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New rail warning system bill goes to Gov. Davis

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

For Truckee residents the romanticism of a railroad horn may have lost its appeal long ago. But the shrill sounds may soon be a memory if Governor Gray Davis approves a bill providing a new rail-side warning system.

Introduced by state Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City), SB 1491 could provide a new audible warning system that would reduce the noise generated by trains during the night.

Approval of SB 1491 would authorize the California Public Utilities Commission to establish a pilot project to test the viability of an “Automated Wayside Horn System,” an alternative to trains having to sound their locomotive-based horns as they approach highway-rail crossings.

The new system would reduce the noise generated by train horns from a 124-acre radius to a 3.8-acre radius, by concentrating the noise on the crossing area.

The two-directional horns are mounted nine to 12 feet high, and face each direction down the roadway at the crossing. The horns are activated by the same circuitry that lowers the crossing gates when a train approaches.

The bill was unanimously approved by the state Assembly.

“We’re expecting Gov. Davis to sign it,” Jedd Medefind, Senator Leslie’s media secretary, said.

Adding urgency to the bill, a proposed Federal Railroad Administration regulation may require that all trains sound their horns at every highway-rail crossing across the nation day and night, regardless of quiet zones. Municipalities may be exempted from the FRA’s whistle mandate if they implement certain safety measures. Currently, the Automated Wayside Horn System is not approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

“The bill directs the PUC to conduct evaluations of the effectiveness of the localized horn at the various test sites,” Medefind said. “The two-way horn is a test project that we hope the FRA will add to their list of remedies for noise.”

Medefind explained that alternatives to locomotive-based horns which are approved by the PUC, such as the photo enforcement system, are not affordable for most communities. The photo enforcement system costs $55-75,000 to install, plus $20-30,000 annually for maintenance.

The new automated wayside horn system would cost $30,000 per crossing.

“Union Pacific Railroad is putting in the latest state-of-the-art hardware here,” Truckee Town Engineer Daniel Wilkins said. “And I suspect their upgrade would have the capability to accommodate the upgrade to the audible warning system.”

Medefind said the technology could be available in the middle of September.

“A similar experiment has been tried in Iowa, and it had very positive results,” he said.


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