking these days.

        I do agree that if there are worsening crime problems, then the city needs to prioritize that over all else, but that may or may not exclude side projects like this depending on the budgets. I’m also not sure if the timing of this project at this time is totally discretionary or had to coincide with a particular round of available grants, so that may (or may not) have played into doing it right now. There certainly seemed to be some sort of deadline.

        We’re VERY disappointed by New Seasons backing out — certainly no fault of the city, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. We were really looking forward to shopping there this spring.

        All in all, I would hope nobody would disagree that reducing nighttime train noise would be a good thing per se, as there’s nothing inherently awesome or fantastic about loud train honking. I don’t think it’s totally fair to characterize people wanting to have a good night’s sleep as ‘yuppie nonsense,’ because everyone deserves that — even if they chose to live near train tracks — so if there are options to reduce or eliminate excessive nighttime honking, and trains aren’t inconvenienced, then only good, and no bad, comes out of it.

  2. Beccajs says:

    As a ligh sleeper on 65th and Hollis I would love to not be woken up by the trains for a change.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Let me guess, they moved there after train tracks were there. This is why the Bay Area is turning into I don’t wanna say. These people need to move to the suburbs if they want everyone to walk on egg shells around them. Please just leave. If the pro-quiet zone people want to pay for it, go for it.

    • Anonymous says:

      One thing that was also pointed out on the ND threads:

      The Emeryville quiet zone project was priced out 10 years ago at 15-30% this amount and that was even with a highly padded estimate. Installing 6 crossing gates and all the requirements of the quiet zone apparently does not cost $12M or anywhere close to that.

      If you look at the $10-$12M price tag on this and wonder if the public is getting shafted, the answer seems to be YES to the tune of $6-10M

      $6-$10M of waste on a $2-3M project. Smh.

  4. Anonymous says:

    SAFETY FIRST, I believe the tracks have been in the same location for numerous years. Maybe the City should have placed stricter building requirements on the developers to include better sound-proofing in their designs. I’m sure the City can use those millions on other improvements around the City. Don’t move in close proximity to train tracks if the noise bothers you. Crime, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, and politicians that don’t keep their word bothers me more than the warning sound of the train.

    • David says:

      The whole point of the grant money is to fund additional safety measures that render the horns unnecessary. So safety is a given with or without the horns. The question is how to pay for the desired level of safety without the horns.

  5. sarah says:

    This project feels likes such a slap in the face given the other issues the city is facing. That Bauters is capitalizing on a near-death to try and push a pet project that benefits him personally at the city’s expense, when he so far has done nothing on record to help the city other than update a webpage about why we can’t have a dog park, is so egregious I believe he must be taking his cues from the Trump playbook. Aren’t we already facing a budget deficit? Where is the petition to oppose?

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t even live very close to the tracks and the train horns are loud and ridiculous. I get woken up quite frequently and I’m not even a light sleeper.
      I don’t think asking for grant money to help on this issue stops us from tackling other basic crime and safety issues. This is a false choice.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Public money can only be spent once. Either you spend it on the things you need or you waste it on things you don’t. It’s not a false choice. It’s a real choice like any purchase, the choice that public officials have to make between spending taxpayers’ money wisely or wasting it.

    This project was priced at $3.5M in 2008. That may or may not be a waste depending on your priorities for fixing train noise for homeowners who bought real estate near train tracks, but the other $8.5M is straight waste or fraud no matter how you look at it. A quiet zone does not cost $3.5M to build in 2008 and $12M to build in 2018.

  7. Anonymous says:

    To those who say; Don’t live near the train tracks if you don’t like the train noise:

    The trains were only required to blast their horns starting in 2005, any many residents have lived here in Emeryville long before this.

    The trains blast their horns to warn those total morons who go around the gates when the lights and bells are on, and I say, why not take your argument a little further and just let these people get killed more frequently by challenging a train.

    The horns are absurd. I used to hear them in El Cerrito, now I live in emeryville to be closer to work, and in a safe building gaurded by crime, but the noise from the trains is unbearable, it seems pretty rediculous in this day and age, we can put a man on the moon, but we rely on blasting sirens anytime a train goes through an intersection.

    Comon people, lets create some jobs and get this project under way, in the mean time, lets just close the street level crossings all together!!! build a bridge already.

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