Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
  E-Mail Forum
  Update on Train Horns and Long Trains
July 28, 2004

Like phases of the moon, the intensity of train horns in Richmond seems to wax and wane in response to some mysterious force of nature. Over the last several days, horns of the BNSF operation, particularly in the pre-dawn hours, are definitely on the upswing. We have become used to an occasional train horn at night, but those multiple blasts ending in 10 second uninterrupted encores will roust those of us protected by even the most dedicated rack monsters.


This is an update of where we are in Richmond with respect to train horns and long trains.


Train Horns


There are two solutions to train horns. The first involves only grade crossings and the establishment of Quiet Zones in Richmond. A Quiet Zone can be established pursuant to Federal law and requires that grade crossing protection configurations and equipment meet certain standards. Quiet Zones require research, documentation, and ultimately, the expenditure of some level of funds by the City to improve grade crossings. The good news is that on April 13, 2004, the Richmond City Council unanimously passed Resolution 62-04 directing the city manager and city attorney to initiate an application for a Quiet Zone throughout the City of Richmond. The bad news is that neither the city manager nor the city attorney has done anything. The budget crises and related diminution of resources explains the lack of inaction, but the time has come to respond.


The second solution involves horns used for yard switching. Radios can be used for this purpose instead of horns and are condoned by the railroad industry General Code of Operating Rules.  An amendment to Richmond’s Noise Ordinance that would reduce the amount of horn blowing during switching operations has been hung up in the City Council, having been passed back and forth between the City Council and the Public Safety and Public Services Committee several times. Several City Council members appear to have reservations. The local company that provides switching services in South Richmond, Richmond Pacific Railroad, is opposed to the proposal and has so far been successful in stalling its adoption.


Long Trains


There are two solutions to long trains. The simpler, quicker and cheaper solution is for BNSF to move their traffic to the Port of Oakland over Union Pacific (UP) lines in the Richmond area instead of through south Richmond. They already use theses lines east of Martinez. According to BNSF sources, UP is blocking the switchover. The Federal Surface Transportation Board has some powers that can persuade UP to cooperate. The good news is that the Richmond City Council passed Resolution 62-04 directing the city manager and city attorney to file a Petition for Declaratory Order with the Surface Transportation Board requesting that the Board compel UP and BNSF to share tracks in a way that will eliminate the passage of long, through trains through south Richmond. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors passed Resolution 2003-196 that is similar. The bad news is that neither the city manager nor the city attorney has taken any action.


The second solution is for the City of Richmond to construction one or more grade separations at Harbour Way and/or Marina Bay Parkway. The cost would be in the millions, and probably the only way it will get done in the foreseeable future is through the formation of a benefit assessment district funded by south Richmond property owners. I will be recommending in September that the City study the feasibility.




  • To complain to Richmond Pacific, call John Cockle at 510/307-4075, Mike McCoy 510/307-4009 or Jim Cannon 510/307-4020, email jimc@levinterminal.com.
  • To complain to UP, call Paul Schmidt 510/891-7566 or Wayne Horiuchi 916/442-2800
  • For the Federal Railroad Administration, call Charlie Hagood  559/641-7649
  • For the California Public Utility Commission, call George Elsmore 415/703-2665 or Don Edmisten 415/703-1592
  • For Richmond residents interested in starting an organization to deal with train problems, call Louis Hagler, Marina Bay resident, 510/215-9588 and Terry J. Goode Country Club Vista resident. 510/222-4510
  • For the Richmond City Attorney, call Everett Jenkins at 510/620-6509, everett_jenkins@ci.richmond.ca.us




Following are several documents and hyperlinks that have information related to the forgoing summary:


Excerpt from Minutes of Richmond City Council Meeting April 13, 2004


A proposed resolution authorizing the City of Richmond to work with the Surface Transportation Board to establish “Quiet Zones” and elimination of long through trains routed through South Richmond was presented. There were no questions from the audience. On motion of Councilmember Butt, seconded by Councilmember Penn, adopted Resolution No. 62-04 by the unanimous vote of the Council.


