Over the past two decades, San Jose residents have dealt with train horns blaring along the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) line that cuts through the center of San Jose. This problem largely impacts neighbors in Districts 2, 3, 7, 10 as the train travels across roadways throughout our city. Below are some facts on the issue and potential solutions currently being worked on.
Some facts on the issue in our neighborhood:
- District 10 residents may hear horn noise may from trains crossing at Skyway, Branham, and possibly even Chynoweth.
- Train horn noise can also be the train conductor honking at potential conflicts near the tracks (including pedestrians, tents, vehicles, etc.)
- UPRR changed its Operating Plan in 2019 to improve the efficiency of its services, resulting in more nighttime trains
- Due to the increase in nighttime trains, San Jose and its residents have advocated for a special designation called "quiet zones" which require UPRR and other railroads to not blare their horns at certain hours. Certain safety requirements must be met (installation of crossing lights or grade separations) before the quiet zone can be put into place. Even with these safety upgrades, UPRR and other regulatory agencies must agree and approve the quiet zone, leaving a lot of this out of San Jose's jurisdiction. Learn more here: UP: Federal Railroad Administration's Train Horn & Quiet Zone Rule
- Skyway, Branham, and Chynoweth have relatively high traffic volumes and train speeds, thus higher risk for collision. Due to this, the UPRR, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and other railroads are less willing to implement a quiet zone.
- A potential solution to this problem has been presented by the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) project which released a draft EIR with a preferred alternative that would add more trains and at higher speeds over these crossings (exacerbates safety concerns with a quiet zone)
- The City has been negotiating with CAHSR for a long-term vision for grade separations at these crossings; grade separation would eliminate virtually all train horn noise.
For historical context on this issue:
- San Jose's Department of Transportation (DOT) started looking into a quiet zone on Warm Springs in 2019. We found that the Warm Springs corridor through Japantown has a low "risk index" thanks to the low traffic volumes, low train volumes (7 per day), and low train speed (10 mph). The risk index is low enough that it meets the federal criteria for one method of establishing a quiet zone. Mid-2020 the City issued a "Notice of Intent" stating our intention to establish a quiet zone.
- However quiet zones require minimum infrastructure (gates and flashing lights) at every vehicle approach, and a few months after issuing the Notice of Intent, we discovered that 7th/Jackson does not have vehicle gates for every possible vehicle maneuver due to the unique crossing geometry.
- Over the last several months the city has been coordinating with UPRR, CPUC, and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on a proposal to eliminate some vehicle movements through that crossing so that we can remedy the issue. UPRR is a quasi-government which makes it difficult to work with, and we have not gotten their buy-in on our proposal. They prefer a more expensive upgrade to the intersection, which we have committed to, but will take a few years to build out. They don't seem to be motivated to endorse our interim proposal so that the residents can get near-term relief.
- Grade Separations at Skyway, Branham, Chynoweth: two or three years ago, the City had a consultant develop conceptual designs and cost estimates for grade seps at these three locations. The total cost estimate for the three locations ranges from $0.5B to $1B which is in-line with other projects underway (e.g. Broadway Ave in Burlingame is estimated at $325M).
- As for that timeline, the City would target the grade seps to be constructed with the CAHSR project; that project has a projected opening date of 2030 or so, but it may be later than that.
- Other solutions: window modifications, high sound walls, and "wayside horns" in lieu of train horns.
Links to information on UPRR and Quiet Zones:
FRA overview page on Quiet Zones with links to several subpages: https://railroads.dot.gov/highway-rail-crossing-and-trespasser-programs/train-horn-rulequiet-zones/train-horn-rule-and-quiet
FRA Quiet Zone fact sheet subpage: https://railroads.dot.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/fra-locomotive-horn-sounding-and-quiet-zone-establishment