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Railroad Finally Caves on West II Quiet Zone

After Ron Ries, Federal Railroad Administration, Staff Director for Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention Division, surgically dismantled the railroad’s final desperate objections to the West II Quiet Zone, BNSF finally shut off their horns earlier this week at three railroad grade crossings in Point Richmond. The horns, which engineers delight in sounding as loud and often as possible, preferably between 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM, have been the bane of southwest Richmond for years. The final email from Ries to BNSF is copied below. For a copy of the letter, which is more strongly worded, click here.


Regarding the South I Quiet Zone (Marina Bay), Assistant City Attorney Carlos Privat recently spoke with Marvin Kennix, Utilities Engineer for the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), concerning the timing on the General Order 88-B requests submitted on December 15, 2006 for required safety modification to the Marina Way South, Regatta Blvd and Marina Bay Parkway crossings.  Mr. Kennix promised we would have written confirmation of our permission to proceed with the modifications by the end of this month, if not sooner.  Once we are in receipt of the PUC’s written permission, the work will begin.  Rich Davidson (city engineer) has already lined up contractors.  Once the work is complete, which we anticipate will take approximately one week; Carlos Privat will be noticing the establishment of the quiet zone.  Given that the City has been working in conjunction with Richmond Pacific Railroad (RPR), Union Pacific and BNSF concerning the modifications, we anticipate there will be immediate compliance from the impacted railroads (mostly RPR) once the statutory 21 day period of establishment has expired.


In North Richmond, Carlos Privat broached the possibility of a waiver for John Ave with Mr. Kennix for constant warning devices on added crossings, including John Avenue. Although the PUC waived the need for these at West II, Mr. Kennix indicated the PUC would not be inclined to issue a waiver since John Ave is used for more than switching purposes (BNSF’s predominate use at the West Two Quiet Zone is for switching and its trains operate at approximately 5 mph through those crossing) by fast moving trains.  Kennix has agreed to meet with Rich Davidson and Carlos Privat to discuss what safety measures the PUC would require to include John Ave in the quiet zone.  Since there are two private crossings near John Ave, we will discuss the measures required to include those crossings as well.


-----Original Message-----

From: ronald.ries@dot.gov [mailto:ronald.ries@dot.gov]

Sent: Thursday, January 04, 2007 10:06 AM

To: Nicole.Hightower@BNSF.com

Cc: Paul.Hoferer@bnsf.com; Douglas.Werner@bnsf.com; John.Shurson@bnsf.com; John.Stilley@BNSF.com; Carlos A. Privat; charles.hagood@dot.gov; kathryn.shelton@dot.gov; mark.tessler@dot.gov; melissa.porter@dot.gov

Subject: RE: Richmond QZ-West II


Hi Nicole,


As you are aware, there have been a number of questions raised concerning the city of Richmond, CA's West II Quiet Zone.  I will summarize the issues as I understand them and provide FRA's position on the questions.


BNSF raised three objections to the West II quiet zone. 


1)     Gate tip gap - It was asserted that the gap between the gate arm tip and the curb of the non-traversable median (SSM) was greater than one foot at Canal Blvd.  The regulation requires that the gap be one foot or less.  I understand that this issue has been resolved as BNSF has replaced or extended the gate so that the gap is now less than 12 inches.  A representative of the city has measured the gap and found it to be between 8 and 9 inches.  As the gate tip gap is now less than 12 inches this objection is no longer valid.


2)     Engineering Stations - BNSF has requested that the city provide engineering stations so that it can be determined whether the quiet zone meets the ½ mile minimum distance requirement.  It should be noted that there is nothing in the rule that requires a public authority to provide engineering stations in the Notice of Quiet Zone Establishment or in any other notice.  The crossings have been appropriately identified by DOT Crossing Inventory Number and by street name as required by the rule.  The railroad should be well aware of the location of these crossings and the distance in the area.  According to the DOT Inventories, the Garrard Blvd. crossing is located at MP 1190.35 at one end of the quiet zone and the Canal Blvd. crossing is located at MP 1190.63 at the other end.  The distance between these two crossing is 0.27 miles.  It would only be necessary for the quiet zone to extend one eighth of a mile beyond each of these two crossings to achieve the one-half mile distance.  A review of maps available on the Internet indicates that there is sufficient distance to achieve the one-half mile distance.  As a matter of note, the quiet zone may extend into the adjacent BNSF switching yard to achieve the necessary ½ mile.  There is nothing in the rule that differentiates between a railroad right-of-way along a main line or within a rail yard.  BNSF's request for engineering stations is not a valid reason for not complying with the Notice of Quiet Zone Establishment.


3)     Constant Warning Time - It is asserted that constant warning time is required at Canal Blvd. and Cutting Blvd.  49 CFR 222.35(b)(1) requires that automatic warning devices be equipped with constant warning time circuitry "if reasonably practical."  The use of constant warning time where train speed is relatively slow (e.g., 20 mph or less) and consistent (i.e. all trains operate a basically the same speed) would not be reasonably practical.  This is the situation over the industrial lead track in the West II quiet zone.  In situations where the applicability of CWT could be questioned, FRA has determined that the test for "reasonably practical" should be to ask the question "If new automatic warning devices were being installed at this location, would the installation include CWT?"  As this type of decision is made routinely by the state agency responsible for deciding what types of warning devices and circuitries should be installed, it makes sense to ask the appropriate state agency to provide input on the matter.  It should be noted that the state agency would also be a somewhat neutral third party to the quiet zone establishment process.  FRA does not find that this would be in conflict with guidance provided in Appendix A as the inability of the CWT to work properly under the conditions present certainly would not be "reasonably practical."  As the CA PUC is appropriate state agency in California for crossing safety, and as how the CA PUC has advised that CWT is not practical at these locations, FRA has determined that the CWT is not necessary for these crossings.


The city of Richmond, CA has complied with the requirements to establish a quiet zone it has designated as West II and has provided the appropriate notices.  FRA has determined that the objections raised by BNSF have either been rectified or are not valid.  BNSF should take immediate steps to comply with the quiet zone.  It is noted that this track in question is an industrial lead and that the number of crews that service this line should be very limited.  This should enhance the ability of BNSF to quickly comply with the quiet zone.


Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.  Anything that can be done to quickly implement the quiet zone would be appreciated by the city.


Ron Ries

Staff Director

Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention Division




-----Original Message-----

From: Hightower, Nicole A [mailto:Nicole.Hightower@BNSF.com]

Sent: Tuesday, January 02, 2007 5:06 PM

To: Ries, Ronald <FRA>

Cc: Hoferer, Paul R; Werner, Douglas W; Shurson, John C; Stilley, John R

Subject: Richmond QZ-West II


Hi Ron,

I've been working on this proposed quiet zone since the first Notice of

Intent was issued last year.  I'm bit confused with the issue of

constant warning time installation (CWT).  In Appendix A (d) and

Appendix C (Section II (5) it states that New Quiet Zones must have CWT

unless conditions would prevent installation.

It is my understanding that we have offered the City the cost estimates

for installation and that there is nothing preventing the installation

of CWT. 

I understand from correspondence that the CPUC has stated that they will

not require CWT, however, it does not mean that installation is not

possible.  Further, I did not find in the Regulation where the CPUC

would have the authority to waive such a requirement. 

Can you help me understand what is required with regard to CWT and new

quiet zones?



Nicole Hightower


BNSF Law Department

2500 Lou Menk Dr. AOB-3

Ft. Worth, Texas 76131-2898

office 817-352-2160

fax 817-352-2398


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