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Train Whistles Could Be Quiet in SC in 18 Months

Council approved $66,000 to move the quiet zone project through the bureaucracy.

City staffers reported to San Clemente City Council on Tuesday that seven pedestrian quiet zones could be a reality in as little as 18 months.

The two intersections at North Beach -- one vehicular and one pedestrian -- were designated as quiet zones in December, meaning safety improvements there are such that trains aren't required to sound their horns as they pass.

Engineers still may sound horns at their discretion if they perceive a safety risk.

The remainder of the intersections are trickier, Community Development Director Jim Holloway said. The federal government has drawn up safety guidelines for establishing vehicular quiet zones, but not for pedestrian ones. All seven interesections under consideration are pedestrian/rail intersections.

Holloway said the plan is to implement an 80-decible directional voice warning system at the Pier Bowl crossing, significantly quieter than the 112 decibles required for vehicle crossings.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which would oversee the pedestrian crossing process, has the city's application under consideration, but BNSF Railway has protested against it, citing liability concerns.

Still, Holloway told the City Council on Tuesday that he hoped to work through the bureaucracy by the summer, continue working with the Orange County Transportation Authority to design the systems, and take bids in the fall.

Construction would take six to eight months, he said, putting completion in August 2014 in the best-case scenario.

But Holloway said "nothing is ever certain in this process."

The City Council approved an allocation of $66,000 for the project -- mostly to help pay for lawyers to move it through the bureaucracy.

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