By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Railroad Concerns City Powerless To Stop Noise
Following citizens complaints about noise from the rail yards, especially at night, Riverbank City Council members discussed the problem on March 9 but decided the warning horns are necessary for safety purposes and the city has no authority over rail yard operations where safety is overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration.

All the city can do, Public Works Director Dave Melilli suggested, is establish good relations with the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe rail authorities and hope they will keep the noise down as far as possible.

At least one complaint came from a Sterling Ridge subdivision resident and appears to refer to the metal clashing of railcars being assembled besides the sound of horns that a railroad engineer must sound on approaching road crossings or when marshalling wagons in the yards.

Resident Ramon Bermudez noted other cities such as Escalon and Manteca have managed to cut down the blare of horns by having special horns installed beside the track near the crossing instead of on the locomotive. The train's passage still sounds the horn by an automated device but it does not sound for so long and the noise is confined to a smaller area.

But Riverbank, unlike Escalon, has railroad yards located on the city's boundary just south of Patterson Road and a change to the horns would not do anything to reduce the noise of coupling cars in the yards.

Melilli noted the city required a sound wall be constructed between the Sterling Ridge houses and the tracks when the subdivision was built. The developers JKB Homes were also required to furnish disclosure statements about the elevated noise levels to potential buyers. This disclosure statement is even required to accompany the title papers that an original buyer would pass on to a subsequent purchaser.

Residents who live some distance from the rail yards say they, too, can hear the noise.

"I live in Crossroads and I hear it at night," said Ric McGinnis. "But I'm used to it. I grew up in a railroad town. My father worked for the railroads."

Over the years, the FRA has seen some railway workers killed and has imposed rigid rules about sounding the horns to try and avoid further accidents in the yards or at road crossings, he said.

At the speed the locomotives travel, the engineer has to obey the trackside warnings and hit the horn long before he can see the crossing, McGinnis added.

"This gentleman is right on the money," BNSF official Ken Johnson told the council. "The engineer is not going to sound the horn unnecessarily. He also has a family trying to sleep. But he is required to sound the horn at least 15 seconds before reaching the crossing and while passing through."

"I hear the noise too, at 2 and 3 in the morning. But this is a railroad town. It grew up around the tracks," said Councilmember Dave White, who lives in the River Heights area.

Johnson mentioned the death of six people in a car hit by a train at Claribel Road and Terminal Avenue in 2007. White commented the sounding of the horn would have made no difference in that case. The driver had stopped too close to the tracks and the cars behind prevented her backing up in time.

"We've had trespassers in the yards too, kids of 10 to 16 years or so, taking short cuts across the rail yard. We sound the horn to warn them away," said Johnson.