Oceanside’s railroad quiet zone takes effect this week

Downtown Oceanside will get a little quieter this month now that the Federal Rail Authority has approved the city’s application for a quiet zone.

Beginning July 9, trains will no longer be required to sound their horns at each street crossing, though there will be a one-year “break-in” period in which horns may occasionally be used.

After the initial year, the warning will only be sounded when the train engineer believes there is an emergency or other situation that requires it.

Train noise has long been one of the top complaints from Oceanside visitors and downtown residents. Establishing the area as a federally approved quiet zone, where trains no longer have to sound their horns at each crossing, requires a number of public safety improvements.

Encinitas implemented a quiet zone in 2019. San Diego has had two since 2012, one downtown and one in Little Italy.

Oceanside has been working to get its quiet zone since at least 2014, when the City Council approved spending $642,000 on a contract with the Irvine-based firm RailPros to develop construction plans and other documents needed for the application.

The job required improvements such as new sidewalks, traffic signals, signs, striping and landscaping to five railroad crossings: Surfrider Way, Mission Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, Oceanside Boulevard and Cassidy Street. The budget for the project was about $8 million, with most of the money from state transportation grants.

Downtown residents and business owners, especially hotel owners and managers, strongly supported the effort.

“As a destination, we want to enhance those experiences and make them as positive and memorable as possible,” Leslee Gaul, president of Visit Oceanside, said at the time.

The quiet zone was originally expected to take effect by June 2019, but took longer for a number of reasons.

Construction got a late start because of things such as the difficulty of installing complicated electronics and locating buried utilities for the placement of underground cabling. Along with federal railroad officials, the city worked with the California Public Utilities Commission, Amtrak, Metrolink and the North County Transit District on the project.

Federal and state inspectors checked the site in July 2019 and requested additional work, city officials said in a January 2021 news release.

The additional work was completed in early April 2020, but then a recent change in the federal “risk threshold” across the five crossings required a re-assessment of the Oceanside project because of expected changes in train speeds, train volumes, suicides and accidents.

Additional improvements included a pedestrian crossing over the Sprinter tracks to reach the south end of the Oceanside Transit Center and the installation of a traffic signal at the Mission Avenue and Myers Street intersection to increase the safety of the quiet zone.

The Oceanside Transit Center on South Tremont Street is the county’s busiest train station outside of downtown San Diego.

Coaster, Sprinter and Metrolink commuter trains and Amtrak passenger trains all stop at the Oceanside Transit Center just two blocks south of Mission Avenue. Freight trains also roll through town at all hours, but more frequently at night.

Also, train traffic is getting busier on the corridor. NCTD recently announced plans to increase the number of weekday Coaster trips between Oceanside and San Diego from 22 to 30 beginning in October.

More trains also are coming for the weekends and for special events such as Padres baseball games and the annual San Diego County Fair.

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