Resolution 62-04, April 13, 2004


WHEREAS, the frequent sounding of train horns at dozens of Richmond grade crossings has become a serious disturbance to residents as well as a public health concern; and

WHEREAS, In response to a Congressional legislative mandate, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued an Interim Final Rule for the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Crossings. The rule requires that locomotive horns be sounded as a warning to highway users at public highway-rail crossings. In accordance with a legislative requirement, the rule will not take effect until one year following the date of its publication on December 18, 2003. Until December 18, 2004, the sounding of the locomotive horns at crossings will remain subject to applicable State and local laws; and

WHEREAS, the rule also provides an opportunity, not available until now, for thousands of localities nationwide to mitigate the effects of train horn noise by establishing new "quiet zones;” and,

WHEREAS, communities seeking to establish New Quiet Zones are encouraged to thoroughly investigate the options available to them under the rule. FRA will be working with public authorities and reviewing applications for quiet zones in order to permit communities to institute quiet zones at the earliest possible date after the one-year required period has elapsed. Accordingly, FRA will accept quiet zone applications from public authorities during the one-year period commencing with publication of the rule.


WHEREAS, the FRA has an extensive website at http://www.fra.dot.gov/Content3.asp?P=1318 that describes how to evaluate and apply for Quiet Zone Designation; and,


WHEREAS, BNSF has offered to help the City of Richmond find funding sources for Quiet Zone improvements; and,


WHEREAS, the frequent blockage of grade crossings by mile-long BNSF trains coming and going from the Port of Oakland has become not only a severe aggravation for Richmond residents but is also a substantial public safety concern; and,


WHEREAS, one solution to the long train problem would be for BNSF to route long trains onto UP tracks further north in the vicinity of Martinez instead of at the Stege “Y,” but, according to BNSF sources, UP will not allow this; and


WHEREAS, the Surface Transportation Board (http://www.stb.dot.gov/index.htm) has the authority to intervene in such issues and to motivate or compel the railroad companies to cooperate for the greater good of the public.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that The Richmond City Council directs that the City Manager and the City Attorney initiate an application for a Quiet Zone or Quiet Zones in Richmond in the areas of Point Richmond, Atchison Village, Marina Bay, Santa Fe, the Iron Triangle, Parchester Village, Country Club Estates, Richmore Village, and other neighborhoods adversely affected by train horns, and


THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Manager and the City Attorney file a Petition for Declaratory Order with the Surface Transportation Board requesting that the Board compel UP and BNSF to share tracks in a  way that will eliminate the passage of long, through trains through south Richmond.


Minutes of May 20, 2003, City Council Meeting


In the matter to consider adopting a resolution establishing a Railroad “Quiet Zone” and seeking limits on the amount of time that a Grade Crossing can be blocked by a train. Diane Holmes, City Clerk, stated for the record that Terry Good filed a petition, on behalf of the homeowners in the Country Club Vista community in support of the matter. Vice Mayor Penn stated that the matter has been before the Public Safety Public Services Standing Committee and is being brought forward to direct staff to proceed with the fact finding in order to perform due diligence to resolve the matter. Councilmember Butt commented that he received a similar resolution passed by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors from Supervisor Gioia addressing the blockage problem. The County Counsel’s office has agreed to work with Richmond’s City Attorney; and in the first “Whereas” he asked that the following be added regarding the noise problem: “the South part of Richmond, Country Club Vista, Parchester Village, and Atlas Road areas.” Following discussion, on motion of Councilmember Butt, seconded by Councilmember Griffin, adopted Resolution No. 70-03 establishing a Railroad “Quiet Zone” and seeking limits on the amount of time that a Grade Crossing can be blocked by a train, by the unanimous vote of the Council.


