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FRA notified SMART this afternoon 5-1-17 that Petaluma’s Quiet Zone has been nullified. SMART will resume blowing the horn at crossings in Petaluma as required by federal law.
Smart meeting is on Wed 5-3-17 as to the start date info should come from the meeting
Nobody seems to know when SMART will start regular service. They are now saying it will be "late spring," whenever that may be. They haven't started "simulated full passenger service" testing, as far as I know. (i.e. running the system with all trains on schedule as designed.) While I have no idea, I would expect this to take several weeks at least. As much as they're saying about testing can be found at: http://main.sonomamarintrain.org/testing-overview/
As for the horns, Petaluma tried to get a city-wide quiet zone approved. They obtained clearance for all the public grade crossings in town, but they (conveniently?) left off the list of grade crossings included in their quiet zone one private grade crossing! It's a grade crossing on private property allowing access to the old Cedar Grove Park east of Hunt and Behrens and just behind the Clover Dairy truck garage. Google Earth reveals that It doesn't have any crossing signals whatsoever. No crossing gates, no wig-wags, not even a sawbuck.
This might get very interesting. Municipalities can opt for quiet zones at public grade crossings within the city's jurisdiction and install them at city expense. A quiet zone is at least 1/2 mile in length. The Cedar Grove Park grade crossing is a private grade crossing. Except for certain exceptions listed in the FRA "horn sounding" rule, each public crossing within a new quiet zone must at a minimum be equipped with flashing lights, gates, and signs warning of the absence of locomotive horns.
The "horn sounding" rule does not cover horn use at private crossings outside of quiet zones. Their use is governed by State and local laws and private agreements. However, if a private crossing is within a quiet zone, horn use is restricted at that crossing. The Cedar Grove Park grade crossing appears to be well within the half-mile limits of the nearest quiet zone public grade crossing where the ROW crosses Lakeville immediately south of the Petaluma River bridge.
Now, Petaluma could probably enact a local ordinance prohibiting horn sounding at the private Cedar Grove Park grade crossing because the mandatory horn sounding rules only apply to public grade crossings, but the question remains, will the FRA approve a quiet zone that encompasses such a private grade crossing, particularly when the private crossing is within developed city limits and right off a city street? Given that the FRA has yanked their approval of Petaluma's quiet zone approvals because this private grade crossing was not included in their application, perhaps not.
Thus, either way, the Cedar Grove Park grade crossing, being inside a quiet zone, would have horn sounding limited to quiet zone rules. The Catch-22 may well be that in order for the public quiet zones to be approved, what if the FRA determines that this private grade crossing within the public quiet zone will have to comply with the minimum quiet zone warning system requirements (bells, lights, crossing guards, "no horn" signs, etc., etc., etc.) to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in installation and later maintenance costs. The question is, "Who's going to pay for it, the city or the private grade crossing owner?" Given that the default is the general horn sounding rule at grade crossings, my guess without doing any further research on the question, is that the municipality that wants a particular quiet zone is going to have to foot the bill to meet quiet zone requirements on any private grade crossing within the quiet zone which the municipality tries to set up. Only municipalities can opt for quiet zones and are required to foot the bill for meeting the FRA safety requirements for them and if that prejudices private landowners, it would seem the municipality will have to indemnify the private landowner for such detriment. Not to mention the time it will take to install mandated quiet zone warning signals at the private grade crossing, the litigation over who's going to pay to build it could take years, so I'm betting we'll be hearing SMART horns aplenty in Petaluma for a while to come until it's sorted out.
Cedar Grove Park - Google satellite view - 2017 copyright with no date.
(Click on "satellite" icon square in lower left of screen)
I was under the impression that crossing is closed, also landlocking that parcel.
There surely looks like there are gates on it now, and curbs to prevent driving around the gates, but I don't know how the city can cut off access to somebody's land like that. The owner and owner's traffic should be able to open the gates and get through, but there's no automatic crossing gates there. That's the crossing that caused the FRA to nix Petaluma's quiet zones, though. There's likely something about it that is causing them more concern than just a crossing left off the list.
Bob: that link doesn't work. You need to click on "Share".
Is this what you wanted to show us?
Your analysis above is very interesting, but if the crossing is closed with a gate normally, does that affect the FRA Quiet Zone rules?
FWIW, quiet zones are a bad idea, especially during the first few years of service, IMHO.
Yes, that's it! The satellite photo doesn't show the gates at all. I suspect the gates were a later addition. They certainly aren't FRA certified crossing gates! They're just livestock gates. They may keep vehicles from crossing, (It looks like they've put curbs in place to prevent "drive arounds," as well.) I guess the question really is whether the FRA is going to let them get away with that.
I am strongly opposed to quiet zones as well. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that works as well as a horn or whistle when it comes to getting people's attention. You are absolutely right that the first years of service will be the worst. I really don't think even SMART staff really appreciate the risks. There will be hundreds of grade crossings a day by SMART DMUs. A train every half hour going each way through however many grade crossings times the number of hours of operation? That's lots of chances to win the Darwin Award.
Then there are the suicides. CalTrain racks up at least a dozen fatalities a year, and lots more some years. A lot of these are suicides. There are almost as many suicides on the CalTrain line as on the GG Bridge. People seem to think that trains sound their horns because the engineers think it's fun. They'll find out, I'm afraid.