Resolution 70-03, May 20, 2003


WHEREAS, In the south part of Richmond, long trains moving in a single direction often block grade crossings for extended periods of time longer than 10 minutes, and


WHEREAS such blockages are a public safety hazard in that they impede the passage of public safety vehicles, and they are a nuisance and a cost to the public, causing delays in deliveries of goods and services and causing people to be late to work and to appointments, and


WHEREAS, California Public Utility Commission (PUC) General Order 135 limits blockages of grade crossings to not more than 10 minutes only when trains are stopped or engaged in switching operations. However, paragraph 9 of General Order 135 allows cities to apply to the PUC for a variance from or different regulations than those in General Order 135 (See http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUBLISHED/Graphics/592.PDF), and


WHEREAS, trains are required by state and federal law to sound their horns at all public right-of-way grade crossings, and


WHEREAS, trains sounding horns during slow movements, including switching operations, at grade crossings during nights in south Richmond near residential areas, including at the Richmond Parkway (east leg), Garrard Boulevard, Cutting Boulevard, Canal Boulevard, Harbour Way, Marina Way, Marina Bay Parkway and Regatta Boulevard, have deleterious health effects, including loss of productivity due to poor concentration, fatigue due to loss of sleep, increased health care costs related to loss of sleep and stress, loss of psychological well-being and lowered property values, and


WHEREAS, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is in the process of adopting a new rule that will allow the establishment of “quiet zones,” (see http://www.fra.dot.gov/rdv/horns/fact.htm) and


WHEREAS, cities around the United States, including Valencia, California, have already been successful in establishing “quiet zones (See http://www.mayocommunications.com/PR77%20Placentia%20Quiet%20zone%2011-21-02.htm and



THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of the City of Richmond directs the city attorney to research the most potentially promising way to compel regulation of railroads to observe a 10-minute or less blockage of grade crossings when trains are moving in a single direction, including an application to the PUC, and to initiate such action as soon as possible, and


THEREFORE BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of Richmond directs the city attorney to research what other cities have done to create “quiet zones” and to initiate action as soon as possible to create a “quiet zone” in south Richmond.


Proposed Amendment to Richmond Noise Ordinance

9.52.040 Application.

(a) The provisions of this chapter shall apply generally to all property throughout the City wherein any of the conditions, hereinafter specified, are found to exist, except that the provisions of this chapter shall not apply to:


1) the emission of sound for the purpose of alerting persons to the existence of an emergency;

2) the emission of sound in the performance of emergency work; and

3) the emission of sound by warning devices necessary for the protection of public safety, as, for example, police, fire, ambulance, and hazardous materials emergency response sirens, and train horns or whistles.


Train horns or whistles shall be exempt only to the extent that state or federal law requires their use and such use is strictly limited to federal or state requirements, including, but not limited to, the sound level and the pattern or frequency of use. Train horns or whistles may also be used as required by the General Code of Operating Rules adopted by railroad operating companies with the provision that alternate means of signaling for movements within railroad rights of way or rail yards where storing, cleaning, maintaining, linking and unlinking of engines and/or rail cars to each other takes place and where the general public is not routinely expected to be present or when persons or livestock or on or near the track are allowed by the General Code of Operating Rules, such alternate means shall be used.[1]


(b) The provisions of this chapter are to be supplementary and complementary to all of the provisions of this Code, State law, and any law cognizable at common law or in equity, and nothing herein shall be read, interpreted or construed in any manner so as to limit any existing right or power of the City of Richmond to abate any and all nuisances.


[1] The General Code of Operating Rules, which is neither State nor Federal law, but is a voluntary industry standard, can be found at http://www.sdrm.org/faqs/rulebook/title.html.   . Section 5.8.2, Sounding Whistle, can be found at http://www.sdrm.org/faqs/rulebook/signals.html#5.8. It includes signals for various train movements and notes that “The radio may be used in place of whistle signals, except signals (1) and (11).” Signal (1) is for “Use when an emergency exists, or persons or livestock are on the track. When crews on other trains hear this signal, they must stop until it is safe to proceed.” Signal (11) is for “Approaching public crossings at grade with engine in front, start signal not less than ¼ mile before reaching crossing, if distance permits. If distance does not permit, start signal soon enough before the crossing to provide warning. Prolong or repeat signal until engine occupies the crossing. Use this signal to warn employees when view is restricted.” Signal (11) does not apply because both State and Federal Law require signaling at grade crossings.


Additional Information, see TOM BUTT E-FORUM, Fried Baloney at the Whistle Stop Café, April 4, 2004, including attachments.